Abraham-Kenney cage match gets underway

    A nasty little war of words erupted late last week between Philadelphia mayoral candidates Lynne Abraham and Jim Kenney, and I couldn’t help wondering what kind of fireworks we’d be seeing if either had the campaign cash to start buying media ads.

    As recounted by my colleague Brian Hickey in his NinteyNine blog (check it out if you haven’t yet), Abraham started it by calling Kenney out at a Thursday forum for his bill giving city pensioners a bump in benefits, and Kenney came back hard with a release noting Abraham’s $371,000 payment from the widely-reviled DROP program.

    Both sides have substantive points to make here, which we’ll hear more about as the campaign unfolds.

    What’s striking to me at the moment is that we have two candidates here, each with strong strategic interest in bouncing the other out of the race, and they have exactly 30 days to do it.

    Why?

    Kenney, the recently retired City Councilman, and Abraham, the longtime judge and District Attorney, are the only white candidates facing off against one prominent and likely well-funded African American, State Sen. Anthony Williams.

    I’m not saying racial voting will determine the race, but it matters, and if you’re running the Kenney or Abraham’s campaign at this moment, you have to see the other as the prime rival for a large block of voters.

    So the best thing either could do is to convince the other that they have no path to victory and do it before March 25th, which is the last day for candidates who’ve filed nominating petitions to withdraw.

    Hurting for cash

    While Abraham took her shot at Kenney at a community forum and Kenney fired back in a news release and fundraising letter, neither is launching the kind of artillery that could do real damage: negative TV spots.

    There are risks to going negative right out of the gate, of course, but campaign filings suggest that neither has the cash now to put into a media campaign anyway.Kenney reported less than $100,000 on hand through December 31st, having gotten into the race very late.

    Abraham filed a report showing her with $424,000 at the end of January, though a third of that is money she loaned the campaign herself.

    If either had a couple million bucks in the bank, he or she might launch an early, shock-and-awe media strike to try and define their targeted opponent as untrustworthy, and perhaps crush his or her fundraising and will to keep fighting.

    I’ve heard rumors of an independent-expenditure effort coming together to support Kenney. Maybe it will target Abraham, maybe not.

    However it plays, it’s hard to imagine either Kenney or Abraham being easily pushed out of the race.

    For different reasons, both are at points in their careers where they have a nothing-to-lose attitude, and might respond to attacks by becoming even more determined.

    If you’re Anthony Williams, this could be just want you want to see.

    But things may not be as easy for him as they might look either. These races have a way of taking unexpected turns, and as our friend Tom Ferrick notes, there will be challenges to Williams’ claim on the city’s African American vote.

    Hold on to your seats.

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