Blame the Campaign, Not the Candidate

In the last two weeks, we have seen Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann commit two significant errors.  Many say that this is to be expected, considering the fact that this is the first office that Swann has ever run for.  This is certainly understandable.  What is not understandable is the inability of his campaign to ensure that these types of errors do not continue to be committed.

The first critical error made by Swann happened during an appearance on ABC News with George Stephanopoulos.  When asked if he would sign a bill that would ban abortion in Pennsylvania should the Supreme Court overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling, Swann replied, “Well, if the Supreme Court overturned it, then, they’ve basically overturned it.  They’ve basically said that, you know, you can’t have an abortion.”

Anyone that pays any attention to abortion politics knows that this simply is not the case.  If Roe v. Wade were overturned, the issue would then be deferred to the states, and whatever existing laws were in place would then take effect.  There are states that have bans on abortion in place in case of just such an event occurring.  However, Pennsylvania is not one of them.  Should Roe v. Wade be overturned, the Abortion Control Act would be the ruling law in Pennsylvania.  This would make for significant restrictions to abortion, but would not ban it.  In order for a ban to occur, the legislature would have to pass such a law, and the governor would need to sign it.

The second error is the revelation that Swann hasn’t been voting very frequently over the years.  The Philadelphia Inquirer broke the news that Swann has, in fact, only voted in 16 of the last 36 elections, covering a time period of the last 18 years.  Now this, by itself, is not exactly an avoidable revelation.  It is what it is, and there’s nothing to do about it now.  However, the campaign’s response has, in my mind, been less than adequate.

Swann has claimed to be proud of his voting record, citing the fact that he’s voted in 9 of the last 10 general elections.  When pressed on the issue, Swann has simply refused to answer additional questions.  This is the sign of a campaign that’s afraid of an issue.  The Swann campaign should have done opposition research on their candidate and should have been prepared for the eventual release of this information, as it was an inevitable occurrence.  The response should have included an explanation that is better than simply claiming that Swann was on the road at the time.  This is easily refuted by the fact that Swann had taken the time to vote absentee on three other occasions.  If he had voted absentee before, what prevented him from doing so in so many other elections?

These are signs of a neophyte campaign, not a neophyte candidate.  Swann’s campaign should have anticipated the question on abortion and prepared him adequately.  I cannot imagine allowing a gubernatorial candidate onto a national television show without knowing how he will respond to a question about one of the hottest topics in politics today.  I also cannot imagine being unprepared for a revelation as potentially politically damaging as the fact that your candidate has not been voting on anything that even resembles a regular basis.

Incumbent Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell is a master politician, in the mold of former President Bill Clinton.  Rendell also has the ability to raise enormous amounts of money with which to bludgeon Swann.  

The primary criticism, we can presume, will revolve around Swann’s inexperience.  To combat this, Swann’s campaign needs to be firing on all cylinders all the time.  He needs to show a superior grasp of the issues, an intimate knowledge of the workings of government, and an ability to communicate his ideas effectively to the electorate.  Thus far, the Swann team has not been making this happen.

There is still a lot of time left in this campaign, and we can assume that Swann and his campaign will get better as time progresses.  The question is, Will Rendell’s campaign have an army of sound-bites at the ready by the time that happens?