Avoiding a showdown over the leadership of the Democratic State Committee, Katie McGinty has abandoned her candidacy and will instead preside over a new, independent committee to coordinate fundraising for Democratic campaigns this fall.
Ms. McGinty, a former candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor, had been Tom Wolf's choice to lead the party organization. In an email last week, the nominee asked the committee members to support her. But Jim Burn, the current chair, refused to defer to Mr. Wolf and insisted that he would remain a candidate for re-election in the group's organizational meeting this weekend outside Harrisburg. As late as Wednesday, speaking at a campaign event in Oakmont, Mr. Wolf maintained that Ms. McGinty remained his choice to head the state party.
But Thursday afternoon, Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, who had been Mr. Wolf's choice to be vice chairman of the state party, predicted that the state committee issue would resolved before the day was over. Mr. Wolf, who was appearing at the same campaign event in Pittsburgh, said he didn't know anything about it. But within a few hours his campaign had announced the new campaign organization and the recast role for Ms. McGinty.
The development also means that Mr. Wheatley will not be a candidate for the vice chairmanship. Assuming that Burn, who is now unopposed, is re-elected, that would preclude Mr. Wheatley's eligibility as party rules specify that if the chair is a man, the vice-chair should be a woman.
On one level, the development is a win for Mr. Burn who, is poised to hold onto the committee gavel. But the victory could prove hollow if Wolf and other party leaders bypass him and the traditional DSC organization in fund-raising and other campaign logistics. In what would inevitably be interpreted as a calculated rebuff, Mr. Wolf's campaign said he would not appear at the committee meeting over the weekend. One veteran committee member said that it would be the first time in recent memory that a Democratic gubernatorial nominee had failed to show at the party's regular post-primary meeting.
"I would like to congratulate Katie on her new position. She brings a dynamic personality and skill set that will certianly help Tom Wolf as we move forward," Mr. burn said in a statement. "We in the state party are happy for Katie and Tom. We pledge our support and all of our energy to work with Katie and Tom Wolf to remove Tom Corbett, America's least popular governor, from office."
Ms. McGinty, through the Wolf campaign, released a statement that made no direct reference to the state committee fight.
"Tom Wolf is a different kind of leader and this will be a different kind of campaign,'' Ms. McGinty said in a statement released by the Wolf operation. "We need to shake up the status quo, and that goes from changing the way we campaign to changing the way we govern.''
State Sen. Jay Costa, the leader of Senate's Democratic caucus, welcomed the new entity and called it an asset to the party's effort to recapture the chamber's majority, a goal that's eluded Democrats for decades.
"I commend Tom Wolf's focus on not only winning the governor's mansion, but flipping the Senate as well,'' he said.
The state Republican Party issued a statement characterizing the Democratic infighting as a rejection of the candidate who won its nomination in a landslide.
"For the second time this year, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party has flatly rejected Tom Wolf, Megan Sweeney, the GOP's communications director, said in a statement. "Tom Wolf is a typical politician who tried to force his choice for Democratic Party chairman onto a party that doesn't trust his judgment. While Tom Wolf may be able to create a nice television ad, he's shown a serious inability to energize his party's grass roots network.''
She referred to the fact that state Treasurer Rob McCord ran ahead of Mr. Wolf in the state committee's winter endorsement vote. The defeat didn't prove much of a problem for the York businessman, who far outdistanced Mr. McCord and the rest of the Democratic field in the May 20 primary.