PENNSYLVANIA SOCIETY, the annual gathering of the state's political class, convenes in New York City Friday with plenty of speculation about the Democratic primary for governor in 2014.
One name that will be floated - U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who just won a fifth two-year term to represent a district that covers parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County.
The congresswoman was coy when asked about her future, responding with the political boilerplate for such situations: She is very focused on her work in the U.S. House even as supporters ask her to run for governor.
"Are people asking me, approaching me? They are," Schwartz said. "They're expressing concern, which I share about Pennsylvania."
Schwartz has been climbing the leadership ladder in the U.S. House, prompting broad speculation that she would challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey in 2016.
Schwartz had a speaking gig at the Democratic National Convention this summer, recently flew home with President Obama on Air Force One and has been a go-to television presence on "fiscal cliff" budget negotiations.
But Schwartz, a former state senator, is turning her attention back to Harrisburg suddenly.
Speculation has been sparked in part by changes coming to her political team. Aubrey Montgomery, now the finance director for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, will come on board in January, according to a source familiar with Schwartz's plans. That seems early for a 2016 Senate run but right on time for a 2014 state race.
What could Schwartz be up to at Pennsylvania Society? We see at least three strategies. And they are not mutually exclusive:
* She really wants to challenge Gov. Corbett, who has had a rough time in his first term and has the polling to show for it.
Although Corbett's numbers have risen lately, he's a much softer target than Toomey.
For one, state Attorney General-elect Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, will be examining Corbett's actions when he was AG overseeing the start of the child sex-abuse investigation that sent former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky to state prison.
Then there's the problem of Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor, a longtime Corbett foe, working Pennsylvania Society to build support for a Republican primary challenge to Corbett.
Schwartz also has the cash to run. More on that later.
* She doesn't really want to run for governor but sees flirtation with the notion as a way to leverage support for a Senate run.
Horse-trading, especially with Democrats in western Pennsylvania, could help in a 2016 primary that could draw a crowd.
* She's playing a political parlay, taking a shot at governor in 2014 that, if unsuccessful, still raises her statewide name recognition for the Senate in 2016.
That last strategy has dangers and drawbacks. Candidates don't want to look as if they're always seeking a new office, and fundraising and campaigning is a grind.
Speaking of money, Schwartz has a real advantage there.
She is sitting on $3.1 million in her federal political-action committee. Since there are so few campaign-finance restrictions on running for state office in Pennsylvania, she is free to dump that money into a campaign for governor, making her suddenly flush in a field of potential challengers for the Democratic primary.
John Hanger, a former head of the state Department of Environmental Protection, entered the 2014 Democratic primary last week. State Treasurer Rob McCord is a possible candidate.
Speaking of decisions
Corbett has one to make by Thursday about the Affordable Care Act, also known as "ObamaCare." Will the state set up a health-insurance market for the uninsured to find coverage? Join with other states in an exchange? Or reject the notion, leaving the work to the federal government?
Corbett, who in November received a one-month extension for his decision, looks to be waiting until the deadline.
Christine Cronkright, a spokeswoman for Corbett, said his administration is waiting for information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Corbett played both sides of the issue while running for governor in 2010. He raised money from supporters by noting that, as attorney general, he joined a legal challenge of the law, calling it a "health-care monstrosity"
He also issued a campaign-policy paper calling the law a "great opportunity to extend coverage to thousands more people through Pennsylvania
" but said the state had to be careful in how it was implemented.
We here at PhillyClout world headquarters will miss Catherine Lucey, who founded our blog in 2008 and has decided to become an expert in the Iowa presidential caucuses by taking a job with the Associated Press in Des Moines.
Lucey, who had a dedication to the news that could be just shy of scary, took one last tour through the state's political stories this week by appearing on the Pennsylvania Cable Network's "Journalists Roundtable" program.
The show aired Thursday but will be rebroadcast Friday at 10 a.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m.