We are one month away from the primary election in Philadelphia. Do you know where your favorite candidate for mayor stands?
The Ferrick Commission knows.
My panel of expert (and anonymous) political observers has emerged from the Great Hall of Deliberation, where we thought deep thoughts, consulted the tea leaves, and took a short nap.
Having completed cogitation, we are ready for prognostication. Let us cut to the chase.
The Democratic campaign for mayor is now a race between two candidates: Chaka Fattah and Tom Knox.
We predict one of these guys is going to win the May 15 Democratic primary, which means one of these guys is going to be the next mayor.
That's not to say the three other candidates - Bob Brady, Michael Nutter and Dwight Evans - are irrelevant. Indeed, they are très relevant, but mostly in their effect on the top two candidates.
Although a court has ruled that Brady can remain on the ballot, none of the commissioners believes he can win. But he does own votes among white voters that Knox would love to have. A prediction: Knox will launch an aerial ad attack on Brady to push down his numbers.
Suppose Evans surges in the polls, as voters (finally) grasp his murky "Table" ad? Whom will that hurt? Fattah.
Conversely, what if Evans falters or fades? Whom does that help? Fattah again, because it gives him a chance to win Evans' middle-class black base.
Did we mention that race matters in Philadelphia? The Commission, dear reader, takes the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. And, over the years, we have noticed a tendency among voters to follow their, um, tribal instincts as an election nears.
For the record, the chair abhors racial- and ethnic-based voting and never engages in it himself, unless - all things being equal - the candidate happens to be Irish Catholic.
So what about Nutter? The Commission believes victory is out of reach, though some commissioners - in a bow to the skill of the candidate and his media consultant, Neil Oxman - wonder whether he can surge to within striking distance. The majority thinks not. To quote one commissioner: "Unless Nutter penetrates the black community, he is a dead duck, and I don't know how you do that by broadcast" of ads on TV.
A Nutter surge aside, the Commission gives an oh-so-slight edge to Knox. Why? To quote Ozzie Meyers, the felonious sage of South Philly, because money talks and b.s. walks.
The $5 million ($7 million? $10 million?) of his fortune that Knox seems willing to lend his campaign has made him a household name. So far, Joe Trippi, his savvy media consultant, has spent his boss' money wisely. He's told Knox's rags-to-riches story well. Styling himself as an outsider, Knox has struck a chord with pay-to-play-weary voters. The desire for change is in the wind, and Knox is riding the updraft.
Knox has his vulnerabilities. His less-than-zero personality is one. Another is his interest in a bank that did payday loans. It's the stuff of great negative ads.
But how does one exploit these issues? Well, one way would be to buy about 500 to 600 rating points on local TV over the next two weeks to puncture the Knox balloon. That would cost between $550,00 and $650,000. Who has that amount of money on hand? No one. Except Knox.
To quote one commissioner: "If I spent that amount of money to go negative on Knox, it will drain my resources and he would hit back with $500,000 in negatives about me, plus run $300,000 on his own positives. You take the swing. You hit him. And he comes back at you, and you are standing there going, 'Duh.' "
Other commissioners, looking at the situation, see the penumbra of the Fattah victory. Why? Pure math.
In this equation, Knox, Brady and Nutter split the white vote. Fattah and Evans split the black vote. With the pie cut thusly, Fattah emerges with the biggest slice. Voila! Mayor Fattah.
Another way to see this: If Nutter is emerging as the city's first postmodern black candidate with a base that is mostly white, mostly liberal/reformers, then Fattah may emerge as this election cycle's uber-black candidate, appealing mostly to poor and working-class African American voters.
Expect Fattah to target his ads and comments more to that audience in the coming weeks. His first TV ad is an example. His Great Society Redux platform is another.
The biggest obstacle Fattah must overcome is his anemic fund-raising. He needs much more than he has on hand (about $600,000) to close the deal with black voters and pay for the Election Day field operation he will need.
So sayeth the Commission.