PHILADELPHIA Five of the eight Democrats seeking to unseat Gov. Corbett next year lobbied for the limelight and lit into the incumbent Saturday at a candidate forum that exposed few gaps between them on policy and yawning chasms separating their styles.
Some had the raucous crowd of union members and community activists fired into a frenzy, while others left the auditorium at Temple University's Performing Arts Center lukewarm.
"I want to jack up some Republicans who have never created a job in their lives and don't know what they're talking about," said State Treasurer Rob McCord, of Bryn Mawr, in a reach-for-the-rafters performance that bordered on the evangelistic. By the end of the night, even the moderator was addressing him as "the Rev. McCord."
John Hanger, too, gave a rousing turn. The former state environmental protection secretary from Dauphin County earned the longest sustained applause of the night with his calls for criminal-justice reform and legalization of marijuana.
"This is an issue of right and wrong. Health care is a human right," he said, noting his own son's suicide last year and calling for an expansion of state mental health care coverage.
The forum marked one of the first major events at which the gubernatorial candidates appeared together since they announced their candidacies earlier this year.
With a primary six months away, the five gathered Saturday seized the opportunity to introduce themselves to Philadelphia's truest-blue voters, worked up by the smell of political blood in the water.
Corbett's low approval ratings in polls and lukewarm support in some corners of his own party have prompted eight Democrats to enter the race. The five who spoke Saturday seemed to relish taking shots at the incumbent, and each made the case that he or she stood the best chance of unseating him next year.
"What we're talking about with all of these issues is human dignity," said Katie McGinty, a Wayne resident and the race's second former state environmental protection secretary. "The question is, Is Tom Corbett part of the solution or part of the problem?"
All five were asked to speak on topics ranging from education to health care to retirement security. They repeated many of the same pledges: Medicaid will be expanded; public schools and pensions will be funded - some with more gusto than others.
With a well-funded war chest, U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, of Jenkintown, has been anointed by some pundits as the primary's front-runner, but she received only respectful applause when she addressed health care, one of her signature issues.
The crowd took longer to warm up to York County businessman Tom Wolf, even jeering him at one point for his proposal to rely on natural gas taxes to help fund education.
Later, two anti-fracking activists stormed the stage with a sign that read: "Good governors don't frack the people" and posed for photos behind the visibly uncomfortable candidates.
Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, and Cumberland County pastor Max Myers, who have also declared their intention to run, did not attend Saturday's event.
Corbett, too, declined an invitation.