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John Baer: Allyson Schwartz admits her interest in Pa. governor's race

ALLYSON SCHWARTZ used to be known as "Sen. Scarf." This was during her days in the state Senate, where she served 14 years, and - as you likely figured out - almost always wore a scarf.

Allyson Schwartz and Gov. Tom Corbett
Allyson Schwartz and Gov. Tom CorbettRead more

ALLYSON SCHWARTZ used to be known as "Sen. Scarf."

This was during her days in the state Senate, where she served 14 years, and - as you likely figured out - almost always wore a scarf.

These days, during her fifth term in Congress, she's wearing something else: a change of heart for a chance to make history.

In November, even December, Schwartz seemed certain that she wouldn't challenge Tom Corbett for governor. Now she seems certain that she will.

"It is my intention," she tells me, to give up her House seat and take on T.C.

Why the change? Not so much frustration with Congress or being in the House minority, she says. Instead, it's more an "opportunity" to push priorities and issues related to jobs, education and economic development she sees largely ignored.

"I am very disappointed in the lack of leadership, vision and effectiveness of this governor," says Schwartz.

Then there's that recent poll her team touts.

Commissioned by the Democratic Governors Association, the poll suggests that Schwartz is positioned to win: She leads the governor 50-42 statewide; 81-12 in Philly; 53-42 in Philly's burbs and Pittsburgh, and 51-38 among women.

This after a Quinnipiac University poll showed that only 31 percent of women approve of Corbett's job performance.

And, yes, the election is next year - Schwartz has no exploratory committee, no timeline for a formal announcement, and polls can change.

But The National Journal reports that multiple online domain names are registered for a Schwartz gubernatorial bid, and her post as finance chairwoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee allows access to national money for a statewide run.

If she runs, she can make history: The state has never elected a woman governor nor ousted an incumbent who sought re-election.

It could be more interesting than Lynn Yeakel vs. Arlen Specter in 1992.

Yeakel was a novice without Schwartz's experience or savvy and nearly upset Specter (losing by 2 percentage points). And, in terms of political prowess, Corbett's no Arlen Specter.

Now, as then, a female opponent is problematic for the incumbent.

Specter angered women by grilling Anita Hill, who claimed she was sexually harassed by nominee (now Justice) Clarence Thomas.

Corbett backed mandatory ultrasounds for abortion patients, suggesting if women oppose the requirement, "you just have to close your eyes."

And his state spending cuts and privatization efforts don't help. National Women's Law Center data show that women make up 57 percent of the public-sector work force.

Still, Schwartz supports gun control, gay rights and abortion rights, and ran a Planned Parenthood center in a state with large pockets of social conservatives.

(Attorney General Kathleen Kane cashed in on Penn State stuff, anti-Corbett stuff and women P.O.'ed at stupid GOP stuff about rape and birth control, and was a fresh face without a vast voting record to pick apart.)

Schwartz ran statewide in 2000 in a six-way Senate primary, finishing second with 26 percent. Pittsburgh's Ron Klink won with 40 percent then lost to Rick Santorum.

She says the state's changed since then and that she's a "much stronger candidate now."

Maybe so.

But Schwartz's decades in office can be a liability. Nobody likes Harrisburg or Washington. And you just know she voted against Christmas or for flag-burning or did something begging to become nasty TV ads.

Also, a primary can drain resources and, if a western candidate enters, doom eastern candidates. Imagine, for the sake of argument, Rob McCord, Joe Sestak, Schwartz or others splitting the southeast as some new Ron Klink carries the west.

Ah, but political junkies would revel in the contrasts a Corbett/Schwartz gender-bender would bring. The "he said, she said." The liberal, "she'll say progressive" approach vs. the conservative, "he'll say responsible" approach."

It could offer a political smorgasbord many would relish (please forgive me) scarfing down.