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The Philly DA’s race becomes the first 2022 debate for Josh Shapiro and Bill McSwain

Shapiro and McSwain both want to be governor of Pennsylvania. But they’re not interested in answering some pressing political questions.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, left, and former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, left, and former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain.Read moreInquirer File Photos

Josh Shapiro and Bill McSwain both want to be governor of Pennsylvania.

But they’re not interested in answering some of the most pressing political questions swirling before they potentially meet in the 2022 election.

Start with Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, who is widely seen as the Democratic front-runner for governor.

McSwain, a Republican and former U.S. attorney also maneuvering to run, has repeatedly fired at Shapiro on Twitter, asking why he hasn’t endorsed in the heated Democratic primary for Philadelphia district attorney. That contest next week is seen as a referendum on the progressive policies of District Attorney Larry Krasner.

“For those in law enforcement and those who care about public safety and those who care about the future of the city, it should be all hands on deck,” McSwain told Clout, blaming Krasner for rising shootings and homicides.

McSwain said Democratic challenger Carlos Vega “would make Philadelphia safer,” and has donated $1,000 to his campaign.

McSwain denied he had a political motive in raising this issue to which, well, c’mon.

If Shapiro endorses Krasner, he’d associate himself with a polarizing prosecutor and his policies. If not, Shapiro risks angering progressives. Either way, it’s a potential win for McSwain.

It seems fair to ask the state’s top law enforcement official about this race in the state’s biggest city, especially, as McSwain points out, when Shapiro is endorsing in contests like the one for mayor of Scranton.

A Shapiro aide, though, said he never weighs in on DA races because he needs to maintain a working relationship with all of them.

“Attorney General Shapiro works collaboratively with all 67 district attorneys in Pennsylvania from both parties and he has not endorsed in any district attorney’s election since he became attorney general,” said spokesperson Will Simons.

McSwain called that “a cop-out.”

» READ MORE: Philly cops are going all out to defeat DA Larry Krasner

With big, divisive political issues on the table, though, Clout also asked McSwain about one roiling his party: former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.

Does McSwain accept that Pennsylvania’s 2020 results were valid?

“I’m not going to discuss those kinds of issues,” he said. “That’s not what I have any comment on at this point. I’m focused on the DA’s race and so we can talk about other things maybe at a future time.”

But as the top federal prosecutor for the eastern district of the state, McSwain had an oversight role on election integrity (and touted it in a statement) and didn’t file a single case of fraud in November’s presidential election. If he does become governor, McSwain could sign or veto election bills, and his administration would oversee the 2024 presidential race in Pennsylvania.

And Trump keeps pushing the election lie, berating Republicans to get in line or, like Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.), be excommunicated.

Clout tried three different approaches to ask McSwain if he, as the region’s former top federal prosecutor, had seen any major election irregularities in 2020. We got a version of the same answer each time: “I’m not going to address anything like that right now.”

In the end, he went back to Shapiro and the DA’s race, saying it would be terrible if “people were too cowardly to raise their voices” on an important issue.

He added, “This is part of leadership: is standing up and dealing with the tough issues even if it might not be politically expedient.”

Clout agrees.

Update: How the DA’s race plays in the wards

Philadelphia Democratic Party chair Bob Brady last week described a split in the city’s 69 wards as he prepared to print sample ballots for Tuesday’s primary, with 28 listing Krasner as their candidate, 28 for Vega, and 12 remaining neutral.

Krasner on Thursday called on Brady to release a list of wards and the candidates they back. Brady declined, but said the tally has now shifted in Krasner’s favor.

“Krasner has the majority,” Brady said. “Vega picked up some. A lot of the ones that were undecided went with Krasner.”

Krasner’s camp cites backing from 31 wards, including swaths of Northwest Philly, West Philly, and Center City. Vega has 15 wards, with 10 in Northeast Philly.

The Democratic City Committee, in an unusual move last month, decided not to endorse an incumbent after Krasner asked for the party’s support.

DA candidates grasp for childhood narrative

Krasner and Vega have clashed on the campaign trail about prosecution and public policy.

Now they’re fighting over who had a rougher childhood.

In a debate broadcast Wednesday by WURD, Vega mocked Krasner as “a white, rich, out-of-touch elitist.” Vega, who is Puerto Rican and grew up in New York, said his family was poor but his mother paid to send him to Catholic schools.

Krasner lashed back, citing his public school education in St. Louis and a Philadelphia suburb. His father was a disabled World War II veteran who used a wheelchair for decades.

“He received Social Security benefits,” Krasner said, choking up. “I ate on food stamps. My opponent knows that.”

Vega used the dispute to again tout his work ethic when asked about poverty as a potential cause of crime.

“I was poor,” he said. “I was hungry and I chose another route, which was to work hard.”

Staff writer Ellie Rushing contributed to this article.

Clout provides often irreverent news and analysis about people, power, and politics.