Kane outpaced all the guys on the ballot, even Casey
As Democrats swept the statewide elections last Tuesday, Kathleen Granahan Kane's victory stood out.
Kane, 46, a former Lackawanna County assistant district attorney from Waverly, earned more 3 million votes to defeat Republican Cumberland Count District Attorney David Freed and become the first woman and first Democrat elected state attorney general.
Only two previous candidates in state history crossed the 3 million mark, and anyone who follows politics knows both names well.
In his landslide nationwide victory in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, defeated Republican Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, 3,130,954 votes to 1,673,657, in the Keystone state.
In a one-sided 2004 state treasurer's race, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat and the auditor general at the time, walloped little-known Republican Jean Craige Pepper, 3,353,489 to 1,997,951 votes.
Kane unofficial vote total of 3,027,541 - with 36 precincts still unreported to the state as of Monday and official counts under way - was more than any other statewide candidate on Election Day. That includes President Barack Obama, who had almost 2.9 million votes and Casey, who had more than 2.9 million.
Last Tuesday, Kane won 27 counties, 10 more than Casey and 15 more than Obama. She did especially well in the southeast and southwest.
Obama won only two counties - Erie and Allegheny - in the western half of the state. Kane won 12, including four that ring Allegheny County. She won all four suburban Philadelphia counties, the former Republican strongholds now frequently leaning Democratic.
Experts have attributed her victory to a variety of factors - Kane's status as a qualified female prosecutor in an election cycle when the spotlight was on women voters, dissatisfaction with the Harrisburg old-boys' network, a strong campaign helped by lots of family money and others.
"Strong, qualified women candidates that can put people over politics will do exceptionally well at any level," state Democratic Party chairman Jim Burn said. "Kathleen Kane is a paradigm of that."
Most experts agreed another major factor that fueled her rise - maybe the major factor - was the way she capitalized on the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case at Penn State University. Kane promised a far more thorough review of the case than Freed, which turned out to be red meat to a public that polls showed were unhappy with the way Gov. Tom Corbett handled the case as attorney general.
Nowhere was that more noticeable than in Centre County, home to Penn State's main campus. Obama lost the county by 20 votes, according to unofficial returns; Casey won it by almost 1,900 votes, but Kane won it by more than 11,000.
"I think that was part of it," Centre County Democratic Party chairman Greg Stewart said. "Kathleen ran a really good campaign. She had been in our county several times over the last 18 months ... and we campaigned really hard for her. ... But I know some Republicans who voted for her and I think that (the Sandusky case) may have had an impact. ... They want to know why it took so long, and she mentioned that in her campaign."
"I think when she hammered Freed on the Sandusky thing, it resonated," Michael Federici, a political science professor at Mercyhurst University. "If you think about it in the most simple terms, whether or not the charges are exactly right, if you can point the finger at the people who are responsible for him not being brought to justice sooner as opposed to later, that's not a good thing, obviously."
"It tapped into something in Pennsylvania," Burn said. "Pennsylvanians want answers. Corbett's responses so far have been grossly inadequate on that issue."
Corbett has denied dragging out the investigation, but he is clearly aware of questions about his handling of the case.
"This is the first investigation I've ever heard of to look into a successful prosecution, and I think the people ought to look at that and say, 'Hmmm, is that investigation political in nature?' " Corbett told reporters Friday, according to The Associated Press.
Sandusky was convicted in June of 45 of 48 counts in the case and was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in jail.
Republican political consultant Charles Gerow said he doubts the Sandusky case mattered much because Kane was running well before it became a big issue.
"This sounds trite, but part of it is that Pennsylvanians have clearly indicated that when given an opportunity to vote for a woman statewide, they will," Gerow said. "They haven't had the chance to vote for many women for statewide offices and when given the chance they responded. She was a quality candidate and a quality female candidate is obviously a hot political commodity."
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org, @borysblogtt on Twitter