State Treasurer Rob McCord's entrance into the governor's race has been one of the worst-kept secrets in Pennsylvania for a few weeks now. But his official coming out in Montgomery County Tuesday was still important, in some ways -- a chance to measure, at least in some small way, the support he can muster and the impression he makes as a candidate.

 

It's still eight months before the Democratic primary, but McCord made a decent showing.
He had a crowd of about 100 in a room at Montgomery County Community College, including many in union shirts -- Teamsters, Laborers, and AFSCME public employee union reps.

He spoke for about 20 minutes with energy and without notes, weaving his personal story and policy priorities.

He talked about growing up in a struggling, single-parent household after his parents' divorce, eating meatless meals and drinking powdered milk while his mother demonstrated the values of hard work and education. (You can hear the heart of this story by playing the audio above.)

McCord spoke about getting to Harvard with financial help, attending the Wharton School and eventually making it in the business world, helping to invest in startup technology companies.

He made a case that he's done something with the state treasurer's office, investing the public's money well and battling the Corbett administration over education cuts and the "crony capitalism" of its lottery privatization initiative.

What about the competition?

McCord never mentioned the elephant in the room -- donkeys, really -- his many rivals for the Democratic nomination. Elections are ultimately about making distinctions, and he'll have to make a case why he's the best of the litter.

I asked one of his labor supporters in the room, Henry Nicholas, president of the Hospital and Health Care Workers Union, why he was supporting McCord. "He can win," he told me.

What about U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, I asked, the leader in early polls?

"She's my friend, but this isn't about friendship," Nicholas said. "She can't win in the center of the state, because of the politics." When I asked him to explain the politics, he laughed and said, "You know what it is. It's Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, and Mississippi."

Get that? Mississippi twice. There have been mutterings among some Democrats that Schwartz's liberal record and history of running a women's health clinic that provided abortions make her unable to win a general election.

The Schwartz campaign has released polling to rebut that claim.

McCord did finish his speech with a quick reference to the 'electability' argument.

"I am best built to beat Tom Corbett. I intend to beat Tom Corbett, and with your help, I will beat Tom Corbett!" he shouted. "So let's go get 'em!"

While McCord makes an impressive speech and has the stature to be a credible candidate, he has a ways to go. The most recent Quinnipiac University poll found 85 percent of those surveyed didn't know enough about McCord to have an opinion about him.

To overcome that, McCord will have to raise a lot of money, something he's shown some capacity for in the past. Campaign expense filings in January should be revealing for McCord and the other hopefuls in the race. Besides Schwartz, they include York businessman Tom Wolf, former state environmental secretaries Kathleen McGinty and John Hanger, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, Harrisburg-area minister Max Myers, Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, state Sen. Mike Stack of Philadelphia, and state Rep. Scott Conklin of Centre County.

In a statement Tuesday, Gov. Tom Corbett's campaign said that McCord "joins a crowded field looking to throw our commonwealth into reverse by pushing the same failed tax-and-spend agenda that left Pennsylvanians with a $4.2 billion budget deficit and double-digit unemployment."

McCord campaign operatives were at least pleased that the Republicans took their campaign seriously enough to send a young man to photograph people at the event. I approached and asked if he was from the Republican State Committee, and he nodded, but waved off any other questions.