Meet the Other Guys: Here’s who’s vying for PA Attorney General in a suddenly wide-open race

Kathleen Kane was so popular statewide in 2012 that she received 3,125,000-plus votes — more than Senator Bob Casey and Barack Obama.

From left: Stephen Zappala, John Morganelli, Josh Shapiro.

From left: Stephen Zappala, John Morganelli, Josh Shapiro.

Allegheny County,, Anna Orso/Billy Penn

One is the the district attorney of Allegheny County. The other is a well-known political figure in Montgomery County whose reputation is (probably fortunately for him) in no way connected with the Bill Cosby case. Both of them should send Kathleen Kane a thank-you card.

Yesterday, Kane dropped out of race for Attorney General. She cited spending more time with her sons and being able to sleep at night (she did not mention the perjury and contempt of court charges she faces). Stephen Zappala, the Allegheny County DA, and Josh Shapiro, a MontCo Commissioner, are immediately the two biggest beneficiaries of this decision, jumping into the role of favorites for the April 26 Democratic Primary.

Until yesterday, the favorite may still have been Kane. Despite her legal quandary and the Supreme Court’s suspension of her law license, she led in a Harper poll, with 31 percent of respondents saying they’d vote for her. Zappala and Shapiro ranked behind her with 18 percent and 13 percent of the vote, respectively. John Morganelli, the Northampton DA who has run unsuccessfully before, had 9 percent. 

Her appeal shouldn’t come as a surprise. Kane was so popular statewide in 2012 that she received more than 3.1 million votes — more than Senator Bob Casey, more than a running-for-re-election President Barack Obama. G. Terry Madonna,director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, said her lead could have shrunk as she was forced to answer questions about the indictment and her continued investigation into the porny emails scandal.    

“When was the last time she answered questions?” he said, referring to her practice of holding press conferences without the press being able to, erm, do our job.   

Now that she’s out, it appears Shapiro could see a bigger gain. The Harper poll also asked respondents how they would vote if Kane were not in the race. For this question, Shapiro shot up to 19 percent, Zappala to 20 percent and Morganelli to 12 percent, with 49 percent of people undecided. So the race is basically wide open.

Madonna said the battle between Zappala and Shapiro could turn into an “East-West contest.” If that’s the case, sheer population numbers should benefit Shapiro. Pennsylvania has about four million registered Democrats. Registered Democrats in just Philadelphia and Montgomery counties comprise around 25 percent of that total. And of the 10 counties with at least 100,000 registered Democrats, eight are in the eastern side of the state.  

Shapiro has already picked up Ed Rendell’s endorsement. Zappala was endorsed by the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council.  

Madonna expects both candidates to make a similar promise to entice voters: stabilizing the disaster Kane is leaving behind.  Whoever wins on the Democratic side will face John Rafferty in the general election. He’s the only Republican in the race.   

Last week, Shapiro attended a political meet and greet in North Philly with Council President Darrell Clarke, who has also endorsed him. He talked about gun violence, the constitutional right to clean water, the voter ID battle and, of course, the problems Kane has caused in the AG’s office.

“We need to clean up the mess,” Shapiro said. “We need an attorney general who is going to reflect all Pennsylvanians.”

Anna Orso contributed reporting to this story.

John Morganelli

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 5.06.41 PM

Position: Northampton County district attorney

Age: 59

Fun facts: He won the Democratic nomination in 2008 but lost to Tom Corbett in the general election….He’s a published author! Morganelli wrote “The D-Day Bank Massacre: The True Story Behind the Martin Appel Case.” It’s about a bank robbery/murder in East Allen, Pa., and how the alleged killer tried to get off free on a technicality.

Josh Shapiro

Josh Shapiro

Position: Montgomery County Commissioner

Age: 42

Fun facts: Shapiro has never been a prosecutor…. He was a state representative for four terms, and people had speculated he might run for Governor in 2014 and for the U.S. Senate this year.

Stephen Zappala


Position: Allegheny County district attorney

Age: 58

Fun facts: He’s the son of Stephen A. Zappala, a former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice.

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John Rafferty