BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) — With household name recognition in short supply, a big field of would-be Democratic Party challengers to Gov. Tom Corbett made their case to more than 100 party faithful Wednesday night as the campaign gets underway in earnest.
The six candidates who showed up at Lehigh University's Iacocca Hall rotated between six tables, each set up with a moderator to focus on one issue: education, environment, senior citizens, equal rights, reproductive rights and labor.
One candidate, former state environmental protection secretary and White House environmental adviser Katie McGinty, kidded afterward that it was like "speed dating."
Many of the registered Democratic voters who showed up had yet to make up their minds, and some were just learning the names of the candidates for the first time.
"I think right now it's going to be a fascinating race," said Bruce Taggart, a vice provost for library and technology services at Lehigh University who said he is undecided.
The education and environment tables drew the biggest crowds, and the tone at the environment table was occasionally set by people opposed to fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, a controversial practice used by the booming oil and gas exploration industry in Pennsylvania and the rest of the nation.
There was no love for Corbett at the event.
"What doesn't bother me about him?" said Kyle O'Brien, of Lehighton.
Bonne Bosco of Allentown showed up Wednesday night looking for a candidate willing to support a moratorium on fracking.
She didn't exactly get that from John Hanger, a state environmental protection secretary under former Gov. Ed Rendell. What she did get was a face-to-face explanation of his position: He would stop natural gas drilling on public lands and stop drilling by companies that are the worst violators of safety regulations. But gas drilling must go on, he said, because stopping it would mean more energy from oil and coal.