By PETER JACKSON
HARRISBURG - There's smoke, but no fire yet, in Pennsylvania's eight-way Democratic race for governor.
So far, the would-be nominees are aiming their campaign vitriol exclusively at Republican incumbent Tom Corbett, even though the real challenge for each of them is to convince Democratic voters that he or she would make the strongest candidate to take on Corbett in 2014.
Still, some noteworthy things are happening publicly and behind the scenes that will affect the Democratic campaign and ignite new debates as the May 20 primary approaches.
One recent development was state Treasurer Rob McCord's long-expected confirmation of his candidacy - making him the only statewide elected official in the race.
Perhaps more important, McCord's authority over the disbursement of state funds puts him in a unique position to affect certain executive actions - such as his refusal earlier this year to pay millions of dollars to a company the Corbett administration hired under a no-bid contract to modernize and manage state websites.
"A lot of people are talking about taking on Tom Corbett, but I've been doing it since he was elected," boasted McCord, a former venture capitalist who was elected treasurer in his first election campaign in 2008 and re-elected last year.
Money is also a pressing concern for serious candidates facing an eight-month primary battle, although no one knows how much is at stake. Under state law, the campaigns probably won't have to begin publicly reporting their contributions and expenditures until January.
That first campaign finance report could be a revealing test of the comparative strength of the candidates. And in a wide-open race in which union endorsements are all the more important, the better-financed campaigns will be more attractive to big cash donors and union leaders weighing whom to endorse among candidates who share similar political views.
Tom Wolf, a wealthy York businessman and former state revenue secretary, has set the fundraising bar high by vowing to sink at least $10 million of his own money into the primary campaign.
U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, a fifth-term lawmaker from the Philadelphia area, has said she began the campaign with about $3 million left over from her past campaigns. A key supporter predicted her fundraising would be buoyed by contacts she made through her work on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and support from women's advocacy groups.
"She's been a national presence for a while," said Philadelphia lawyer Mark Aronchick, a prominent Democratic Party fundraiser and Schwartz supporter.
Also, labor unions that are a major source of campaign cash for Democrats are already taking sides.
Schwartz has endorsements from the United Mine Workers and the Sheet Metal Workers Union. The Pennsylvania Conference of Teamsters tapped McCord as its favorite two days after he announced his candidacy. Former state environmental protection secretary Katie McGinty is backed by the Pittsburgh transit workers union.
Among the major unions still uncommitted is the largest state employee union, Council 13 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. It's expected to issue an endorsement by early November, said its director, David Fillman.
"We've got a lot at stake, so we will probably be pulling out all the stops," he said.
Jackson is the Capitol correspondent for The Associated Press in Harrisburg. He may be reached at email@example.com