Penn Law graduate John Hanger withdrew from the Democratic gubernatorial primary last week. 

Credit: Yolanda Chen

Even though 1984 Penn Law graduate John Hanger withdrew from the Democratic gubernatorial primary last week, he believes that his campaign’s message had a lasting impact on the dialogue between the candidates.

The former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection withdrew from the race last Thursday because he no longer saw a path to victory in the primary.

Despite no longer being a contender for governor, Hanger is pleased that the remaining candidates have adopted some of his stances on various issues, such as marijuana legalization, the environment and education.

His views on marijuana reform were the most liberal of all the Democratic candidates — something he was well-known for in the field. His ultimate goal was the full legalization of the substance. “We made marijuana an issue in this race when it wasn’t before,” Hanger said.

Several other Democratic challengers to Republican Governor Tom Corbett have come out in favor of steps one and two in Hanger’s marijuana reform plan: medical legalization and decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of the drug.

The remaining candidates do not support legalization to the same extent as Hanger, but he remains confident that support for legalization will continue to build if the first two steps in his plan are enacted.

In addition to his advocacy for marijuana reform, Hanger pushed for measures to strengthen Pennsylvania’s primary and secondary schools and reduce the cost of postsecondary education for residents of the Commonwealth.

Hanger remains proud of his proposed Keystone Opportunity Fund, a program by which any Pennsylvania high school student could attend two years of community college or one year of school at an in-state public university tuition-free. The fund would be replenished by the participants in the program who would agree to pay 1 to 2 percent of their income back into the fund for 15 years post-graduation.

“Student loan debt is crushing families,” Hanger said, calling his plan “a game-changer for Pennsylvania students and families.”

Besides policy issues, Hanger’s withdrawal statement last week cited winning the Democratic primary in May and unseating Corbett in the general election as critical goals for the campaign. Although his second goal is now out of reach, Hanger remains confident that whichever Democratic candidate eventually wins the nomination, they will be able to end “the long nightmare of the Corbett administration” come November.

In order to keep the race positive, Hanger has so far abstained from endorsing any of his former rivals; however, he cites businessman and former Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue Tom Wolf as the clear frontrunner in the race.

Wolf’s campaign has more money than any of the remaining Democratic candidates, in part due to $10 million he contributed to his own campaign.

“Wolf has blown the race wide open with his television campaign,” said Hanger, who raised just over $1 million for his campaign. He said the ads were one reason he felt he could no longer win the primary. “We couldn’t compete.”

Penn political science professor Marc Meredith — who studies elections — says that it’s hard to say who Hanger’s supporters will back now, since most polls aren’t designed to take into account why voters support a candidate, only that they do.

He agreed with Hanger that money is playing a large role in the Democratic primary, noting that the extra money in Wolf’s war chest allows him to run ads early and often. This lets him increase his standing in the polls while other candidates must hold their funds in reserve to use in the crucial final weeks before the election.

“This kind of uncontested or one-sided message is most effective,” Meredith said.

Wolf currently polls highest of the four remaining candidates in surveys of both registered Democrats and likely voters. All four of the Democrats remaining in the race, including Wharton alumnus Rob McCord, received more support than Governor Corbett in a February poll from Quinnipiac University.

At this point, Hanger is hopeful that whichever candidate emerges from the primary will be well-prepared to beat Corbett. “That’s the key right now,” he said.

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