After William “Bill” McSwain announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor in West Chester on Sept. 13, he travelled to the other three corners of the commonwealth over 3 days. The focus of his public appearances during those stops make it clear that he intends to focus his campaign on three main themes: crime, economy, and his Marine Corps experience.
At the announcement at his hometown in West Chester, McSwain’s pitch on crime didn’t have to talk much about his stance on crime, as he let a guest do that for him.
“Jim’s murder didn’t need to happen. These criminals who took his life should have never been out of jail,” said Terri O’Connor, the wife of Philadelphia Police Corporal James O’Connor who was shot and killed in March of 2020. Terri, a Philadelphia mother of two who used to not think of herself as political, introduced McSwain’s kickoff speech in which he pointed to increasing crime in Philadelphia.
“Bill promised he would prosecute the case at the federal level to ensure that the incompetent Philly DA [Larry Krasner] wouldn’t have an opportunity to, again, allow this killer back on the streets,” O’Connor continued. “And Bill promised he would pursue the death penalty. Bill delivered on these promises.”
After the announcement, McSwain hit the road with campaign manager James Fitzpatrick, and communications manager Rachel Tripp. Broad + Liberty accepted an invitation to travel with the campaign to get a behind-the-scenes look.
READ MORE — Interview with Bill McSwain
McSwain and team arrived at 9:00 a.m. the next morning in the opposite corner of the state for a meeting with the Manufacturer and Business Association in Erie, where he took an opportunity to differentiate himself with Gov. Tom Wolf.
“It’s just another good example of [the Wolf administration] not partnering with you,” McSwain said to those gathered about a proposal from MBA to expand association health plans.
Loosely defined, association health plans are created when several small businesses form an association to create a larger employee pool to spread risk and harness more buying power. The MBA said they believe Pennsylvania could allow businesses to be more aggressive with the idea by a simple rules interpretation — a rules interpretation they say the Wolf administration won’t agree to.
The focus on economy and crime persisted as the campaign travelled to Pittsburgh’s Cupka’s Cafe II, part of a decades-old family owned restaurant business in the city. There, Republican Committee Chair of Allegheny County Sam DeMarco III introduced McSwain, both hitting the Wolf administration for the Spring 2020 business shutdowns and lamenting the local crime surge.
“Folks, we’re here in South side, you can’t turn on the news at night without seeing something about a new shooting or some sort of criminal act that has taken place,” DeMarco said. “Rich Cupka here [the business owner] has led — in the south side here — trying to get business owners to go out and talk about this and get answers.”
Last September, the AP reported that Pittsburgh had seen a 46 percent surge in homicides.
The message was clearly an attempt to help McSwain’s law-and-order message resonate outside of Philadelphia. In his last two years of being the U.S. attorney in Eastern Pennsylvania, McSwain had a long running feud with Philadelphia’s district attorney, Larry Krasner, often hailed as the most progressive prosecutor in the country.
The following morning, Sept. 15, the campaign held a well-attended breakfast at an Italian restaurant overlooking the Johnstown Inclined Plane.
McSwain’s speech was only slightly modified from the original announcement, but the event served as a good test of whether McSwain’s long-running battle with Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner will sell well outside of the southeast.
…the event served as a good test of whether McSwain’s long-running battle with Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner will sell well outside of the southeast.
“I don’t specifically know the individual that he’s referring to [Krasner], but the subject of what he’s referring to, I think rings true not just for Pennsylvania, but for the whole country,” said Richard Von Schlichten, who said he “liked everything he heard” from the candidate.
But skeptics could be found.
“Yeah, [the focus on Krasner] that’s kind of a problem because you know, we’re kind of concentrated on Pittsburgh and he needs to talk about issues that are more relevant to Western Pennsylvania,” said Betsy Suppas. “For example, I’m a petroleum geologist. And one of the issues that I’m concerned with is maintaining — not increasing — extraction taxes on oil and gas.”
Suppas also expressed deep concerns that the Republican candidate — whether McSwain or any of the other candidates — would be able to appeal to moderate Democrats and independents in the general election after the extreme political polarization of the last several years.
The four-corner swing ended in Scranton, with McSwain talking to local press and a handful of blue-collar workers in Pittston Township, just outside of Scranton, at the Linde Corporation. The company’s website calls itself a “classic American success story,” and credits much of its recent success to its work on the “Marcellus Boom.”
In all of his speeches, McSwain closed with an homage to the Marine Corps, in which he served for several years as a platoon commander in the 1990’s.
“We have a motto: Semper Fi. It means always faithful. Semper Fi, Pennsylvania. You can count on me to be faithful to you.”
In Johnstown, McSwain’s connection to the Corps earned him an enthusiastic “Hoo-rah!” from Marines in the audience.
The Marine Corp platform doesn’t look as if it might be diminished at any point in the future, if campaign swag is any indication. Baseball hats with the McSwain logo on the front also have a message embroidered on the back: “Send in a Marine.”
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use his encrypted email at email@example.com.