But other than their differences on using public school money for private school vouchers (Roberts is anti, while Harris is pro), the two sound alike. "There is agreement around a lot of policy issues," Roberts admits — stuff like gun regulations, prison reform, job creation and public safety. "But [Harris'] pro-voucher stance lines up with the same Republican agenda that Corbett has."
The race has gotten a little ugly: Roberts alleges he had heard the opposition had a "bounty out" for the banner atop his campaign office; soon after, the sign was splashed with red paint, accompanied by a note warning, "We out for blood."
But Harris says he's just focused on his own priorities, primarily generating opportunities for all children. He says he helped keep swimming pools open last summer, was a key strategist in combating flash mobs and was instrumental in saving the high-performing E.M. Stanton School in South Philly this year after it was listed for closure. "People are getting hung up on the vouchers," he says. "People are listening to the rhetoric and not getting to the core. ... I'm not a pro-voucher candidate; I'm a pro-quality-education candidate. To me, vouchers is not the toolbox; it's one of the tools." —S.M.
The Big Money: 188th Pennsylvania House District
On Saturday, two tricked-out low-riders emblazoned with the word "Gucci" brought up the rear of a motorcade for state House candidate Fatimah Muhammad. It was an unlikely aesthetic given her key funder: the Students First PAC, a pro-school-voucher group backed by three Bala Cynwyd hedge-fund managers and a right-wing Amway heiress. But it did reflect the sheer amount of money dedicated to taking down state Rep. Jim Roebuck, the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee and a lead voucher opponent. Students First has donated $25,000 to Muhammad's campaign and $12,000 to the third-party Public Education Excellence, which mailed out glossy, misleading ads attacking Roebuck.
Muhammad, to her credit, has matched the big money with hard work throughout West Philly's 188th. Mornings, she visits coffee shops and rides the trolley; by night, she talks up voting lushes at local watering holes.
Roebuck is just one voucher opponent being hit with right-wing corporate funding; Students First has spent at least $1,168,857 in Pennsylvania this year. But the unjustifiably comfortable 27-year incumbent is running the most lackadaisical of campaigns, and is nowhere to be seen in his district. If Muhammad beats him on April 24, his anemic campaign will share the blame. —D.D.