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Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

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Hanger exits Democratic gubernatorial primary

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Mar 13, 2014 9:42 AM

Photo by Mary Wilson / witf

John Hanger has dropped out of the Democratic gubernatorial primary race, citing stiff competition from moneyed candidates and concluding he has "no path to victory."

By way of explaining his withdrawal, he pointed to the aggressive TV ad campaign launched by York businessman Tom Wolf, which he called "startlingly effective."

"We actually had significant momentum in November going through January, prior to the Wolf television avalanche," Hanger said at a press conference in Harrisburg Thursday. "His advance in the race has meant that we were not able to have the polling results we needed to raise the money to put us on TV at the end of the race."

Hanger, a former Department of Environmental Protection secretary, best distinguished himself from the other candidates with his support for marijuana legalization. But among primary opponents who had raised several millions of dollars, Hanger's haul looked meager. By the end of 2013, he raised $1 million, but ran up nearly that much in unpaid debts.

On Thursday, he said his foray into the gubernatorial contest confirmed his suspicion that Pennsylvania's campaign finance system needs to "ripped out by its roots."

"I personally think, until we have public financing of gubernatorial elections, the existing finance system is toxic and destructive to good government and good policy making," Hanger said. "I was competing under these rules. I'm proud of the fact that we complained about the rules."

He concluded that staying in the race could damage the issues for which he's fought. "Some folks might have written that our performance on Election Day was a reason not to take various things that we campaigned on seriously and I'm not willing to damage the causes," Hanger said. "We couldn't win. I think we could've finished fourth, maybe third, but that was not good enough."

At forums and debates over the past few months, Hanger responded to questions about his comparatively low funding levels by saying he was running a "people's campaign." He ranked at the bottom among other Democratic gubernatorial candidates in a Franklin and Marshall College poll last month. At a press event in Harrisburg to announce his withdrawal, he dismissed the results of that survey.

"I don't think too many people believe Katie McGinty or I were at one percent when that poll was taken," Hanger said.

He is the fourth Democratic candidate to withdraw from the 2014 gubernatorial race. Five Democrats remain. Hanger endorsed all but the most recent entrant, former auditor general Jack Wagner.

"Look, I've talked about the four," Hanger said. "We'll see what Jack does."

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