Approval rating for Kathleen Kane at a dismal 26 percent
Kathleen Kane deserves neither re-election nor impeachment, a poll on the embattled state attorney general shows.
By slim margins, pluralities of Pennsylvania voters who have made up their minds reject either course. Pennsylvanians also disapprove of the job Kane is doing after a year of intense scrutiny, rough headlines and a grand jury recommending criminal charges against her.
On nearly all three measures, more respondents chose "not sure" than a specific way forward as the Kane saga continues to play out statewide.
A new Morning Call/Muhlenberg College survey — the first independent poll to sound out voters' views on the Democrat and her tumultuous term — included four questions on Kane.
"Given the type of year that she's had, these numbers are probably not as bad as one might expect," said Chris Borick, pollster and political scientist at Muhlenberg. "A very large portion of Pennsylvanians simply haven't been following her performance in office enough to really weigh in."
One in four Pennsylvanians surveyed said they approve of Kane's job performance, with 33 percent who disapprove and 41 percent responding that they have no opinion.
The survey comes as Kane, a former Lackawanna County prosecutor who took office in 2013, is asking the state Supreme Court to throw out a grand jury investigation into whether she leaked secret documents to discredit her critics.
It's the latest development for the once rising star of the Democratic Party, who had been rumored as a possible U.S. Senate candidate next year.
She has retracted false or exaggerated statements related to criminal matters, openly feuded with state police and other prosecutors, and now faces possible charges of perjury, false swearing and abuse of authority.
Kane has admitted that she authorized the release of a document to the Philadelphia Daily News but has said it was not part of the secret record of a 2009 grand jury.
With the election more than a year away, Kane's numbers show what a political lightning rod she has become.
Asked whether Kane — the first woman and first Democrat to hold the office — deserves a second four-year term, voters were divided: 27 percent said she does and 33 percent said she doesn't. Another 40 percent were uncertain.
If Kane were to run against a generic Republican candidate, 31 percent said they'd pick the Republican if the election were held today, 29 percent would pick Kane, and 19 percent said it would depend on the candidate. Twenty-two percent said they were not sure.
She fared slightly better among women and among Democrats. More independents said she shouldn't be re-elected than said they backed her for a second term, though 53 percent responded that they weren't sure.
Borick said the high number of those without an opinion on Kane is not unusual for a lower-profile state office such as attorney general, compared with more visible roles such as governor.
"Still, she hasn't helped herself in winning over high marks from state voters," Borick said.
Kurtis Rager, 29, of Macungie, said he told the pollsters that he approves of Kane's job performance, but that he's unlikely to back her for another term.
Some of the controversy has been overblown, said Rager, who owns a small carpentry business.
Still, it's "clouding any work she could do," he said, and he hopes she will resign or not run again.
Republican state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, has pushed a third option: impeaching the attorney general. His resolution has gained little traction in Harrisburg.
Among those surveyed, nearly three in 10 said they would support or somewhat support impeachment proceedings. More — 38 percent — opposed the idea. And 35 percent weren't sure.
While Borick noted 29 percent in support of impeachment may be disconcerting, the numbers suggest it isn't much of a threat.
"I don't see a groundswell for going that route," he said.
Metcalfe's push for impeachment traces back to Kane's 2013 decision not to defend the state against a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the state's law banning gay marriage, which a judge later overturned.
He renewed that call last month, after The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a grand jury had recommended perjury charges against Kane. The Republican state representative has argued Kane has shown "disregard and disrespect for the rule of law."
But some Pennsylvanians, such as Joseph Fatzinger, 44, of Kempton, who also was surveyed, say they sympathize with Kane. While she may have made some mistakes, she had an uphill battle after campaigning on a pledge to fight corruption, he said.
"I don't think she got into the position at a good time," said Fatzinger, a Republican who owns a construction company. "I think she had a lot of obstacles to try to overcome."
Fatzinger said his vote next year will depend on who the candidates are.
"It will be interesting to see if she runs again," he added.
Pollsters contacted 403 Pennsylvanians between Jan. 28 and Feb. 11 to compile an approval rating. The telephone survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percentage points.
A smaller sample of 351 registered Pennsylvania voters were asked about Kane's re-election and possible impeachment. Those results had a margin of error of plus or minus 7 percentage points.