Outsider Tom Wolf has inside track to Dem nomination in PA


By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

Tom Wolf, a politically untested Pennsylvania businessman, is the new front-runner to win the Democratic gubernatorial primary May 20, if a new poll is to be believed.

HUNGRY LIKE A WOLF: Tom Wolf, a businessman and former state revenue secretary, is the new leader of the Democratic gubernatorial primary pack

For that matter, the York County business owner is the new front-runner to be elected governor in November, too.

A Harper Polling poll released last week shows Wolf with a lead over all six of his opponents in the primary election. Wolf collected 40 percent of the vote in the poll, well ahead of U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who got 14 percent, and state Treasurer Rob McCord, who got 8 percent.

“The real impact in the race has been Wolf’s spending,” Brock McCleary, president of Harper Polling, said in a statement. “In fact, it has given form to a race that to this point has been filled with candidates who lack broad name identification beyond niche constituencies.”

Wolf, who served as revenue secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell but has never held elected office, began the year with more than $10 million in his campaign account — mostly from his own checkbook — and has run statewide TV ads for weeks.

The spending seems to be working.

A separate poll from Franklin and Marshall College gave Wolf a considerable edge on his Democratic opponents — he had 36 percent of the vote, Schwartz had 9 percent and McCord got 3 percent — and a lead over Gov. Tom Corbett in a hypothetical November matchup.

“Pennsylvanians know that Tom Wolf will give the commonwealth a fresh start,” said Jeff Sheridan, Wolf’s campaign manager.

Both surveys leave plenty of room for movement, though.

The Harper poll left more than 19 percent of people surveyed as undecided. Nearly half of the people surveyed in the Franklin and Marshall poll have made up their minds.

But it didn’t take long for other campaigns to respond.

CAN SHE RECOVER: U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz was once the front-runner in the race, but she’s now polling well behind Wolf.

In an email to supporters Friday, Schwartz’ campaign director took an indirect shot at “millionaires who are willing to throw in whatever it takes of their wealth to win.” The email didn’t name names, but the tone was clear.

Schwartz was the one-time frontrunner in this race, but she finished behind McCord in the battle last month for an endorsement from the state party. McCord got the most votes but failed to get enough to win an endorsement, however.

There’s still time for the race to change, but Democrats have much to like about Wolf’s candidacy.

Since he’s never held elected office he doesn’t have a voting record for Republicans to attack. In a year when people are fed up with politicians on both sides, Wolf isn’t seen as an insider of the Harrisburg or Washington, D.C., varieties.

He’s also got loads of business experience, which undercuts one of the major Republican messages.

But unlike the stereotypical view of businessmen-turned-politicians, Wolf doesn’t want government to run like a business. Quite the opposite, actually.

“When I hear people say that, it really bothers me,” he told the York Daily Record last year. “Businesses are not in the trade of educating our kids, providing health care to low-income families and children, and giving seniors the dignity of a happy and secure retirement. Our government is — or at least it should be.”

In a radio ad that began airing last week, Corbett’s campaign took shots at each of the three leading Democratic candidates: McCord, Schwartz and Wolf.

“Both multimillionaires who supported cutting seniors’ Medicare by $715 billion. Ouch,” the ad says of McCord and Wolf.

Will that resonate as strongly with voters as some of the attacks that could be leveled at Schwartz, in particular her history with abortion clinics and a long congressional voting record? Or McCord?

Time will tell. The good news for Corbett is 34 percent of voters in the new Franklin and Marshall poll said he deserves re-election, a marked improvement from the 23 percent who said so just a few months ago in a poll from the same source.

Corbett will have plenty of money to spend to further improve those numbers and to tear down the eventual Democratic nominee.

But Wolf has already dumped $10 million into his campaign coffers for the primary race and, if he wins, would get lots of national money from groups who see Pennsylvania as the most likely governorship to flip.

The Harper Polling poll was conducted on Feb.22-23 and surveyed 501 likely Pennsylvania primary voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.38 percent. The Franklin and Marshall poll was conducted on Feb. 18-23 and surveyed 548 registered Democratic voters in Pennsylvania with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percent.

Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent and can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com.

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