Meadville Tribune

State News

May 19, 2014

Will persuasive ads affect race for Democratic nod for governor?

HARRISBURG — Poll after poll shows former Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf is likely coasting to victory in today’s Democratic primary for governor and earning the bid to challenge incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in the fall.

The question is how many voters swayed by Wolf’s multi-million dollar advertising campaign will show up at the polls?

A York businessman, Wolf has never won statewide election. So, while he took the battle of the airways in the Democratic primary, he has not shown that he can get people to actually vote for him, said Mark Nevins, a spokesman for Treasurer Rob McCord’s campaign.

McCord and other Democratic candidates Allyson Schwartz and Katie McGinty are counting on that as a possible weakness in Wolf’s campaign.

“We have a field organization like no other, and you could make a compelling argument that could carry the day,” Nevins said. The McCord campaign, he said, has knocked on 231,000 doors, called 382,000 voters and hung 100,000 fliers on doors in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg to remind likely supporters of their polling places.

But get-out-the-vote efforts by McCord or the other Democrats will have to surmount a daunting lead.

A poll released by Franklin and Marshall College last week put Wolf ahead of his nearest opponent, U.S. Rep. Schwartz, by 19 points. He led McCord by 24 points and former Environmental Protection Secretary McGinty by 28 points.

Wolf jumped to the front of the field in January by getting on television seven weeks before any other candidate, said G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin and Marshall. His lead has remained stable for more than two months.

Wolf’s early success connecting with the public surprised pundits and the other candidates, Madonna said. And none of the other contenders has been able to overcome Wolf’s early advantage — despite the fact the state’s most powerful labor organizations lined up behind McCord or Schwartz.

Those candidates surely will count on union support today to help get voters to the polls. That could narrow the gap with Wolf, say pollsters, but it’s unlikely to erase a 20- to 25-point difference.

“I would be amazed if the polls are that far off,” said Chris Borick, a professor of political science at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. “There are no signs of significant movement or erosion” in Wolf’s lead.

Experts forecast around 25 percent of the party’s eligible voters will show up in this non-presidential election year.

Wolf doesn’t just have strong poll numbers and a large campaign budget, say local party activists. He has buzz.

“Tom Wolf seems to be who everybody in Snyder County is talking about,” the local Democratic Party chairman Tom Spangler said.

While the primary has splintered support — with many established political figures endorsing McCord or Schwartz — local Democratic leaders expect Wolf to get broad support against Corbett if he wins today.

“Many Republicans have told me that they will not vote for Corbett, so it looks like an easy contest in the fall for the Democratic primary winner,” Spangler said.

That could spell trouble for Corbett. The incumbent and former attorney general captured the governor’s office in 2010 by beating Dan Onorato, a former Pittsburgh city councilor and Allegheny County executive, who won that year’s four-way Democratic primary with 463,000 votes, compared to 248,000 received by the runner-up Jack Wagner.

“Whoever wins, we’ll all support,” Crawford County Democratic chairwoman Diane Adsit said.

John Finnerty reports from the CNHI Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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