By John Finnerty
CNHI News Service
Three leading contenders for the Democratic nomination for governor have raised $26 million as they prepare for what’s expected to be a hotly contested — and expensive — May primary.
That total includes $10 million that kitchen cabinet kingpin Tom Wolf put into his own campaign. Wolf said he needs to spend his own money to overcome a disadvantage he has in name recognition to state Treasurer Rob McCord and U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz.
“I need to spend that money so people can hear my story,” he said.
A former state Secretary of Revenue, Wolf heads the Wolf Organization. The York company, with 250 employees, bills itself as the nation’s largest supplier of kitchen cabinets.
Wolf hasn’t decided how much more he’ll spend if he wins the primary, he said, but he doesn’t believe it will need to be as much if he wins the party’s nomination.
The deadline for candidates to declare receipts from 2013 is Jan. 31. But Schwartz, McCord and Wolf have already announced how much money they’ve brought in.
McCord’s campaign said it will report $6.6 million in donations. Schwartz’s campaign has said it will report $6.5 million.
Wolf said he received about $3 million to go along with the money he put into his own campaign.
Early money flowing into the race portends what could be one of the most expensive gubernatorial elections in state history.
In 2010, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and Democrat Dan Onorato combined to spend about $42 million, campaign finance records show.
Former Gov. Ed Rendell and his opponents spent $65 million on their campaigns in 2002 — the year Rendell won election to his first term. That included about $29 million spent in the Democratic primary. Republican candidate Mike Fisher was unopposed in the 2002 primary.
Elections for open seats generally are more expensive, said Glenn W. Richardson Jr., a political science professor at Kutztown University who has researched political advertising.
This year’s campaign will be a clear exception, given Corbett’s widely perceived vulnerability and the crowded field of Democrats. “I would wonder why this wouldn’t be the most expensive in Pennsylvania,” Richardson said.
In the long run, Wolf’s $10 million head start is unlikely to be a game-changer. Richardson said there’s little reason to believe that Wolf will spend enough to saturate the media markets enough to overwhelm the other candidates.
Having $10 million to seed his war chest is pretty much the only reason Wolf is considered anything but a longshot, said Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.
The money “puts him in the upper echelon,” said Borick, separating Wolf from less-funded candidates such as John Hanger and Katie McGinty. If Hanger had the same resources as Wolf, Borick said, Hanger would likely be considered the stronger candidate.
Early on, Hanger called on other candidates to limit the spending in the race for the Democratic nomination. He was ignored.
But that doesn’t mean he and the others are completely left behind. Hanger and McGinty, in particular, have stayed in the public’s eye by getting in front of hot-button issues.
This week, Rendell told the Philadelphia City Paper that Hanger’s strategy of focusing on marijuana legalization is “brilliant” because it attracts attention without costing much money.
Those strategies — and the growth of social media — may help long-shot candidates make in-roads, Richardson said.
And it’s unclear how much of the sophisticated voter mobilization tools developed by the Barack Obama campaign for president will show up in the governor’s race, he said.
But, at the end of the day, money usually matters the most.
“Underdogs sometimes win,” Richardson said. But, using a baseball analogy, there’s a reason the New York Yankees have dominated historically while the Pittsburgh Pirates have made the playoffs only once in the last 20 years.
On top of that, Borick said, top-flight campaigns are expensive.
“Having trained professionals isn’t cheap,” he said. “There are no guarantees, but Wolf has the money for it.”
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 email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.