Wolf wins Dems' nomination for Pa. governor

After arriving in his Jeep at Santander Stadium in York, Tom Wolf celebrates his victory in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
After arriving in his Jeep at Santander Stadium in York, Tom Wolf celebrates his victory in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 22, 2014

Tom Wolf, the wealthy small-town businessman who sold himself as an outsider, cruised to the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania governor Tuesday, dispatching three rivals after a dominant television advertising campaign.

Wolf, 65, was beating five-term U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz and state Treasurer Rob McCord by a 3-1 ratio, with more than four-fifths of precincts counted statewide. Katie McGinty, former state environmental secretary, trailed.

"This can't be a place that does good things for you if you have the right connections, if you live in the right place, if you look the right way," Wolf told about 1,000 cheering supporters at a minor-league baseball stadium in York. "This has to be a place that is fair for everybody. . . . If that's the kind of Pennsylvania you want, join me in this campaign."

Schwartz took the stage in a ballroom at the Radisson Blu Warwick Hotel in Center City about 9:30 p.m., shortly after calling Wolf to concede.

"Let's move forward," Schwartz said, her voice hoarse from hours of talking to voters. "We will be a united Democratic Party."

Someday, Schwartz concluded, "we will have a woman governor here."

The winner will take on Gov. Corbett, who was unopposed in the Republican primary but has been yoked to low approval ratings and is considered the nation's most vulnerable incumbent governor.

"I know that not every decision was popular with everyone," Corbett told supporters in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. "But sometimes leadership requires that we make the hard decisions now so we can achieve the best results for our future generations."

Wolf's victory testified to the enduring power of money. Wolf, owner of a family building-supplies company in York and a former revenue secretary in Democrat Ed Rendell's administration, pumped $10 million of his own cash into the race.

With the flexibility to seize the initiative, he aired a flurry of ads Jan. 30, featuring his two daughters, his mother, and his wife talking about his record as a Peace Corps volunteer, businessman, and community leader. The spots showed him driving a 2006 Jeep Wrangler down a country lane, honking the horn and waving.

While Wolf introduced himself to the voters, Schwartz and McCord were raising cash and building the ground organizations that traditionally win Pennsylvania primaries; McGinty ran ads in some markets.

By the time the air war was fully joined nearly two months later, Wolf and his iconic Jeep were famous.

At 9:45 p.m., McCord bounded into a tent at his campaign headquarters in Bryn Mawr, enveloping supporters in bear hugs as he made his way to the lectern. He congratulated Wolf.

"What's sad," McCord said, "is that there are children in good households, with a wealth of goodwill, and a work ethic, but not much money, and they have a governor who is eviscerating public education."

There were no sharp differences on policy among the candidates, who shared this year's Democratic doxology: increase spending on schools; tax the Marcellus Shale natural gas drillers; close corporate tax loopholes; raise the minimum wage; and tighten Harrisburg ethics rules.

To distinguish themselves, they emphasized nuances - McCord's demand for a 10 percent driller's tax, for instance, vs. the others' consensus of around 5 percent - and argued over who could best work with a legislature considered likely to remain in GOP hands this fall.

A race that had been marked by collegiality in early debates turned nasty in the final weeks as McCord and Schwartz sought to bring the front-runner down to earth, and McGinty remained above the fray.

In debates and attack ads, Schwartz questioned the propriety of a bank loan that provided just under half of Wolf's personal stake in the campaign. She also blistered him for layoffs at the company after it took on debt when a private equity firm bought it for $60 million; Wolf gained $20 million from the sale.

McCord ran ads that accused Wolf of going easy on natural-gas drillers, questioned his business practices, and implied he was soft on racism. The latter ad said Wolf had been too slow to disavow former York Mayor Charlie Robertson, whose 2001 reelection drive Wolf chaired.

Robertson was charged that year, and later acquitted, as an accomplice to murder in the slaying of a black woman during the city's 1969 riots, when Robertson was a young and admittedly racist police officer. Wolf said he was instrumental in getting Robertson to drop out of the 2001 campaign in the days immediately after the charges were brought.

Prominent Democrats, including former Gov. Rendell, criticized McCord for injecting race into the campaign, and he dropped in the polls.

Ben Stango, 25, of Center City, said that on paper, McCord was the most appealing to him as a gubernatorial candidate. But he voted for Wolf. "McCord's racial ads over Wolf really pushed me over," Stango, a Democratic committeeman, said.

Al Goerig, 42, a software analyst from Bristol Township, said he voted for Wolf because he seemed the most likable among four very similar candidates.

"I saw the commercials, and he seemed to be the least combative," Goerig added. "I also like that Wolf isn't a politician and [is] strong on business."

Schwartz's fall was as dramatic as Wolf's rise.

She began the race in 2013 as the prohibitive favorite, a strong possibility to become the first woman governor of the sixth most-populated state. Schwartz enjoyed backing from national feminist groups such as Emily's List, which poured hundreds of thousands into her campaign coffers, and Washington insiders - she had tacit early support of the Democratic Governors Association.

And she had the deepest government experience in the field, 23 years as a legislator, first in the state Senate, then in the U.S. House. But the campaign turned out to be bumpier than it had seemed it would be on whiteboards in Washington strategists' offices.

First, Schwartz was not able to consolidate support outside her congressional district early, and other ambitious Democrats crowded into the race.

"It was presumptive," said Christopher Borick, a political scientist at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. "To a lot of insiders in Pennsylvania politics, she was seen as the front-runner, but to the electorate at large, she was largely an unknown quantity. They didn't seem to have a plan to run from behind."

The bigger problem, he said, may have been that Schwartz's long service in government "was seen as a liability" when voters are expressing dissatisfaction with state and federal government.


Stack is Democrats' pick for lieutenant governor

Stack, 50, of Northeast Philadelphia, a senator for 13 years, defeated four candidates to become gubernatorial nominee Tom Wolf's running mate on the November ballot. They will face the Republican ticket of Gov. Corbett and Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley.

Stack's campaign raised more than $700,000, more than twice that of any of his opponents. He focused his campaign on public and higher education, saying he would tax natural-gas companies to fund improvements to schools, as well as raising the minimum wage.

The other candidates were State Rep. Brandon P. Neuman (D., Washington), U.S. Rep. Mark Critz of Cambria County, Harrisburg City Councilman Brad Koplinski, and Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith.


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tfitzgerald@phillynews.com

215-854-2718

@tomfitzgerald

www.inquirer.com/bigtent

Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Amy Worden, Allison Steele, Michael Matza, Claudia Vargas, and Ben Finley.

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