During a one-on-one telephone interview last week, Tom Wolf was asked to name the biggest obstacle to winning the Democratic nomination for governor. Was it the union support for Treasurer Rob McCord? Or the veiled racial accusations McCord and Allyson Schwartz threw at him for chairing York Mayor Charlie Robertson’s 2001 campaign? Or Gov. Tom Corbett’s recent jobs claim?
“I haven’t seen much of an obstacle,” he said before apologizing for the way that sounded.
As the saying goes, if you can back it up, it ain’t bragging. Given his victory Tuesday over a strong field, Wolf need not apologize.
Since the earliest days of his campaign, which began 15 months ago, Wolf said he has gotten the sense from voters that they are looking for a different type of leader.
He cited his experience as a Peace Corps volunteer, an academic, a businessman and a former state revenue secretary.
The voters, he said, are making a hiring decision and they like what they see on his resume.
Franklin & Marshall College Pollster G. Terry Madonna agrees.
“The race,” he said, “has turned into a debate about who has the best background and which life experiences matter most.”
And getting his story before the public “in a positive way” was a part of Wolf’s strategy. It enabled Wolf to define himself rather than allowing others to define him.
Indeed, Wolf’s early TV ad blitz — look for that to be a staple in future statewide races — enabled him to get a lead and maintain it throughout the campaign. The initial Franklin & Marshall Poll on Feb. 26 showed him with a 27-point lead over his nearest competitor. The final pre-primary poll, released one week before the primary, gave him a solid 17-point advantage.
Now that the primary is out of the way, Wolf aims to make Tom Corbett the first governor in state history to be ousted after a single term. (Footnote: Pennsylvania governors could only serve a single four-year term until 1968 when the state Constitution was amended to allow two terms.)
Unlike the Democratic primary, where there was little to distinguish between the four candidates, there are significant policy differences between Wolf and Corbett.
According to the F&M Poll, voters rank education and employment as the top two issues facing the commonwealth. Those are two areas where Corbett is vulnerable.
Under Corbett, the state’s portion of education funding has fallen. That has forced local school boards to hike property taxes.
And while Pennsylvania has added jobs under Corbett, the state’s job growth ranked 48th in the nation in 2013 compared to seventh in 2010.
During the primary, Wolf was able to deflect attacks involving his personal finances, his decision to buy back his company and his support of Robertson and former state Rep. Steve Stetler.
Robertson, a former police officer, dropped out of that 2001 race after being charged and later acquitted in the 1969 shooting death of Lillie Belle Allen. Stetler, who briefly succeded Wolf as state revenue secretary, was indicted by a grand jury on theft and conflict of interest charges that grew out of the Bonusgate investigation overseen by then-Attorney General Corbett.
Look for those issues to be brought up again — and with greater zeal — in the fall campaign.
Whether they become obstacles or stepping stones remains to be seen.