Wolf beats Democratic challengers for shot at Gov. Corbett |
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Wolf beats Democratic challengers for shot at Gov. Corbett

York businessman Tom Wolf launched a multimillion-dollar advertising blitz in January and never relinquished an early lead in polls, trouncing three opponents on Tuesday to emerge as the Democratic nominee to challenge Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in November.

Wolf, 65, a former state Department of Revenue secretary, garnered 58 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns with 76 percent of precincts reporting.

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Montgomery County finished a distant second with 18 percent, state Treasurer Rob McCord collected 16 percent and former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty received 8 percent, the unofficial tallies showed.

Schwartz said Wolf has her full support, and McGinty said she would “wholeheartedly endorse Tom Wolf.”

“We have a clear choice. … There's a nearly four-year record that (Corbett) hollowed out our schools, played fast and loose with jobs, and played fast and loose with our natural assets,” Wolf told an energetic crowd of supporters at Santander Stadium, a minor league park in York that seats more than 5,000.

Wolf zoomed onto the field with the top down in his 2006 Jeep Wrangler, which played a starring role in several campaign ads. His wife, Frances, rode in the passenger seat.

The celebration was briefly interrupted by someone waving a large sign that read “Stop Fracking.” Wolf has no intention to do so — he wants shale-gas drilling to continue so he can tax it.

Wolf largely self-funded his campaign with personal donations and loans totaling at least $10 million. He sets his sights on Corbett, whom political analysts identified as one of the nation's most vulnerable governors.

Pennsylvania's five previous governors comfortably won second terms since the state began allowing them to seek re-election in 1970.

“I am proud to officially accept the Republican Party nomination for governor of Pennsylvania and to bring four more years of our ‘more jobs, less taxes' agenda to Harrisburg,” said Corbett, 64, of Shaler in a far more understated election-night party in a 17th-floor ballroom at the upscale Omni William Penn Hotel, Downtown.

Corbett ran unopposed. The state party successfully knocked ultra-conservative Bob Guzzardi, 69, of Montgomery County off the ballot in a ruling the state Supreme Court upheld on May 1.

Corbett will team with Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley of Bucks County, who was unopposed in the primary. Wolf's running mate will be state Sen. Michael Stack of Philadelphia, who led four other candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania's second-highest office.

Many viewed Schwartz and McCord as front-runners when the gubernatorial campaign began in earnest late last year. McCord won two statewide elections as treasurer, and Schwartz had five terms in Congress and 14 years in the state Senate. Schwartz had national fundraising connections; McCord used his personal wealth to help finance campaigns.

Wolf's sleek ads featured his family, the Jeep, his academic credentials as a “Ph.D. from M.I.T.” and the story of how he sold his family's business only to return three years later to save it from bankruptcy. Wolf heads the York-based Wolf Organization Inc., corporate parent of a kitchen cabinet and building supply company.

McCord and Schwartz questioned Wolf's credentials, but their attack ads did little to erode Wolf's support. McGinty avoided attacks, saying she wanted to run a positive campaign.

The key to winning in November will be Wolf's ability to turn out the vote in Philadelphia, the state's largest Democratic stronghold, said Jeffrey Weber, who chairs the political science department at East Stroudsburg University in Monroe County. Corbett could “eke out a victory” if Philadelphia turnout is light, Weber said.

“Corbett's biggest weakness is himself, his inability to interject any passion in his campaign. He just doesn't come across as personable,” Weber said.

Brad Bumsted and Tom Fontaine are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reach Bumsted at 717-787-1405.

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