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Corbett’s ‘early’ ad swats at Democrat Wolf

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In an unusual TV ad, entitled 'Toy Story,' GOP Gov. Tom Corbett’s campaign takes on Democrat Tom Wolf even before the Democratic Party chooses its nominee on May 20.

HARRISBURG — In a rare if not unprecedented move, analysts say, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s campaign is airing a TV ad attacking Democratic challenger Tom Wolf — before Democrats pick their nominee.

Corbett’s ad attempting to tie Wolf, the former Revenue Department secretary, to tax hikes and job losses under ex-Gov. Ed Rendell in many ways defines where the race stands 11 days before the May 20 primary, say political science professors watching the contest.

Three Democrats are fighting Wolf, a York County businessman, for the nomination, but he has led in public opinion polls since unleashing an advertising blitz on Jan. 30. Corbett is unopposed in the GOP primary.

Wolf is spending $1 million a week on TV advertising. A campaign finance report filed on Friday showed his campaign has spent nearly $13 million — nearly half of that, about $6 million, in the five-week reporting period that ended on Monday, including $5.3 million for TV air time and production costs.

Corbett’s campaign expenses were unavailable.

“There’s no doubt Wolf has Corbett’s full attention already,” said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

Corbett’s campaign spent about $2.8 million on media placement and production this year, mostly paid to the Republican advertising firm Brabender Cox, campaign filings show. He spent about $1.2 million of that in April. He raised more than $2.8 million during the last campaign finance cycle, ending with $6.3 million.

Analysts have speculated that Corbett would prefer to face U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz or state Treasurer Rob McCord, both of Montgomery County, Borick said.

The ad “means Tom Corbett doesn’t want to face Tom Wolf,” said Wolf’s spokesman Mark Nicastre.

Every governor has won re-election since the late Democratic Gov. Milton Shapp became the first in 1974 to win two terms under a state constitutional change. But Corbett of Shaler has struggled in polls and remains “one of the most vulnerable incumbent governors in America,” said University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato.

Fresh independent polls are expected next week.

Steven Peterson, a political science professor at Penn State University’s Harrisburg campus, sai a television ad targeting a primary opponent is “a bit unusual, although I can understand wanting to get some issues out to the public to prepare for the likely contestants in the actual general election campaign. But I don’t recall seeing this happen very much in my years in Illinois, New York and now Pennsylvania.”

David Thornburgh, director of the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania and son of former Gov. Dick Thornburgh, said he could not recall a similar instance in Pennsylvania.

The ad shows Wolf’s ubiquitous Jeep, a trademark of his TV ads. His folksy ads have featured his family, his furniture distribution company and his background, including his “Ph.D. from MIT.” The Jeep adds a blue-collar touch.

Corbett’s ad zeroes in on a “Wolf” license plate and shows a white Dodge Ram pickup truck with “Corbett” plates. The Jeep stalls; the truck takes off.

“Tom Wolf’s record on jobs is a car wreck,” the voice-over says. “While Wolf served in Harrisburg as the state’s top tax collector, our taxes went through the roof. And higher taxes led to 152,000 PA workers losing their jobs and unemployment going up almost 50 percent. … Corbett lowered taxes, creating 150,000 new jobs, and PA’s unemployment rate dramatically fell.”

FactCheck.org, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group under the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, called the ad “Tom Corbett’s Tall Story.” No broad-based taxes were increased during the 18 months that Wolf was Revenue secretary for parts of 2007 and 2008.

The Revenue secretary, as the ad says, is a “tax collector,” and he or she does not set policy on tax rates or jobs, the FactCheck critique said.

“To say (Wolf) had no involvement in the decisions and the direction of the administration’s failed tax-and-spend agenda would be to give him a free pass for policies he actively lobbied in favor of as secretary of Revenue and chief tax collector, and supported as a liberal donor,” said Corbett campaign spokesman Billy Pitman.

The ad may stretch facts and fairness, but if it “sticks” with voters, it works, Peterson said.

Corbett “is trying to define Wolf early on,” said Wes McDonald, an Elizabethtown College political science professor. Wolf is a “blank slate” compared with Schwartz, a congresswoman and former state senator, and McCord, the state treasurer.

Katie McGinty of Chester County, the former Department of Environmental Protection secretary under Rendell, trails in most polls.

Wolf poses the larger challenge to Corbett, analysts said. A York County resident could cut into the Republican base of the so-called geographic “T” of central Pennsylvania and the state’s northern tier counties. Wolf has some cross-party appeal for Republicans because of his business background, Borick said.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected] Staff writer Mike Wereschagin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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