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The big bad Wolf

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HARRISBURG

Throughout history, wolves have taken on mythical proportion because of their ferocity and stalking ability, and because they often live relatively close to human populations. Wolf attacks are rare in the U.S. but predatory attacks on people have been documented in Europe since the Middle Ages. Wolves have a place in our culture, from “Little Red Riding Hood,” “The Three Little Pigs” and werewolf legends to cinema such as “Brotherhood of the Wolf.” Even “The Wolf of Wall Street” — the movie based on the story of convicted penny-stock swindler Jordan Belfort — was about a predator.

People fear wolves.

So it is that Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and state Republicans have used the image of actual and imagined wolves to help define his opponent, Democrat Tom Wolf. He began doing so before Wolf vanquished three primary opponents on May 20. A GOP mailer shortly before the election included a real wolf on the cover. A post-election fundraising email began “A Wolf at Our Door.”

Translation: Taxpayers should fear Tom Wolf, the candidate, according to Corbett and Pennsylvania Republican Chairman Rob Gleason.

This “wolf” won't steal our children in the night or gnaw on our flanks. He's after our tax money and pension funds, Corbett suggests.

It's part of the “politics of personal destruction” we'll continue to see from the Corbett campaign, said John Hanger, a Democrat who ran against Wolf and now supports him.

The interesting thing — showing Corbett's weak standing as an incumbent — is that he began before the primaries were over. That's because “Corbett desperately wanted Allyson” Schwartz as the Democrat nominee, Hanger said.

Schwartz is a liberal Philadelphian and former Planned Parenthood clinic director. In Wolf, Corbett gets a liberal Democrat from York County but with a business background that could offer appeal for some business-oriented Republicans.

G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College, said portraying Wolf as an animal, in this case a wolf, based on his name isn't offensive because Wolf does it himself. He refers to his supporters as the “Wolf pack,” Madonna said. It is a “scare tactic,” he said. Whether it's effective remains to be seen. Madonna said he believes real people talking about taxation would be more effective.

It's hypocritical for Republicans to blast Wolf on advocating a sales tax increase as former Revenue secretary under ex-Democrat Gov. Ed Rendell when Corbett boasts of winning approval for a transportation bill based on a gas tax increase, Hanger said. Corbett says the bill merely raises the wholesale cap on gasoline taxes and that with the state's crumbling infrastructure, public safety was the issue.

“Corbett's attempt to demonize Wolf as a candidate with sketchy business practices is straight out of the Obama playbook on how they took down Mitt Romney,” said conservative political consultant Ryan Shafik. “The only difference is Obama wasn't down by 15 to 20 points in the polls, so we will see if this strategy works for Team Corbett.”

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter (717-787-1405 or [email protected]).

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