HARRISBURG, Pa. (CBS/AP) — Pennsylvania Democrats on Tuesday tapped millionaire businessman Tom Wolf as their nominee to challenge Republican Gov. Tom Corbett after Wolf dug deep into his own pocket to finance months of folksy TV ads that catapulted him to the top of a four-way race.
Returns from nearly 70 percent of the state’s precincts showed Wolf with 58 percent of the vote, ahead of U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, state Treasurer Rob McCord and former state environmental protection secretary Katie McGinty.
Wolf’s victory capped a months-long TV courtship of voters with ads that featured his Jeep Wrangler and testimonials from his wife, his two grown daughters and employees of his kitchen cabinet company. Wolf poured $10 million into his campaign, which made him a household name and gave him a crucial early advantage.
In a victory speech at a minor league baseball stadium in his home city of York, Wolf described himself as “the luckiest person on the face of the Earth right now” and went on to attack the policies of the current governor.
“We have a clear choice: 2014 is going to be a very important choice for all of us,” he said. “We have a clear record of an administration that wants to hollow out our schools, wants to play fast and loose with jobs, that wants to take our natural assets and play fast and loose with them, and that also wants to have a stacked deck that will actually not have a level playing field.”
As KYW Harrisburg Bureau Chief Tony Romeo reports, Wolf told reporters one of his campaign themes will be creating a “level playing field” in Pennsylvania.
“I mean a Pennsylvania that has rules, from a tax code that actually is fair,” Wolf said.
While Wolf is on record with his desire to tax natural gas drillers, when asked if a level playing field meant taxing people with higher incomes as well, the newly minted Democratic nominee for governor said only that as a former revenue secretary, he has some insights on how to make the state’s tax code more fair.
Allyson Schwartz gave up her congressional seat, in hopes of becoming Pennsylvania’s first woman governor but it didn’t work out that way. Schwartz finished second in the democratic primary but KYW’s Pat Loeb reports she promised to work for her former opponent Tom Wolf in November.
Schwartz won’t have that title much longer but she promised, in her concession speech, to stay involved in public life, beginning with the general election. She says, despite some rancor late in the race, all the candidates have the same goal.
“We all agree that we have to change Harrisburg and that’s what we’re going to do together as we move forward,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz’s campaign spokesman Mark Bergman was slightly less conciliatory, chalking Wolf’s victory up to his personal spending.
“This election’s a testament to the power of money. Everyone looks at it. If you have more money and you can outspend your opponents, you can out-communicate your opponents,” Bergman said.
Wolf outpolled Schwartz even in the Philadelphia area, where she’s held elective office since 1990.
As KYW’s Mike DeNardo reports, an upbeat state treasurer Rob McCord pledged his support for Tom Wolf in the governor’s race.
“Our job is to defeat and evict Tom Corbett. Let’s help Tom Wolf do that!” McCord said.
Rob McCord promised to support Tom Wolf, the man he criticized in racially-tinged campaign ads.
“Somebody could be a good person, but not know how to stand up at the right time. And that’s all I was bringing up. And that’s one of those conversations that I think will improve us over time,” he said.
McCord said now the mission is to defeat Tom Corbett, a governor who McCord says eviscerated public education in Pennsylvania.
As KYW’s Steve Tawa reports, Katie McGinty was gracious in defeat in the Governor’s race, even though she finished last among the four contenders.
McGinty had less name recognition than her competitors, and spent a fraction of what Tom Wolf did, but her campaign manager, T.J. Rooney set the tone, before her concession speech.
“Make no mistake, there is no sense of finality, no sense of remorse or regret,” Rooney said.
McGinty told her supporters she told Wolf he can “count on her energy to help turn Pennsylvania from a lagging to a leading state.”
‘And I need to ask you, will you all be with me with Tom Wolf. Let’s give it up for Tom Wolf,” she said.
Throughout the campaign, when her rivals went negative, McGinty focused on positive attributes – her ideas and experience.
“It’s not about dragging people down, or the politics of personal destruction. It’s not about division. It’s about lifting people up, and that’s what we stood for through this campaign,” she said.
Corbett is viewed as vulnerable and a Wolf victory in the general election would break a four-decade gubernatorial tradition: ever since the state constitution was changed in 1968 to allow governors to succeed themselves, every governor has been awarded a second term.
Corbett and Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who were unopposed for the GOP nomination, said in a statement they would scrutinize Wolf’s “made-for-TV campaign” and expose his “tax-and-spend policies.” The incumbents said they would press their “more jobs, less taxes” motto.
State Sen. Mike Stack of Philadelphia won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor and will be Wolf’s running mate.
Voters also on Tuesday chose nominees for the state’s 18 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, all 203 state House seats and half the 50 state Senate seats.
After casting his ballot in the central Pennsylvania town of Mount Wolf — a town named for his ancestors — Wolf said his campaign had resonated with voters because he is a “different kind of candidate.”
Though new at politics, “I have a lot of experience doing things in life,” he said.
The four Democratic candidates together raised more than $35 million to compete for the nomination to take on Corbett on Nov. 4.
Many voters agreed with Wolf that his campaign had touched a chord. Philadelphia resident Shawn Chilton said he backed Wolf largely because of his ads. “I got comfortable with him because of that,” he said after voting early Tuesday.
Corbett, elected in 2010 largely on his reputation as the state’s corruption-fighting attorney general, has been saddled with low job-approval ratings. When he kicked off his re-election campaign in January, one poll showed fewer than half of the state’s Republicans believed he deserved another term.
Among the reasons cited by Corbett’s critics are his nearly $1 billion education spending cut in his first year and his opposition to efforts to impose an extraction tax on Pennsylvania’s thriving natural gas industry, which would produce hundreds of millions of dollars for the state.
Despite running unopposed, Corbett has been running TV ads, including one aimed at Wolf and another that touches on his own unpopularity by saying he didn’t go to Harrisburg to make friends but to make tough decisions.
In the highest-profile congressional primary, Democratic state Rep. Brendan Boyle defeated former one-term congresswoman Marjorie Margolies and two other rivals in a four-way battle for the Democratic nomination to succeed Schwartz in the 13th District, which includes parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County.
Campaign fundraising appearances by Bill and Hillary Clinton failed to help Margolies in her bid to recapture the seat she lost 20 years ago after only one term in office.
In the governor’s race, Wolf, 65, sought to define himself as the non-politician even though he served as state revenue secretary for nearly two years under Gov. Ed Rendell.
He highlighted turning around The Wolf Organization, a York building-products company that has been in his family for six decades, as well as his stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in India and his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The friendly discussions that marked early debates took on an increasingly negative tone last month.
KYW Newsradio’s Tony Romeo, Pat Loeb, Mike DeNardo and Steve Tawa and CBS 3’s Todd Quinones contributed to this report.
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