Money, TV still work: Wolf leads Democrats in Pa guv race

    We have a new front runner among the Democrats running for governor of Pennsylvania, and it’s no surprise.

    After dumping an ton of cash into a statewide TV ad blitz, York businessman Tom Wolfe has surged way ahead of the field in a new Franklin & Marshall College poll. The poll shows Wolf is the pick of 36 percent of Democrats polled, a whopping 27 points head of his nearest rival, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz.

    Wolf’s ads were smart, appealing biographical spots that played to his strengths and ran so often that a whole lot of voters saw them more than once. It’s no surprise that Wolf was the first candidate to go on the air, since he began the race with no name recognition and the money to do something about it. Wolf has put $10 million of his own money into his campaign, and his friends and family and followed with some big checks.

    This dance is far from over though, and one thing Wolf did with his impressive poll showing is to paint a big target on himself. The Franklin & Marshall poll showed Wolf with an unfavorable rating among Democrats of just three percent, and you can bet his rivals are working on ways to change that number.

    I doubt we’ll see ads attacking Wolf from other candidates any time soon. They don’t have Wolf’s war chest and will want to husband their resources for the right moment to go on TV. There’s also the problem that in a multi-candidate field, if Candidate A attacks Candidate D, the benefit might go to Candidates B and C. So it’s tricky.

    I remember Philadelphia’s 2007 Democratic mayoral primary, when millionaire Tom Knox went on television and quickly led the pack, but was eventually set back by media scrutiny and negative ads from U.S. Rep. Bob Brady’s campaign. As in the example above it was Michael Nutter, who didn’t attack Knox, that benefited from Brady’s offensive and won the primary.

    So while I don’t expect ads attacking Wolfe, rival campaigns who’ve done opposition research on him (a decision made months ago, trust me) will start pitching stories to reporters that punch holes in Wolf’s narrative. We’ll see what happens.

    One more note about the poll: F&M researchers were already in the field when former state Auditor General Jack Wagner jumped into the race, so his name wasn’t included in the survey. He’s well-known, especially in western Pennsylvania, so he might have captured some of the support that showed up for Wolf. 

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