Why a Tom Wolf Win Is No Surprise: Money

In a primary race where few issues separate the candidates, money will predict the outcome.

Tom Wolf
National Journal
Karyn Bruggeman
May 19, 2014, 4:57 p.m.

Nine times out of 10, the can­did­ate with the most money wins, and the Demo­crat­ic gubernat­ori­al primary in Pennsylvania is shap­ing up to be no ex­cep­tion. The ques­tion head­ing in­to Tues­day’s primary isn’t wheth­er self-fun­ded can­did­ate Tom Wolf will win, but by how much.

The busi­ness­man and former state rev­en­ue sec­ret­ary pledged to put $10 mil­lion of his own money to­ward his bid early on, beat­ing his rivals to the air­waves when he aired his first tele­vi­sion ad in late Janu­ary. Since then, he’s kept up a per­sist­ent drum­beat of me­dia buys, tack­ling top­ics from his per­son­al nar­rat­ive to edu­ca­tion.

Wolf’s spend­ing ad­vant­age has proven par­tic­u­larly use­ful in a primary where few is­sues di­vide the can­did­ates. Wolf’s TV ads left his rivals with little wiggle room to stake claims on voters, and head­ing in­to primary day they’re slated to suf­fer be­cause of it. The most re­cent poll from Muh­len­berg Col­lege gave Wolf a 23-per­cent­age-point lead over Phil­adelphia-area Rep. Allyson Schwartz, while state Treas­urer Rob Mc­Cord and former state En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Sec­ret­ary Katie Mc­Ginty trailed farther be­hind.

“They agree on 93 per­cent of the is­sues that mat­ter most to voters,” said Terry Madonna, the dir­ect­or of the Frank­lin & Mar­shall Col­lege poll. He has tracked the gubernat­ori­al race since it got un­der­way and also mod­er­ated two Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate for­ums in the spring. “The nu­ances are so minute that I’m hav­ing trouble fig­ur­ing out what they are.”

The col­lege’s track­ing polls have found edu­ca­tion to be primary voters’ most im­port­ant is­sue, but even there, the dif­fer­ences lie only in the peri­phery. “They all want to use a sev­er­ance tax on nat­ur­al gas to fund edu­ca­tion. The only ar­gu­ment is on the rate of the sev­er­ance tax,” Madonna said.

“We could go through any is­sue: gay rights, gay mar­riage, abor­tion, gun con­trol, the en­vir­on­ment, Medi­caid ex­pan­sion,” Madonna con­tin­ued. “The oth­er three have not been able to find is­sues to work with voters, so they went through their own per­son­al nar­rat­ives, but there’s not enough of a dif­fer­ence there to speak of, either.”

Madonna says he isn’t alone in his in­ab­il­ity to tell the can­did­ates apart on the is­sues. He re­called a mo­ment dur­ing one can­did­ate de­bate when Phil­adelphia Daily News colum­nist John Baer slammed his fist on the po­di­um and yelled, “Can’t I find something one of you dis­agrees on?”

The only vari­ance is that Wolf used his deep pock­ets to get his mes­sage out first, and more voters know who he is be­cause of it. His money al­lowed him to hire top-tier Demo­crat­ic con­sult­ants like the me­dia firm Shorr John­son Mag­nus, which pro­duced ads for Pres­id­ent Obama’s 2008 cam­paign and for Vir­gin­ia Gov. Terry McAul­iffe’s in 2013.

Wolf has run a total of 15 tele­vi­sion ads, nearly all of which aired in the state’s largest and most ex­pens­ive mar­ket, Phil­adelphia. He’ll have run nearly as many ads there as all of his primary rivals com­bined — no small ac­com­plish­ment, be­cause the Philly mar­ket reaches about 40 per­cent of the state’s voters.

“His me­dia strategy to this point has been bril­liant,” said former Demo­crat­ic Lt. Gov. Mark Sin­gel. “By smart use of tele­vi­sion, he has in­cor­por­ated his brand in­to the mind of the Pennsylvania voter.”

Sin­gel, a Wolf sup­port­er, high­lighted one ex­ample: His can­did­ate was the only one with ads run­ning dur­ing the heav­ily watched Winter Olympics in Feb­ru­ary. “Wolf caught them right when they were just form­ing their opin­ions,” Sin­gel said.

Schwartz and Mc­Cord tried to lob per­son­al at­tacks at Wolf over his busi­ness and his char­ac­ter, but they mostly back­fired. In the end, a Demo­crat­ic unity rally will come to­geth­er swiftly and without fan­fare; state Demo­crats are united in their de­sire to un­seat Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Tom Corbett. Madonna says he’s asked around the state for one single ex­ample of a Demo­crat­ic polit­ic­al lead­er who has something neg­at­ive to say about Wolf. “You can’t find one.”

Sin­gel en­dorsed Wolf in early May, but said, “All four of them would be bet­ter than cap­able gov­ernors, there’s no ques­tion about it. The ques­tion be­comes who’s go­ing to win the cam­paign sweepstakes, and who can run a cam­paign.”

By that stand­ard, Wolf has already won.

What We're Following See More »
TAKING A LONG VIEW TO SOUTHERN STATES
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Source:
‘PITTING PEOPLE AGAINST EACH OTHER’
Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Source:
THE TIME IS NOW, TED
Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Source:
CHRISTIE, BUSH TRYING TO TAKE HIM DOWN
Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Source:
ARE YOU THE GATEKEEPER?
Sanders: Obama Is a Progressive
1 days ago
THE LATEST

“Do I think President Obama is a progressive? Yeah, I do,” said Bernie Sanders, in response to a direct question in tonight’s debate. “I think they’ve done a great job.” But Hillary Clinton wasn’t content to sit out the latest chapter in the great debate over the definition of progressivism. “In your definition, with you being the gatekeeper of progressivism, I don’t think anyone else fits that definition,” she told Sanders.

×