York businessman Tom Wolf easily captured the Democratic nomination Tuesday in Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial primary, launching a high-stakes contest against Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who is widely considered to be the most vulnerable incumbent GOP governor up for reelection this year.
Wolf, who briefly served as state revenue secretary under former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, had the support of 54 percent of voters, an even higher margin than public polls predicted, when the Associated Press called the race just after 9 p.m. Eastern time with 13 percent of precincts reporting.
Longtime Philadelphia-area Democratic Rep. Allyson Schwartz had 23 percent of the vote, followed by state Treasurer Rob McCord with 15 percent and former state Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty with 7 percent.
A poll from Quinnipiac University in February showed Corbett trailing Wolf with 33 percent to Wolf’s 52 percent, an enormous margin for an incumbent. No Keystone State governor has lost reelection since Pennsylvania altered its state constitution in 1968 to allow candidates to seek second terms, but Corbett has an uphill battle ahead of him to escape becoming the first to break that trend. The same Quinnipiac survey showed 55 percent of voters don’t believe Corbett deserves reelection, including 30 percent of Republicans.
Wolf successfully positioned himself as an outsider and proved impervious to rivals’ criticism over the $10 million in personal money he put toward his campaign, business dealings regarding his family-owned kitchen-cabinet company, and his character. Wolf’s personal millions proved especially useful by enabling him to wage an early and steady ad campaign, buying much-needed name ID in a field of candidates that differed only slightly on the issues. All four Democrats support abortion rights and Obamacare, and each favors raising the minimum wage, taxing natural-gas producers, and increasing spending on education.
Women’s groups including EMILY’s List and Planned Parenthood had thrown their backing, and significant amounts of money, behind Schwartz, who they hoped would become the Keystone State’s first female governor. Outside Pennsylvania, the party’s best opportunities in 2014 to add women executives to their ranks now lie in contests further afield in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.