- Associated Press - Sunday, May 18, 2014

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Tom Wolf’s campaign ad came across as warm and fuzzy but had the electoral power of an uppercut.

Pennsylvania’s election season could easily be remembered years from now for the unassuming, 60-second campaign TV ad that hit the airwaves Jan. 30 and introduced Wolf’s campaign for governor to the vast majority of voting Pennsylvanians.

It told of the Jeep he drives. His volunteerism with the Peace Corps in India. His Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The forklift he operated at his family business. His practice of sharing profits with employees. His service as the state’s secretary of revenue.

“What can we say? Our dad’s a little different,” his older daughter, Katie, said.

“A lot different,” his younger daughter, Sarah, corrected.

Then, Wolf walks in, leans between his daughters with his elbows on the backs of their chairs and tells the camera, “I’m Tom Wolf, and I’ll be a different kind of governor.”

The ad has defined the expensive and hotly contested race for governor. It helped the little-known Wolf establish a large lead in a crowded Democratic Party primary race and a likability that pollsters say made him impervious to millions of dollars in attack ads by primary foes and the Republican he hopes to unseat, Gov. Tom Corbett.

When Wolf declared his candidacy early in 2013, he also pledged to sink $10 million of his own money into his primary campaign, making him an immediate threat, despite his near-anonymity with voters. The ads put the money to work.

“For an ad to have such an immediate impact and for people to stop me in the street and say, ‘Who is this guy?’ and that happens across the state?” said Marcel Groen, the chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party. “I’ve never seen an ad that moved the numbers and had such an impact as this one did.”

Wolf’s cash advantage allowed him to begin airing daily TV ads seven weeks before his next primary competitor. Trying to catch up are U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, state Treasurer Rob McCord and former Clinton White House environmental adviser Katie McGinty.

Also on tap in Tuesday’s primary is the race among five candidates for lieutenant governor - former U.S. Rep. Mark Critz of Johnstown, Harrisburg City Councilman Brad Koplinski, Washington County state Rep. Brandon Neuman, Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith and Philadelphia state Sen. Michael Stack - and several contests for party nominations to run for Congress.

That includes contests to determine the Democratic and Republican Party nominees to run for the 13th District seat in southeastern Pennsylvania being vacated by Schwartz. The voter registration in the district leans heavily Democrat, making the winner of the party’s four-way primary fight the likely successor to Schwartz.

Corbett and Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley have no opposition in the primary, though that hasn’t kept their campaign or the state Republican Party from attacking the Democrats and, in particular, Wolf.

Three and a half months later and Wolf had a lead in polls that pollsters say requires the most dramatic comeback in modern Pennsylvania politics to overcome.

“I cannot recall another first-time candidate, if you will, who was able to create such a positive image through his rollout campaign,” said Gerald Lawrence, the chairman of the Delaware County Democratic Party.

Assuming Wolf is able to hold off McCord, McGinty and Schwartz, he’ll go into the general election cycle with credibility in the party. For one, he avoided attacking his Democratic primary foes. And while he had been virtually unknown to the voting public, he was far better known within the party’s political circles.

When he retired a first time from day-to-day control of his company in 2006, he began donating more heavily to Democratic candidates and causes. He served briefly in former Gov. Ed Rendell’s cabinet and then began touring the state to meet Democratic Party officials and lay the groundwork for a run for governor in the 2010 election.

When Wolf’s company hit the brink of bankruptcy amid the effects of the recession, he returned to take the reins and abandoned his nascent gubernatorial run. Four years later, his company recovered enough that Wolf considered running in 2014, and the rescue of his company became a core theme in his campaign.

Rick Daugherty, the Lehigh County Democratic Party chairman, said people who watched Wolf’s ads saw him as a nice and capable person.

“And that resonates with people,” he said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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