- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Michelle Obama told a crowd Wednesday in the Democratic Party stronghold of Philadelphia to come out in big numbers for gubernatorial hopeful Tom Wolf, saying the president’s agenda will be helped by a Wolf victory.

The well-traveled first lady told hundreds gathered at the Dorothy Emanuel Recreation Center in northwest Philadelphia that the first-time candidate will refuse to accept crumbling classrooms and teacher shortages, a shot at school funding cuts under Republican Gov. Tom Corbett that are deeply unpopular in Philadelphia.

She also gave a defense of her husband’s record in office - by almost every economic measure, people are better off today, she said. Having people like Wolf in public office - who understand “what’s really going on in people’s lives,” she said - could help President Barack Obama advance an agenda that includes fighting for an increase in the minimum wage and equal pay for women.

“If we truly want to finish what we started, then we need to elect Tom Wolf as governor of Pennsylvania,” the first lady told the crowd.

She also warned against another drop-off in Democratic Party votes in the midterm election, saying that too many people who helped elect her husband to the White House in 2008 “tuned out” in the 2010 midterm election.

“And that’s what folks on the other side are counting on right now,” she told the crowd. “Because when we stay home, they win.”

“They’re hoping and praying that we’re not organized and energized, but only we can prove them wrong,” the first lady said.

Wolf is leading Corbett in independent polls as the Democrat tries to break a four-decade tradition of Pennsylvania governors winning a second term.

Corbett is Pennsylvania’s former two-term attorney general from the Pittsburgh area. Wolf ran his family’s York-based building products distribution business for much of the last three decades. Spending in the campaign is threatening to break Pennsylvania’s record of nearly $70 million, thanks in part to the $10 million that Wolf gave his campaign.

The Corbett campaign, meanwhile, is hammering Wolf in the same way that Democrats attacked GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012 - painting him as a millionaire without morals who profited by slashing jobs - and is accusing him of planning a massive middle-class tax increase to fulfill his school spending promises.

The first lady is burning up the campaign trail, making stops this month for Democratic candidates for governor or U.S. Senate in Florida, Massachusetts, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois. The White House also says President Obama will come to Pennsylvania to campaign for Wolf before the Nov. 4 election as part of a seven-state swing.

To a large degree, the gubernatorial election will be won or lost in Philadelphia and its four suburban counties: Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery. Pennsylvania has nearly 8.3 million registered voters, and one in three lives in Philadelphia or its suburban counties.

A high voter turnout in Philadelphia, the state’s largest city, would favor Wolf. Almost 80 percent of the city’s 1 million-plus registered voters are Democrats, although just 40 percent cast a ballot for governor in 2010. That year, Corbett won his first term by 9 percentage points over Dan Onorato, a candidate who, like Wolf, was virtually unknown to Democrats in Philadelphia before he ran. Voter turnout in the rest of Pennsylvania was 48 percent that year.

Meanwhile, the candidate who wins Philadelphia’s four heavily populated suburban counties is nearly assured of a victory. There, Democrats are increasingly spreading out from Philadelphia and blending with moderate Republicans to create a crucial swing area of 1.6 million voters. Beginning with the 2000 election, all but one candidate for U.S. Senate, governor and president who has won Pennsylvania also carried Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties. The exception was Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey in 2010.

Already, Corbett is deeply unpopular in Philadelphia, and a slate of speakers before the first lady, including Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, reminded the crowd why: Corbett’s cuts to education aid, his signature on a tough voter identification law later struck down in the courts and his support for a state law barring recognition of same-sex marriages that was also struck down.

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