What a difference a few weeks can make in politics. It’s not been that long since businessman Tom Wolf was part of a pack of Democratic candidates seeking the party’s nomination to run against Gov. Tom Corbett in the fall. Then he poured part of his personal fortune into a blitz of TV ads and voila! He’s suddenly looking — well, maybe not inevitable at this point, but certainly much harder for the other candidates to catch.
Tom Wolf, the free-spending Democrat from York County, got a broad and early show of Western Pennsylvania support Saturday as an array of the region’s elected and party officials gathered to endorse him.
At a news conference in the courtyard of the Allegheny County Courthouse, Downtown, members of the local Democratic hierarchy lauded Mr. Wolf's business record and described him as the party's best bet to oust Gov. Tom Corbett. While there may be debate on how much such endorsements do to influence rank-and-file voters, the event was an undeniable coup for the former state revenue secretary, giving him a show of institutional backing alongside the soaring poll numbers produced by his early advertising campaign.
The news conference was orchestrated by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who introduced the Wolf allies including Mr. Peduto; U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle of Forest Hills; state Sens. Jim Ferlo of Highland Park, Wayne Fontana of Brookline, Matt Smith of Mt. Lebanon and Jim Brewster of McKeesport; state Reps. Jake Wheatley of the Hill District, Ed Gainey of Lincoln-Lemington and Bill Kortz of Dravosburg; Nancy Mills, the county Democratic chair; and more than a score of local party officers. Also in the crowd were City Council members Daniel Lavelle and Corey O'Connor.
How primaries generally work is that the overwhelming majority of primary voters are not news junkies, and they don’t have the party label shortcut they have in general elections that tells them who supports which policies. So they rely on trusted influentials as a heuristic to figure out who’s got the best combination of issue purity and electability. Those influentials are politicians they like, opinion writers they tend to agree with, and those “political friends” who they trust have been reading up on the elections.
And who those people decide to get behind is what moves the primary voters. Lately everything’s been coming up Wolf in this area, and it’s not really clear to me what could throw him off his grind at this point.
Still. The May 20 primary's far enough away for Wolf to stumble or for others to rise, because any time a candidate surges, scrutiny is sure to follow.
For Wolf, that means scrutiny of self-financing with $10 million; of his ties to an admitted racist/alleged murderer; and of details about his family business, the nation's largest cabinetry supplier.
Wait. Racist/alleged murderer? Baer says Wolf stood by former York Mayor Charlie Robertson, who was accused — decades later— in the 1969 shooting death of an African American woman during race riots that year. Wolf remained as Robertson's campaign chairman until Robertson dropped out.
The lesson, Baer says: "Money can't buy everything. But right now it's buying Wolf lots of attention."