Tom Wolf Will Be the Democratic Nominee. Here’s Why.

The race has been over for weeks. New polls prove it.

Tom Wolf. AP Photo | Chris Knight, Intelligencer Journal

Tom Wolf. AP Photo | Chris Knight, Intelligencer Journal

The increasingly shrill tenor of the Allyson Schwartz and Rob McCord campaigns’ hits on Tom Wolf heading into the last two and a half weeks of the Democratic primary for Pennsylvania Governor may lead some to believe the race is really about to heat up. Those people would be wrong.

The truth is that the race has been over for weeks, and Tom Wolf is going to be the nominee.

How do we know? Just look at the recent polling:


One-time Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards once joked to reporters in his 1983 reelection race that “the only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy,” and self-funding former revenue secretary and kitchen cabinet maker Tom Wolf is in roughly as strong a position in the contest for the Democratic nomination.

Sure, with a couple weeks to go until primary election day on May 20th anything could happen — but it probably won’t.

If any decent opposition research on Wolf existed, one of the other candidates would have used it by now. That Schwartz and McCord are using the home stretch period to hit Wolf with stuff like an alleged association with a racist politician from York, or the Wolf Organization’s failure to source 100% of its kitchen cabinets from Pennsylvania tells us the oppo researchers have come up short. This just isn’t stuff that’s going to gain traction with anyone beyond committed anti-Wolfers, but it’s the best they’ve got.

And if any of these third-rate opposition messages do manage to break through a bit, well, that’s what all that money’s for. Rob McCord suggests you’re a racist at a debate? Cut a five and a half minute video the next day featuring African-American community leaders from York leaping to your defense:

This kind of money buries weak opposition messaging. More people will see this response ad than will even hear the original charge.



But while money is an important reason that Wolf is going to walk away with the Democratic nomination, it’s certainly not the only reason.

Take another look at the polling chart above. If you take out the less reliable internal polls that campaigns occasionally tease to the media (I did), Allyson Schwartz’s support peaked early in November of 2013 at 22%. If you add the internal polls back in, she peaked in July 2013. And then it was just all downhill from there.

This is a story about Allyson Schwartz failing to excite enough Democratic activists and donors — perhaps because, as John Baer has suggested, she never anticipated there would be a competitive Democratic primary to take on the most unpopular Republican Governor in the nation. Team Schwartz ran like they didn’t have a primary to win, and then failed to recalibrate even after it was quite clear by the fall that this strategy would not close the deal with the primary voters.

For a little while in mid-to-late fall it looked like former Rendell DEP Secretary Katie McGinty might pick up steam and overtake Schwartz, but that boomlet had faded by mid-November. Then nothing really moved for a while until Wolf went on the air in late February and stayed the prohibitive frontrunner ever since. He seems to have cleared the Democratic electorate’s progressive ideological threshold and persuaded voters he has the most realistic shot at defeating Tom Corbett.

What we’re seeing here at the end, with Schwartz and McCord’s numbers picking up a bit, and Wolf’s falling a bit, is some of the undecided voters finally lining up with candidates. Some of this can also be attributed to the negative attacks taking Wolf down a couple pegs, and some of those former soft Wolf supporters lining up with Schwartz and McCord instead.

But the odds of either of the other two stragglers actually overtaking Wolf at this point are just incredibly small. Wolf may have plateaued, but he’s plateaued with much more support than he needs to win the election.

According to a study Nate Silver wrote about in his book The Signal and the Noise, the probability that a candidate with a 20+% polling lead one month prior to the election will be victorious is 99.7%

Silver was looking at U.S. Senate general elections, so some caveats are in order, but the point is instructive nonetheless. Twenty-point leads get chipped away slowly, but they don’t just vanish. And yesterday’s Muhlenberg College/Morning Call poll found Wolf leading Schwartz by 25 points, and Rob McCord by 27 points. There simply isn’t enough time left for Schwartz or McCord to overtake Wolf, and their odds get longer every day.

Democrats, meet your nominee.

Follow @jongeeting on Twitter.

Around The Web

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • Constance RW

    Time for Bob Casey and Ed Rendell to help out before we get stuck with four more years of Corbett!!

  • Bob

    Yeah, comebacks never happen around here, right? Here’s a polling report one month before the 2007 Philadelphia Mayoral primary. Tom Knox, with all of his money, was crushing the competition. Nutter ran 4th at 12%. No one caught Knox in bed with kids, either dead or alive. Welcome to PA Primaries. Even Nate Silver would tell you it’s just different here.

    • Jonathan Geeting

      Writing a more detailed response to this since the Schwartz dead-enders keep peddling it. In the meantime, think about how vastly harder it would be to swing the *statewide electorate* vs the Philly electorate in two weeks.

      • Bob

        In a Democratic primary? In PA? Vastly different?

        Buddy, I live in Schwartzy’s district and if she ran unopposed I’d write-in Mickey Mouse. I have no clue who advised her to run for a statewide office. The only way her and repub neighbor Mike Fitzpatrick can keep their spots is due to their redistricting deals.

        As far as the election goes, this is not a general, a quarter of the voters will be from Philly. It will actually be more like half when you include the immediate suburbs. So *statewide* (not sure why we’re using asterisks, but whatever) is muted. They concentrate on Philly and Pittsburgh. Wolf will take most of the middle of the state anyway. 10,000 votes here or there are nothing to sneeze at, but this is about swinging a vote, not the candidate’s base.

        The part of the poll you need to look at is “undecided.” The vast majority of people have not decided. The folks answering the polls see Wolf’s commercials now. His mistake would be believing the press that he won and saving money for November. I think Wolf will hold on to the lead, but it will be because he’s the better candidate, not a 20% lead at the height of his spending. Nate Silver’s genius is not finding stuff like that, it’s a deeper analysis or voting trends and voter concentrations.

  • SLUGG0

    I think Two Term Tommy beats all of these pretenders. But I’ll Vote Independent. And I’ll Vote the Ins Out.

    • mstaken

      It’s a primary, you can’t vote Independent. Anyone is better than Corbett. I think my cat would be a better Governor!

  • tugar

    MOST PEOPLE IN PA don’t even know the primary election is coming up on Tues. May 20, 2014 …..
    I think the Democratic Party is doing a lousy job to inform its voters to GET OUT AND VOTE on Tues. May 20, 2014. Oh yes, I’ve rec’d one or two flyers in my door. But many people tend to just trash these things, without even reading them. What’s wrong with standing in front of supermarkets, Wal-Marts, etc., bull-horns in neighborhoods if need be, But something more than what I’ve seen lately. Oh yes, I’ve seen a few of the TV ads, showing the Dem Gov choices, but if we want to get rid of the nonsense that we now have in Harrisburg that’s in charge of our lives, we have got to get behind the right democratic candidate to oust him.

  • Donald Sterling

    Riveting journalism from Geeting.
    This race ended months ago.

  • Susan Raab

    I am sick and tired of politicians who think the only way to win an election is to smear the better candidate. I agree with Gov Rendel that Rob McCord should pull his ad. I’ll go better that that, Allyson Schwartz should also pull her ads and both of them should resign from the race. Neither one of them are Govenor material. Let’s get Tom Wolf elected the Primary Democratic Canidate, then get him elected Govenor and get this state back on the right track.

  • Alec Leamas

    “Sure, with a couple weeks to go until primary election day on May 20th anything could happen — but it probably won’t.”

    Like, say, one or two of Wolf’s three competitors withdrawing from the race and throwing their support behind someone other than Wolf?

  • Chris Stalegal WPHT1210

    Governor Tom CorSHIT should make arrangements for a U Haul truck to get his crap out of Harrisburg, and let a true gentleman, with decency, Tom kosher for passover Wolf, run this state is the proper direction for EVERYBODY!

    • The REAL Chris Stigall

      This letter is from an imposter. I LOVE Tom Corbett, and will lie to no end to get the a hole reelected!

  • Sheila LaShay

    Let Tom Wolf speak for himself. I don’t wanna hear from Black puppets for Tom Wolf.

  • Mike

    Whomever runs in PA, needs to address our economy. They need to get businesses to move here by cutting taxes. They also need to open more state land to drilling so we can get more in royalties from the gold mine sitting under us.