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.
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