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May 21, 2014

Wolf cruises to Democratic nomination for governor

YORK — Tom Wolf scored a hit in casting himself as a Jeep-driving millionaire.

On Tuesday night, after a convincing win in the Democratic primary for governor, Wolf hopped into that Jeep and drove it onto the field of Santander Stadium, home of the minor league baseball’s York Revolution.

The former revenue secretary’s carefully crafted image set the tone of a campaign that saw him leap ahead of several well-known opponents, building a lead in polls that held up through yesterday’s voting.

The Associated Press declared Wolf the winner less than 90 minutes after polls closed. Early returns had him with better than 57 percent of the vote.

Wolf now faces Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who is running for a second term in the fall. Democrats are optimistic since all four of their potential candidates polled well against the incumbent.

Wolf won the primary – and earned Tuesday night’s victory lap at a ballpark rally – after spending

$10 million of his own money to hit the airwaves with a personal story that resonated with voters.

Wolf portrayed himself as a former Peace Corps volunteer who earned a doctorate from MIT and eventually rescued the family business.

On Tuesday night, his longtime neighbors gathered to celebrate his victory and maintained that Wolf’s image works because it’s true.

“He’s an incredible individual,” said Jeff Osman. “He’s very bright, but it’s his character that is most important.”

Steve Feldmann said people in York who know Wolf believed he projected political aspirations when he took the job as revenue secretary in the Rendell administration.

York, like many communities, has seen local businesses suffer or disappear when founding families relinquished control, said Feldman. Wolf’s deal to sell his family’s business appeared like it could be a model for how a local company could survive the transition.

Then the recession hit. Feldmann said there’s no question that Wolf’s decision to return to Wolf Industries saved the company and the jobs of those working there.

“I was impressed he gave up his dream,” to return, Feldmann said.

This spring, that decision became a key part of Wolf’s campaign narrative. He has frequently noted that his company shares 20 percent to 30 percent of its net profits with employees.

Pollsters said Wolf’s story separated him from a field of candidates – state Treasurer Rob McCord, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz and former state Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty – with almost identical campaign platforms.

“The story is the story,” Feldmann said. “Tom doesn’t need to put on a persona.”

Tuesday night, Wolf told supporters that the campaign leading to the general election will focus on “investing in education” and “investing in jobs.”

Wolf said he will fight to create a level playing field.

“This has to be a place that’s open and fair for everybody,” he said.

That’s the type of message that matters to voters like James Tompkins, who’s lived in inner-city York since the 1980s.

Tompkins said Wolf just connected with voters better than any of the other Democrats.

“He’s more down-to-earth,” he said. “He understands people.”

Tompkins said Wolf stacks up well against Corbett.

“There’s no middle class left,” he said. “People want hope.”

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