By Andrew Staub | PA Independent
It’s Tom vs. Tom for the highest office in Pennsylvania.
York County businessman Tom Wolf will face Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in November after trouncing three Democratic opponents in Tuesday’s primary election. Polls closed at 8 p.m., and the Associated Press called the race a little more than an hour later with early results showing Wolf holding a commanding lead in the key battleground of Philadelphia.
By midnight and with nearly 88 percent of precincts reporting, Wolf had 58 percent of the vote, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz was in second with 17.5 percent, state Treasurer Rob McCord third with 16.8 percent and Katie McGinty, the former secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, was fourth with 7.6 percent.
Well before that, Wolf greeted his supporters at Santander Stadium in York, driving through the ballpark in his trademark Jeep.
“I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” Wolf said, referring to the famous speech that baseball Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig delivered in 1939 after he was diagnosed with ALS. “I have always wanted to say that on a baseball field.”
Despite being a relative unknown heading into the election and the fact the quartet of Democratic candidates agreed on many policy issues, Wolf separated himself with his nice-guy persona and the every-man appeal he built driving his Jeep across Pennsylvania.
Wolf did his best to stay positive, even as his opponents attacked him while he ran away in polls. And while Wolf didn’t lambast Corbett on Tuesday, he made clear he disagrees with the governor’s policies on education, jobs and the taxation of the natural gas industry.
“On the other hand, we can do — as Democrats — we can show a better future,” Wolf said.
Wolf’s charge to the front began in late January, when he started a television ad campaign that G. Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin & Marshall College, described as one of the best introductions of a candidate in modern Pennsylvania history.
“The race has never changed since,” Madonna said last week.
The revenue secretary under former Gov. Ed Rendell and chairman of his family’s kitchen-cabinet design company, Wolf bankrolled his campaign with $10 million of his own money — about $4.5 million of that coming from a bank loan. Schwartz questioned the personal loan, and McCord said the election was not an “auction.”
The frontrunner took other barbs. McCord criticized Wolf for chairing York Mayor Charlie Robertson’s 2001 re-election campaign after Robertson was implicated in the killing a black woman during race riots that occurred the late 1960s. Robertson was later acquitted.
Schwartz questioned whether Wolf’s company was as devoted to gender equality as Wolf had said. And even Corbett took part before the primary, with his campaign jokingly suggesting that the state should impose a special tax on cabinet makers as Wolf advocated for higher taxes on natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania.
In the end, none of that swayed Democratic voters.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday morning, Wolf had won all 67 counties in the state. He collected more than 50 percent of the vote in all but two of them.
Considered among the most vulnerable incumbents in the country, Corbett didn’t have a primary contest after the state Supreme Court tossed a longshot challenger from the ballot.
He has one now. Corbett ally, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, welcomed Wolf to the race by painting him as a tax-happy candidate who is “wearing sheep’s clothing.”
“That big bad wolf — he’s gonna huff, and he’s gonna puff, and he’s gonna puff, and he’s gonna huff — but there is no way that he is going to blow down the house that Tom Corbett has built,” Cawley said.
Stack claims big win
Wolf wasn’t the only statewide candidate to win by a huge margin.
State Sen. Michael Stack, D-Philadelphia, won his party’s nomination for lieutenant governor with 46.4 percent of the vote as of midnight. The next closest challenger in the five-person race was former U.S. Rep. Mark Critz with 16.5 percent of the vote.
Scandals derail Philly lawmakers
State Sen. LeAnna Washington’s next birthday bash likely won’t double as a campaign fundraiser.
Primary voters weren’t kind to a handful of lawmakers who have been accused of behaving badly, and that included Washington, who earlier this year was charged with using her taxpayer-funded office to plan an annual birthday extravaganza that served as a big-time campaign fundraiser.
Washington was defiant when one staffer confronted her, according to court records.
Turns out, the voters had the last work. Challenger Art Haywood knocked out Washington in Tuesday’s primary.
Washington wasn’t the only one who lost after falling under a cloud of public scandal. Voters also gave state Rep. J.P. Miranda, D-Philadelphia, the boot after just one term after he was charged with using a ghost employee in his district office to funnel money to his sister.
Three Democratic challenges lined up for a chance to take his spot, with Leslie Acosta winning the primary. Miranda had just 6.3 percent of the vote with nearly all precincts reporting.
Redistricting leaves incumbents in the cold
Incumbents can be difficult to unseat, but redistricting eliminated that advantage for some state lawmakers.
The once-a-decade reapportionment process, which redrew districts across Pennsylvania, forced some incumbents to battle for their political life against other incumbents. And because Republicans controlled the process in 2011, Democrats had the most to lose on Tuesday.
One of them, freshman state Rep. Kevin Haggerty, D-Lackawanna, completed a stunning political implosion when he lost to Democratic incumbent state Rep. Frank Farina, D-Lackawanna, in the redrawn 112th Legislative District. The defeat came just days after Haggerty melted down on WILK News Radio when questioned about his discharge from the Marine Corps.
In a high-profile Democratic primary in Pittsburgh, veteran state Rep. Harry Readshaw staved off a challenge from state Rep. Erin Molchany. They traded attack ads in hopes of keeping a state House seat after part of Molchany’s district were moved into Readshaw’s territory.
“I feel like I’m a victim of cartography,” Molchany told the Pittsburgh City Paper in January, a statement that proved prophetic.
White survives despite Internet gaffe
In Western Pennsylvania, state Rep. Jesse White, D-Washington, survived a primary challenge after using false names to make online attacks about constituents who supported natural gas drilling. Wolf eventually apologized and said he made “an error in judgment that I regret.”
The embarrassing gaffe has left White’s political future in doubt. And though he pulled out a win Tuesday — taking nearly 57 percent of the vote against Tom Casciola — he still has a Republican challenger this fall.
Staub can be reached at [email protected] and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.