BY NATHAN SHRADER/ Tom Wolf has been transformed from an unknown York businessman and dark horse gubernatorial candidate to the Democratic frontrunner faster than a Nolan Ryan fastball. Wolfâ€™s rapid rise in the polls is due to a combination of effective advertising, a well-crafted message, and a willingness to spend resources in a strategically sound fashion.
Wolf was polling at just two and five percentage points respectively in the Harper and PPP polls of Pennsylvania Democratic voters last November. A Franklin and Marshall College poll conducted in late March showed Wolf â€” who served as State Revenue Secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell â€” with 40%, leading his next closest competitor by 31 points. This is a jump of roughly 35 to 38 points in just several months.
An additional 31% of Democratic voters surveyed in the March Franklin & Marshall poll reported that they were undecided as to whom they will ultimately choose on May 20. There is reason to believe that many of the undecided voters will break for Wolf due to geography and the sense Wolf has built considerable momentum statewide with his aggressive and well-designed ad campaign.
Pennsylvania voters have a long history of supporting candidates from geographical areas that are in the closest proximity to them, especially in Democratic primary elections. The geography factor is enhanced by the fact that a candidateâ€™s county of residence appears on the primary election ballots below their name. Former Auditor General Jack Wagnerâ€™s exit from the race leaves Wolf as the westernmost candidate appearing on the primary ballot.
Given that two of the Democratic hopefuls are Montgomery Co. residents while another is from Chester Co. this leaves a large swath of the state without a home-region candidate. It is very possible that voters west of the five county Southeastern region â€” especially those in Southwestern and Northwestern Pennsylvania â€” will be searching for a candidate who they do not perceive as being from â€œPhiladelphiaâ€, which many western Pennsylvanians believe to include all of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia Cos.
Wolf will likely capitalize on this since he is from York, which is not generally associated with being part of â€œPhiladelphiaâ€ to voters in the west. Wolfâ€™s recent endorsements from high-powered Democratic political and governmental leaders in Allegheny Co., including Mayor Bill Peduto of Pittsburgh, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Congressman Mike Doyle (D-Allegheny), and a plethora of other state and local officials, should also assist his efforts to woo Democrats in the southwest.
Wolf is also making inroads into Philadelphia with the backing of State Rep. Angel Cruz (D-Kensington) who held a jam-packed endorsement party for Wolf in Kensington last Friday. The Wolf team also recently opened a bustling field office on Castle Avenue in South Philadelphia that is frequently brimming with enthusiastic volunteers.