New Castle News

February 27, 2014

Poll: Wolf top Democrat in governor’s race

John Finnerty

HARRISBURG — In a few days, Tom Wolf said, his kitchen cabinet company will divide $1.2 million among 240 employees.

Those bonus payments — which Wolf said represent 20 to 30 percent of the net profit for the Wolf Organization Inc. — have been a prominent part of his advertising campaign in a bid for the Democratic nomination for governor.

His message seems to be getting through.

A poll released Tuesday shows Wolf has vaulted to the front of a crowded field of Democrats. The Harper Polling survey found 40 percent of likely voters would choose Wolf in the May 20 primary.

“Not sure” came in second. Presumed front-runners U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz got 14 percent and Treasurer Rob McCord had 8 percent.

The pollsters attributed Wolf’s surge to the launch of a television advertising campaign paid, at least in part, by the $10 million of Wolf’s own money he has pledged to his campaign.

A former state secretary of revenue, Wolf has described the advertising as an effort “to get my story out.”

Part of that story focuses on the image of an employer who provides good pay and benefits for his workers. The poll numbers show that Wolf has successfully connected with voters despite lacking endorsements from any of the state’s major labor organizations.

And labor groups have made no real attempt to criticize Wolf for having employees who are not unionized. Wolf said he doesn’t believe anyone has ever tried to organize his workers.

Wolf said has worked with the labor movement, though. That includes a one-time affiliation with the Keystone Research Center, a union-funded think tank in Harrisburg.

“The labor movement is about helping working people,” he said. “I’ve walked the walk.”

Almost every major union in the state has backed either McCord or Schwartz.

The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees’ Council 13 — the state’s biggest union with 65,000 employees — endorsed McCord. It has provided $60,000 to his campaign, according to finance reports.

That’s part of $245,000 in labor donations that McCord reported in 2013. The largest donation, $100,000, came from the Pennsylvania State Correctional Officers Association.

Schwartz reported $197,500 in labor donations including $100,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 401, based in Philadelphia.

While union leaders said they will work to help those candidates, those contacted said they would have no problem backing Wolf should he win the Democratic nomination.

As things now stand, Wolf’s campaign spending may make it difficult for other candidates to get out their messages.

“The amount of money Wolf is bringing to the table is significant,” said AFSCME Local 13 executive director David Fillman. “It does concern us that Rob (McCord) or any of the other candidates might not be able to afford the type of television advertising Wolf is doing in Philadelphia, where there are a lot of Democratic votes.”

While unions provide financial support, Fillman said their “boots on the ground” could be important in the end. Those resources include phone bank workers who will mobilize voters for McCord, he said.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association also endorsed McCord for the primary earlier this month. But the teachers union has made it clear that the other Democrats are worthy candidates, said spokesman Wythe Keever.

The PSEA is less concerned about the way Wolf runs his business than the way he’d run the state, Keever said.

“Wolf has indicated he intends to support public education,” he said.

Terry Madonna, political science professor at Franklin and Marshall, said the union endorsements are based more on longstanding relationships with Schwartz and McCord than any real objections to other candidates.

“There’s a difference between being opposed to someone and supporting someone else.”