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Wolf leading pack among Democratic gubernatorial candidates

| Saturday, March 1, 2014, 9:03 p.m.

Support for Gov. Tom Corbett remains strong in heavily Republican Butler County, despite polling numbers that show low support statewide, the head of the county's Republican Committee said.

“I don't think if you took that poll in Butler County, the results would be the same,” committee Chair Jeff Smith said.

A Quinnipiac University survey of 1,405 voters showed that 52 percent of registered Democrats would support Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf, and 33 percent of all respondents would vote for Corbett in the general election. The poll said that five other candidates also outpaced Corbett in support.

In a separate Franklin & Marshall College poll, Wolf, a York County businessman and former state revenue secretary, outpaced seven Democratic candidates in the May 20 primary, with 36 percent of voters saying they'd choose Wolf. Another 48 percent said they didn't know whom they'd choose.

Rebekah Smith, 34, of Butler, who participated in the Franklin & Marshall poll, said she doesn't yet know what Democrat she'd support.

“I'm pretty undecided at this point. I haven't had a chance to research everybody,” said Smith, a registered Democrat taking courses at Kent State University.

Smith said her top issue in the campaign is jobs. The poll said that 25 percent of respondents think education is the most important issue facing Pennsylvania, while another 23 percent said unemployment and personal finances were most important.

As of last week, there were 57,808 active Republican registrations in Butler County, and 37,641 active Democratic registrations, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Another Franklin & Marshall poll participant, Richard Baker, 86, of Cranberry, a retired minister, said he also didn't know whom he'd vote for in the Democratic field.

The state Democratic Committee recently decided not to endorse a candidate, but not because it thought anyone wasn't qualified, said Georgiann Kerr, head of the Butler County Democratic Committee.

“We have so many great candidates, we didn't want to endorse anyone,” Kerr said. “The electorate will pick from whomever in the primary.”

Kerr's group will host a candidate forum from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday at the American Legion in Butler, featuring governor, lieutenant governor and congressional candidates. Kerr said she didn't have a frontrunner for the governor's race, and discounted the polling.

“We'll just have to see on (Saturday). I haven't made up my mind yet,” Kerr said.

Smith attributed Wolf's top showing to an early campaign ad blitz.

He said Corbett's low numbers weren't reflective of the governor's performance.

“The governor made a lot of tough choices when he came in,” Smith said.

Wolf donated $10 million to his campaign, raised $3 million and far outpaced the others in his fundraising total.

Smith accused opponents of “distorting” Corbett's record. He pointed to critics who said Corbett cut education funding.

Smith said the “cuts” were actually school districts losing federal stimulus money.

“People have portrayed the governor as a bad guy,” Smith said. “As time goes by, when there are two candidates instead of eight, when people start really looking at the record, you'll really start to see a change in the polls.”

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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