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In Greensburg campaign stop, gubernatorial candidate Wolf touts severance tax

| Saturday, May 17, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

The Democratic gubernatorial primary race came to Greensburg on Friday, and local party leaders said Westmoreland County has to be at the center of the state's political landscape if next week's nominee is to have a chance to oust Gov. Tom Corbett in November.

York County businessman Tom Wolf, the Democratic Party front-runner if recent polls are to be believed, addressed about 50 campaign supporters during a brief lunchtime appearance at the Westmoreland County Courthouse. Wolf then walked to a downtown coffee shop to talk with voters.

“From now on, we're going to get more attention,” said Westmoreland County Democratic Committee Chairman Dante Bertani. “It's good he's ahead in the polls, but the answer is to get people out to vote.”

Wolf — along with state Treasurer Rob McCord, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz and former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty — is vying for the opportunity to face Corbett in the fall.

Only Wolf has made an appearance this year in Westmoreland County, Bertani said.

He was endorsed by the county's Democratic committee.

The county, with its more than 120,000 registered Democrats, is considered a key in the governor's race. Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 30,000 registered voters, although the GOP has won Westmoreland County in most federal, state and county races in recent years.

During his brief stop in Greensburg, Wolf touted his proposal to impose a 5 percent severance tax on natural gas extraction. Of the 10 largest gas-producing states, Pennsylvania is the only one without such a tax.

“I'm getting reaction across the board from people who say, ‘Yeah, it's about time we get our fair share,' ” Wolf said. “There might be a few people who want a free ride, but I think this is something that actually is very attractive across the political spectrum.”

Wolf declined to make any commitments about the future of the shuttered state prison in Hempfield.

“My goal is to bring jobs back and create jobs. ... I'm thinking we can. Whenever anything closes and people lose jobs, it's a tragedy,” he said as he munched on a chocolate chip cookie after visiting with staff and customers at the White Rabbit Cafe.

Wolf's supporters said the candidate's business background pushes him above the other Democrats in the race.

“I like his message, said 18-year-old Ryan Faris, a soon-to-be graduate of Hempfield Area High School. “I like how he brings a business aspect to the Democratic Party.”

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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