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Attack ads fail to erode support for gubernatorial hopeful Tom Wolf

Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Televised attack ads from some of businessman Tom Wolf's fellow candidates and Republican Gov. Tom Corbett have done little to change his status as the front-runner in Pennsylvania's Democratic gubernatorial primary, according to a poll released on Wednesday.

Six days away from the May 20 contest, Wolf had support from 33 percent of registered Democrats, according to the poll from the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.

“It's been really tough to lay a glove on him,” said pollster and political science professor G. Terry Madonna.

Wolf's closest opponent in the four-way primary, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Philadelphia, had the support of 14 percent, followed by state Treasurer Rob McCord with 9 percent and former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty with 5 percent.

Nearly two in five voters surveyed, about 39 percent, are undecided.

Wolf polled at 36 percent in February and 33 percent in March.

Since then, Schwartz and McCord have assailed his experience as the owner of his family's building supply business; questioned his political ties to former York Mayor Charlie Robertson, an admitted racist; and criticized his willingness to contribute millions of dollars from his personal fortune to the campaign.

Corbett, who the primary winner will likely face in November, released an ad linking Wolf to tax increases and job losses during his tenure as Department of Revenue secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell.

Madonna said voters seem unlikely to accept the attacks, partly because of Wolf's tempered response.

“His style has been a little disarming, I think, to his opponents because they can't get a rise out of him,” he said.

Wolf entered the primary last year with virtually no name recognition and $10 million to spend on his campaign. He purchased ads early and often. Ninety-three percent of Pennsylvania Democrats have seen a Wolf commercial, the poll found.

His support among registered Democrats, likely voters and “super-voters” with strong primary turnout history are all 17 percentage points or higher than their support for Schwartz, the next closest opponent.

“We reported it about every way we could, and it doesn't make much of a difference,” Madonna said.

The poll surveyed 530 registered Democrats from May 6 to 12. It has a sampling error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

All the candidates plan to campaign across the state in the final days of the race, including stops in Pittsburgh. Schwartz held a day's worth of events in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Wolf, McGinty and McCord are scheduled for appearances in the region later this week.

Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor at Sabato's Crystal Ball, named for University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato, said Wolf's lead is unlikely to decrease. Buying television ads statewide and spending as much as $1 million a week from his campaign account in the last six weeks have familiarized voters with Wolf's name.

“He engaged the primary electorate before the others did, and that helped him,” Skelley said.

Skelley said the Corbett campaign's attention to Wolf signals it's anticipating a face-off, but the governor's campaign could be challenging to outspend. Corbett can raise money, Skelley said, recalling that he earned his 2010 victory at a cost of more than $25 million. Wolf, Skelley noted, is a first-time candidate.

“He hasn't made any mistakes yet, but the (general) election is still six months away,” Skelley said.

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.




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