Other Dems get squeezed as TVs cry Wolf

York County businessman Tom Wolf has pumped millions into his own campaign, flooding the airwaves with early ads.

ONE QUESTION Democrats running for governor must be asking these days is whether the Wolf is at the door.

That would be Tom Wolf, big-bucks York County biz guy with more money than anyone else in the race and, right now, the only candidate on TV.

He's been on the air everywhere but Erie for two weeks with multiple spots highlighting his profile and views.

This could prove problematic for Dems polling ahead of Wolf, especially Allyson Schwartz and Rob McCord.

The longer Wolf runs alone, the better the chance his unknown status changes and pushes him toward or to the front of the pack.

There are seven announced candidates in the May 20 Democratic primary.

Wolf has already spent more money on TV than all but two of them have on hand.

And Wolf could stay on the air until the primary.

He has $11.8 million on hand, according to recently filed finance reports.

No other candidate comes close: McCord reported $6 million on hand; Schwartz, $4.6 million; Katie McGinty, $1.7 million; John Hanger, $890,000.

Cumberland County minister Max Myers raised $30,000, and Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz reported $4,000.

We've seen self-financed businessmen go from nowhere to front-runner before.

Democrat Tom Knox did it in the 2007 Philly mayoral primary. He took a lead in the polls a month before Election Day, then finished second to Michael Nutter.

Republican Tom Smith did it in 2012, winning a multicandidate U.S. Senate primary before losing the general election to incumbent Sen. Bobby Casey.

So can another Tom and his money grab a lead or a nomination?

At the least, Wolf's early spending could force Schwartz and McCord to buy TV sooner than they planned and start draining resources sooner than they'd like.

Neither campaign would talk specifics about TV timing. Campaigns rarely do.

A spokesman for McGinty would only say she plans to be up "soon."

(McGinty ran a small-buy ad on CNN and MSNBC before and after the State of the Union on Jan. 28.)

Schwartz tells me she's confident Wolf can continue on air without changing her status as presumed front-runner.

And a McCord spokesman says, "Nothing's happening now that's caused us to change our strategy."

Some insiders suggest Wolf puts more pressure on McCord since he's polling behind Schwartz and, in some cases, McGinty.

Others argue that if Schwartz loses her front-runner aura in the wake of Wolf TV, it could be tough to regain.

And there's always a danger that when all those who can afford TV are up and running that their messages meld and clash and turn voters off.

Gov. Corbett, meanwhile, collects cash for the fall and runs statewide radio ads about ending a deficit and not raising taxes (though his ad refers only to income taxes, no doubt because of increased gas taxes).

Wolf's spots include a 60-second bio arguing he's "no ordinary candidate."

It features his wife, grown daughters and employees. They talk about his Peace Corps service, his Ph.D. from MIT, his family business (largest supplier of kitchen cabinets in the U.S.) and his profit-sharing with workers.

He's also running 30-second spots, one about Harrisburg's shortcomings being "unacceptable." And a new ad, released yesterday only in Philadelphia, is an endorsement by veteran state Rep. Dwight Evans.

I'd note that money and TV don't always mean ultimate victory. Neither Knox nor Smith, for example, won the offices they sought.

Plus, getting to be front-runner invites closer scrutiny and not-always-friendly fire.

But right now, thanks to money and TV, the Wolf could well be at the door.



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