In 1967 the voters of Pennsylvania amended the state constitution to allow our governors to serve successive terms. Since 1970, when Democrat Milton Shapp was elected, the parties have alternated eight year tenures running the executive branch. For the first time since that constitutional change, a good bit of smart money will be riding on the bet that a political cycle that’s been as predictable as the morning and evening tides will end this November 4. When 2014 began, Peace Corps volunteer, MIT political science Ph.D., prosperous businessman and former Secretary of Revenue, Democrat Tom Wolf, wasn’t even a household name in much of his own county, York, one that’s home to barely three percent of the Commonwealth’s nearly thirteen million residents–and that’s produced only one other governor, half a century ago. But season a willingness to reach into his own deep pockets with a pinch of savvy media strategy and stir in a pair of opponents who squandered the gold coins of name recognition and geographic advantage, and Wolf found the recipe that’s made him such a formidable challenger to incumbent Republican Governor Tom Corbett, a man so unpopular that his running mate, the current lieutenant governor seeking re-election to that job, bested him by some 27,000 votes in the GOP primary.
Wolf rolled to an impressive victory against State Treasurer Rob McCord and Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, both of whom hail from Montgomery County, wealthy and vote-rich next-door-neighbor to even more vote-rich Philadelphia. Sweeping all 67 Pennsylvania counties, Wolf racked up nearly 58 percent of the vote against McCord, Schwartz and former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty, whose game, likable campaign hardly nudged the electoral needle. Wolf’s heavyweight opponents’ desperation reached such a pitch in the race’s final weeks that their chief argument centered on his friendship with York City’s former mayor and police chief, who’d been charged in 2001 (and eventually acquitted) for his alleged role in a racially-motivated murder of an African-American woman in 1969. Wolf quickly parried the attack with heartfelt expressions of support from York’s black Mayor, Kim Bracey, and others in the African-American community. His opponents, spattered with their own mud, limped to the finish line, their reputations in tatters and their political careers tarnished, if not irretrievably damaged. Anticipating Wolf’s victory, Corbett’s campaign ran negative ads against the “tax-and-spend-liberal” before the first primary vote was cast. It’s going to be a long, hot summer and a colorful fall in the purple state of Pennsylvania and it will be fun to be here in a ringside seat to take in all the action.