Democrat challengers targeting front-runner Wolf

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LANCASTER, Pa. -- Weeks before Democrats pick their challenger to Gov. Tom Corbett, candidates chasing Tom Wolf tried Thursday to tarnish the York County businessman with claims about his associations and leadership.

The tone of the Democratic gubernatorial debate at Franklin & Marshall College grew harsh at times, as U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz and state Treasurer Rob McCord tried to put Mr. Wolf on the defensive ahead of the May 20 primary election.

Ms. Schwartz of Montgomery County questioned him for standing by a state representative who served time in prison. As Democrats jockey to prove they would defend traditional pensions for state and public school workers, Mr. McCord criticized him because his company moved to a 401(k) retirement plan for new workers.

"Evidently they're seeing the same polls I am, that I'm way ahead, so I have a bull's-eye on my back," Mr. Wolf said.

He said the former York County legislator, Steve Stetler, is a friend, and that the change to a 401(k) plan, which did not affect workers with existing defined-benefit plans, occurred after he sold the company.

With an early command of statewide television advertising, Mr. Wolf won significant leads in public polls of Democratic voters. He maintains that advantage in a new statewide survey from The Morning Call and Muhlenberg College, according to the Allentown newspaper.

The survey showed Mr. Wolf with the support of 38 percent of likely Democratic voters, while Ms. Schwartz had the backing of 13 percent, Mr. McCord of 11 percent and Katie McGinty, a former state secretary of environmental protection, of 2 percent.

Mr. Corbett has continued to suffer from low public approval ratings, and his campaign Thursday also turned its sights on Mr. Wolf, launching a statewide television ad targeting the Democrat for tax increases during his tenure as head of the revenue department for former Gov. Ed Rendell.

The Democrats on stage here agreed that Mr. Corbett had failed to provide adequate funding for public education and that he was wrong to favor a per-well impact fee for natural gas drilling, rather than a tax on production. They promised to use such a severance tax to boost classroom funding.

In the wake of a botched execution this week in Oklahoma, the candidates were asked about their position on capital punishment. Mr. Wolf, Mr. McCord and Ms. McGinty said they support a moratorium on executions, while Ms. Schwartz said she opposes the death penalty.

Karen Langley:, 1-717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley.

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