Two polls show Wolf has hefty lead among Democrats in Pa. governor's race

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His rivals’ attacks have been no match for Tom Wolf’s commercials.

That’s the clear message from new poll results showing the York businessman maintaining a commanding lead in the face of increasing criticism from the trailing contenders in the race for the Democratic nomination for governor.

With time running out before Tuesday’s primary, Mr. Wolf had roughly twice the support of the closest competitor in Franklin & Marshall College’s closely watched survey. A survey by Harper Polling depicted him with an even larger advantage.

Among all registered voters surveyed by F&M, Mr. Wolf had 33 percent support, followed by U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Montgomery County, 14 percent; state Treasurer Rob McCord, also of Montgomery County, 9 percent; and Katie McGinty of Chester County, former state environmental secretary, 5 percent.

The distinction between all voters and likely voters can be crucial, but not in this case. Mr. Wolf had similarly large leads in F&M’s subsets of self-described likely voters and those who had turned up at the polls in each of the last five primaries.

In the Harper Poll of likely voters, Mr. Wolf fared even better, with 50 percent; followed by a McCord-Schwartz tie at 15 percent and 5 percent for Ms. McGinty.

One big difference between the two surveys was that F&M reported a significantly higher proportion of undecided voters.

The new numbers were expected to be among the last independent assessments of the Democratic electorate before Tuesday’s primary. Muhlenberg College and the Allentown Morning Call will report their final statistical snapshot of the Democratic field Friday.

The free-spending businessman led in every region of the state in both surveys, including the southeastern base of three competitors. While, in the F&M results, he did better among men with 41 percent, than women, 27 percent, he still had nearly twice the support among female voters than his closest competitor, Ms. Schwartz, who had 15 percent.

In the southwestern corner of the state, including Allegheny County, Mr. Wolf had the support of 32 percent of the voters, followed by Mr. McCord, 13 percent; and Ms. McGinty, 8 percent.

In January, before his commercials hit the airwaves, Mr. Wolf was largely unknown statewide and an also-ran in a then larger Democratic field. Now, he is not just the most popular candidate, he is by far the best known and posted the strongest ratio of favorable to unfavorable opinions. Forty-nine percent of the sample said they held a favorable view of the frontrunner, and just 8 percent said they viewed him unfavorably. Twenty-two percent said they were undecided, and another 21 percent said they didn’t know enough about him to express an opinion. The “don’t know” findings were at least twice as large for each of his rivals.

G. Terry Madonna, the longtime director of the F&M poll, noted that Mr. Wolf’s lead appeared solid in that 54 percent of his supporters said they were “certain” to vote for him Tuesday. A majority of the Schwartz voters also said they were certain of their choice, while smaller proportions of the McCord voters, 40 percent, and McGinty voters, 26 percent, were similarly committed to their choice.

The Democratic voters were most likely to cite education as the most important problem in the state, followed by unemployment, 20 percent. They were also deeply dissatisfied with the direction of the state; 72 percent said Pennsylvania was on the wrong track, while just 20 percent said it was headed in the right direction.

The F&M poll was based on live phone interviews with 530 registered Democrats conducted between May 6 and May 12. The margin of error for its total sample was plus or minus 4.3 percent. The Harper survey included 559 likely voters and had a margin of error of 4.1 percent.

Politics editor James O’Toole: or 412-263-1562. First Published May 14, 2014 9:54 AM

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