If the election for Pennsylvania governor were held today...that would be really weird, as it's a Thursday in late February. But if that did happen, a guy that many of you never heard of a few weeks ago -- Central Pennsylvania businessman and former state revenue commissioner Tom Wolf -- would certainly be elected the state's 47th governor.
Look at the polls that came out this week. The once little-known Wolf is obliterating his seven (at least it was seven the last time I checked five minutes ago, it's probably changed once or twice since then) Democratic primary rivals, and then in a head-to-head match up with Unpopular Republican Governor (his official title, apparently) Tom Corbett, he's winning by nearly 20 points.
How'd he do it? A wise Philadelphia politician named Ozzie Myers said it best: "Money talks, bulll(bleep) walks." Wolf's wall-to-wall TV advertising has been funded with $10 million of his own money and more than $3 million he's raised from others. In just a couple of weeks, Wolf has become the Geico gekko of the Pennsylvania race ("It says here that Tom Wolf is running for governor." "Everybody knows that.") and proof that as much as we proclaim that we're too sophisticated to be swayed by advertising...we can be swayed by advertising.
But what a story he's selling -- it does seem too good to be true. Wolf has a Ph.D. in political science from MIT and became a self-made businessman who -- in the age of income inequality -- pioneered a revenue sharing plan with his kitchen-cabinet-making employees. He's solidly progressive if not particularly edgy on the issues, and who could quibble with the notion of taxing fracking to pay for schools? He seems like the kind of guy who would have dropped out in the '60s to join the Peace Corps, which of course he totally did. Of course, it's not shocking that I'd personally be intrigued by a bald guy with a beard, but -- shockingly -- voters in 2014 seem to want that too. A politician who looks nothing like a politician.
So what could go wrong? I'm a little wary of his alliance with Philadelphia state rep Dwight Evans, whose advocacy for charter schools and voucher-like schemes are about as un-progressive as it gets, but I'm a lot more wary of the thing that's brought Wolf to this point, which of course is all that money. At the end of the day, a progressive dude with a great bio who buys the governor's mansion is...still a guy who bought the governor's mansion. There are some other intriguing candidates -- such as two former environmental commissioners, John Hanger and Katie McGinty (who's bidding to be something looong overdue, Pennsylvania's first female governor) who aren't being heard much over the rustling of Wolf's money.
There are two things that should come from this election: 1) a new governor and 2) a system of public campaign financing, which would level the playing field in 2018 and beyond. I think 1) is a slam dunk but 2) is about as likely in this corrupt and contented state as an 80-degree beach day in next week's forecast.