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With TV and $10 million, guv hopeful Tom Wolf surges

Other Democratic primary candidates must catch up now in name recognition.

G. TERRY Madonna, director of the Daily News/Franklin & Marshall College Poll, has a rule for running for governor of Pennsylvania: "You can lose an election with a lot of money, but you can't win one without a lot of money."

Madonna's latest example: former state Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf, who is now leading the crowded May 20 Democratic primary election field after investing $10 million in his campaign and airing television commercials statewide before his competitors.

In a poll being released today, 36 percent of the registered Democrats surveyed support Wolf while 9 percent support U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, 3 percent support state Treasurer Rob McCord and 1 percent support former state Environmental Protection secretaries John Hanger and Katie McGinty. Forty-eight percent were unsure which candidate they would support.

Wolf outpaces the competition in favorability: 44 percent have a favorable opinion of him while 47 percent don't know enough about him. Sixty percent said they don't know enough about Schwartz while 81 percent were unsure about McCord and 86 percent were unsure about McGinty.

A demonstration of television's power: 65 percent of those polled had seen a campaign television commercial while just 4 percent had seen any of the Democratic candidate debates.

Madonna didn't include former state Auditor General Jack Wagner in the poll since he just entered the primary race last week. Madonna predicts an "uphill battle" for Wagner, who had just $31,576 in his campaign account as of Dec. 31 and lost the 2013 Democratic primary for mayor in Pittsburgh.

"There's only one rationale for him to be in this race: It's geography," Madonna said of Wagner, the only Democrat in the race from western Pennsylvania.

Wolf's surge was anticipated by his fellow Democrats and the state Republican Party.

McCord, in a radio interview last week, called Wolf's $10 million campaign investment "troubling" while the Republican Party noted that Wolf, in a 2008 newspaper interview, said candidates should not self-fund campaigns.

The Republicans and Corbett's campaign previously had been focused mostly on Schwartz, considered for a time to be a front-runner in name recognition.

"Corbett's attention will be focused on the Democratic candidate that they think has the lead, but more importantly the one that they want to run against," Madonna said. "That's why I think they picked on Allyson first."

While the Democrats fight for the nomination, Corbett must win back voters in his own party, Madonna said. A Jan. 30 Daily News/F&M poll found that just 23 percent of the state's registered voters think the governor deserves a second term. Even those who said Corbett deserved a second term waffled when asked if they would vote for him "no matter who runs against him." Forty-two percent said yes, 40 percent said no and 18 percent were undecided.

"He's got to win his core voters back," Madonna said.