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Democratic primary for governor entering frenetic phase

More debates, more ads and not-so-friendly fire combine to light up the contested Democratic race for governor.

OK, DEMOCRATIC voters, here's a little heads-up.

Your primary to pick a person to pummel Tom Corbett is entering a new phase.

It's a phase that you (who believe that Tom Corbett will be pummeled) need to be aware of.

For one thing, it's about to get more visible.

You'll see more TV ads, polls and final debates.

There's a debate focused on education this evening at the Free Library of Philadelphia, 6 to 8 p.m., carried live statewide on the Pennsylvania Cable Network.

There's another tomorrow evening, 7:30 to 9 p.m., at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, also to be aired on PCN.

Since most recent public polling shows high numbers of undecided voters, as in nearly half, you might want to tune in to start thinking about deciding.

Also, the race is about to get more nasty.

This (for those who don't believe that Tom Corbett should be pummeled) is something that's long been hoped for.

You know the thinking: Democrats eat their own, leaving a carcass candidate for the incumbent governor to bury in the fall.

Since there isn't much policy difference between the four Democrats running, each seeks to set himself or herself apart or, in the case of two of the four, light up the leader.

With three weeks to the May 20 election and York businessman Tom Wolf well ahead, expect him to draw concentrated fire.

I mean of the flamethrower variety.

Rob McCord already aired an ad saying "Wolf and the others" (that would be Allyson Schwartz and Katie McGinty) are playing taxpayers for suckers by not going far enough in proposed taxes on the Marcellus Shale, which all four candidates call for to better fund schools. McCord wants a higher tax than the others.

But the ad says Wolf would leave hundreds of millions "in the drillers' pockets," and since Wolf is the only "other" named, it's pretty clear where the ad is aimed.

Expect more Wolf-targeting from McCord.

There's the issue of Wolf's self-financing, or what McCord calls "buying" the election.

And McCord's campaign continues talking about Wolf's past endorsement and support for a York mayor who admitted being racist as a young police officer in the '60s and who in 2001 was charged with murder, later acquitted, in connection with a 1969 shooting death during that city's race riots.

(Wolf has said he headed a civic group working on local revitalization with then-Mayor Charlie Robertson and served as his "honorary" re-election campaign chairman in 2001 before Robertson dropped out of the race.)

Meanwhile, Schwartz used an appearance at a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon this week to raise "serious questions" about Wolf.

Seeking to peel off Wolf's front-runner cloak, she noted that a Wolf campaign policy paper plagiarized some language from a report by an energy company, Johnson Controls, a director of which is a Wolf contributor.

She also questioned the financial health of Wolf's cabinet-supply company, Wolf Industries, claiming it's deeply in debt, and she called Wolf "pretty unproved and untested."

Expect this to show up in a TV ad.

(Wolf's campaign yesterday said the company, like almost every company, has a line of credit but no "term," or mortgagelike debt. A spokesman said Schwartz is either "desperate" or uninformed about how businesses work.)

This means McCord and Schwartz double-barreling Wolf, which means if McCord or Schwartz bump up in polls, Wolf responds with TV ads creating more noise and the kind of clutter that tends to turn voters off.

Katie McGinty? Waiting in the weeds.

Clearly running as an alternative to whatever on-air mayhem ensues; clearly hoping to emerge untainted and issues-focused, a quiet option amid the push of personal political potshots.

So that's where things stand. But stay tuned. Things are about to move.