Rob McCord's great verbal volleys can be so relentless that he once joked to a Daily News reporter that he gets worn out listening to himself. But unlike politicians who prattle on at length without ever getting around to the question, the state treasurer and would-be governor tends to answer the question at hand along with half a dozen others.

McCord's volubility may have its pitfalls, but it comes from an obviously rich reservoir of intelligence, knowledge, and energy. Along with his substantial experience in politics, government, business, and finance, those qualities make ROB McCORD the best of a strong group of Democrats vying to challenge Gov. Corbett in the fall. His call last year to "replace a pinched pessimism with optimistic innovation" contains the makings of a potent case against the state's current chief executive.

While few major policy differences separate the four rivals for the Democratic nomination, McCord's emphasis on robust education funding and natural-gas taxation shows an understanding of what's important and achievable in Pennsylvania. He may not get the 10 percent drilling tax he has advocated, but his history shows he has the skills to get something out of what will likely remain a Republican legislature.

More than five years as Pennsylvania's treasurer has given McCord highly relevant experience as an elected statewide official and government executive. He leads a department of nearly 400 employees with a budget of $36 million following significant reductions during his tenure. Moreover, the department's role in managing more than $120 billion in public funds through the recession means the treasurer has deep knowledge of state finances, which should be one of the most urgent concerns of the next governor.

McCord's position has also required him to form relationships with politicians of both parties in Harrisburg. And he has shown the independence and toughness to challenge them - traits that are far too scarce in the capital. He has lodged appropriate objections to the Republican governor's ill-conceived efforts to privatize the state lottery as well as to eleventh-hour borrowing by a fellow Democrat, former Gov. Ed Rendell. And he has been an astute critic of troubled agencies ranging from Pennsylvania's gambling board to the bistate Delaware River Port Authority.

Jeep vs. van

A son of academics with degrees from Harvard and Wharton, McCord has worked on Capitol Hill, run a Washington think tank, and made his fortune as a venture capitalist investing in technology and life sciences companies. While acknowledging that his upbringing and circumstances ultimately provided plenty of advantages, the Main Line resident has tried to connect with Democratic voters by dwelling on his childhood years of hardship following his mother's divorce. His weakness for laying on this story and others a bit thickly provoked an objection from his own stepbrother, and McCord himself at one point felt compelled to offer the caveat that unlike a recurring Saturday Night Live character, "It was never like we lived in a van down by the river."

McCord and others have also overplayed the case against York businessman Tom Wolf, particularly in exaggerating his connection to a racially charged local controversy. Such criticisms have mounted since Wolf outfoxed the rest of the Democratic field with a largely self-financed early advertising campaign, telling his compelling personal story and amassing a commanding lead in the polls.

Wolf's associations with a pair of politicians who faced criminal charges, which have been the subject of his rivals' recent attacks, suggest at most that the cabinetry executive prizes loyalty very highly, which could be a drawback in a state capital beset by corruption and clannishness. And Wolf's state government experience is limited to less than two years as Rendell's revenue secretary.

But the Peace Corps and MIT alumnus is winning for some good reasons, including his atypical and remarkable biography. Having built and cashed out of his successful business, Wolf cared enough to assume the risks of buying back in when the firm foundered under new ownership. He has since led it to a recovery of much of its lost value. Meanwhile, Wolf's frequently mentioned Jeep, presented as a symbol of his common touch, is his automotive answer to McCord's riverside van.

Strong competition

The only candidate who has refrained from going negative against the front-runner is the forcefully upbeat Katie McGinty. A native of Northeast Philadelphia and one of 10 children of a policeman, McGinty was an environmental adviser to the Clinton White House and later Rendell's environmental secretary, which gives her considerable experience with pertinent policy matters in a state undergoing an energy boom. Her sometimes staunchly partisan tone, however, could be a hindrance in Harrisburg.

The race's most experienced politician and partisan warrior is Allyson Schwartz, a longtime contender for the governor's office who has represented parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County in Congress for nine years and in the state Senate for the previous 14. True to her background as a state and city health official and director of a women's clinic, she has been a stalwart advocate of important health-care reforms at the state and federal levels, though her struggles to forge alliances have been an obstacle.

Democratic voters will choose from a formidable field on May 20, one from which still other candidates have already been winnowed. It's that much more impressive, then, that his record and readiness mark McCord as the candidate most likely to match words with deeds.