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Wolf Ousts Corbett In Pennsylvania Governor's Race

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Democrat Tom Wolf was elected Pennsylvania governor Tuesday after the businessman and first-time candidate spent $10 million of his own money on an early TV ad campaign that endeared him to voters and helped send unpopular Gov. Tom Corbett to a historic defeat.

When he takes office in January, Wolf will likely face a Republican-controlled Legislature and a yawning budget deficit as he tries to make good on a promise to dramatically increase the state government's share of public school costs.

He said he's ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work.

The state must come together "to fund a world-class public education system, create family-sustaining jobs ... build safe communities, and keep Pennsylvania beautiful," Wolf said in remarks posted online before taking the stage at his election night rally.

Corbett is the first governor to go down in defeat in the four decades since the state's chief executive was allowed to run for a second term. The former two-term state attorney general could not overcome a rocky first term and struggled to sell his record as a fiscal and social conservative.

Wolf, 65, from the tiny town of Mount Wolf, named after an ancestor, will become the 47th governor of Pennsylvania and the first since Richard Thornburgh in 1979 never to have held elective office.

He led his family's cabinetry and building materials distribution business in central Pennsylvania for much of the past three decades, becoming a pillar of York's business, civic and philanthropic community.

In spite of a two-year stint as former Gov. Ed Rendell's revenue secretary, a job for which he donated his salary, he remained a political unknown until he began a folksy ad campaign last winter in which he promised to be a "different kind of governor."

He introduced himself to voters as a mild-mannered, Jeep-driving small-town businessman who had gone to India with the Peace Corps, earned a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and shared profits with the employees at his company.

In an expensive Democratic primary, he easily defeated three rivals who were far more seasoned in politics.

The businessman aggressively attacked cuts in education funding and criticized the state's relatively slow rate of job creation under Corbett. He also won favor by promising to slap higher taxes on the state's booming natural gas industry to make it pay its "fair share."

Wolf said he would restore $1 billion that Corbett had cut from education aid, overhaul Corbett's plan to expand Medicaid under the 2010 federal health care law, and end the use of an asset test to determine whether someone is eligible for food stamps. He also argued against the need to scale back pension benefits for future school and state employees, despite the state's huge pension debt.

Corbett struggled to connect with voters and overcome a long list of liabilities in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 4-to-3.

Among them: signing deep, budget-balancing cuts in education; refusing to raise taxes on the natural gas industry; breaking a no-tax-hike pledge by signing a large increase on vehicle fuel; comparing gay marriage to sister-brother marriages; and backing a tough voter identification bill that was struck down in court.

He also found himself fending off questions about the Jerry Sandusky investigation and, as a Penn State trustee, the university's firing of Joe Paterno and acceptance of NCAA sanctions. A report commissioned by his successor as attorney general, Kathleen Kane, found "no direct evidence" that electoral politics influenced any important decision in the investigation.

Even members of his own party questioned whether he had the personality and drive to get through to voters.

In contrast to his first race for governor in 2010, Corbett lost support across the board — among men, women and all age groups and income levels, according to the preliminary results of an exit poll conducted for the AP and the television networks.

Wolf got strong backing from voters under 50, with about 6 in 10 casting ballots for him.

David Mason, 70, a retiree from suburban Harrisburg, answered quickly when asked why he voted for Wolf: "'Why Corbett?' would be my question." Corbett has a weak record on education funding and gay rights, and his campaign was "all negative and attack" ads that did not inform voters about what he would do a second term," Mason said.

At the first gubernatorial debate in September, Corbett was asked why Pennsylvanians seemed to have turned against him and whether he had made any first-term mistakes.

"Everybody makes mistakes, OK?" he responded. "Have I communicated the best? Probably not. But I made the tough decisions. I was hired to change the culture of Harrisburg. That's what it was. To change from a tax-and-spend to a save-the-taxpayers-their-dollars and try to be as efficient as you possibly can."

Late in the campaign, Corbett found a focus for his attacks: Wolf's proposal to restructure the income tax to shift a bigger burden onto higher earners and then raise it, potentially by several billion dollars, while simultaneously lowering the state's hated school property tax.

Wolf struggled to explain who would pay more and who would pay less under his proposal, and Corbett made much hay over it, portraying it as a secret plan for a huge middle-class tax increase.


Associated Press writers Michael Rubinkam in Allentown, Sean Carlin in Philadelphia, Peter Jackson in Harrisburg and Joe Mandak in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.