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Pa. gubernatorial hopeful: I can still win

Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Rep. Allyson Schwartz is looking to ease her supporters' concerns about falling behind in a crowded Democratic field.
U.S. Rep Allyson Schwartz during a Democratic gubernatorial candidates forum in Philadelphia, Feb. 4, 2014.
U.S. Rep Allyson Schwartz during a Democratic gubernatorial candidates forum in Philadelphia, Feb. 4, 2014.

U.S. Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz had been leading a crowded Democratic field in the Pennsylvania primary contest for governor since she announced her candidacy last spring. But Schwartz has seen her front-runner status upended by political neophyte and self-funder Tom Wolf, a businessman from York, Pennsylvania, who served in former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell's cabinet. Now the Schwartz campaign is hitting the panic button.

Schwartz campaign manager Corey Dukes sent out a message boasting that his campaign's "media strategy close to the election against a self-funder who takes an early lead has proven to be effective in Pennsylvania and across the country."

"We have over $5 million on hand to spend communicating with voters across Pennsylvania about Allyson’s experience and leadership. We have a deep base of support in the Philadelphia media market, which will only grow as voters hear our message. And, we have tremendous growth opportunities in every region of the Commonwealth," Dukes said.

In recent weeks, Wolf has blanketed the Keystone State with a stream of biographical television ads. The strategy has worked and his polling numbers have skyrocketed from just 5% last November to 40% in March, taking him from last place among his rivals and boosting him as the new frontrunner heading in to the May 20 primary.

"Money matters when you have a field of unknown candidates," said Amy Walter, a campaign expert with the Cook Political Report. "There isn't an 800 pound gorilla in the race that can match Tom Wolf's money," 

Wolf entered the race last April and pledged to spend up to $10 million of his money to win the Democratic contest. So far, he's kept his promise and the strategy has worked.  

Schwartz meanwhile has seen her substantial lead collapse over the rest of the field. In March, polls from Franklin & Marshall College and Harpers shows Wolf leading Schwartz by 27 and 26 points. In addition to Wolf, State Treasurer Robb McCord has also gone up on the air with campaign ads while Schwartz has remained silent.

Duke's memo cited three examples of self-funding Democratic candidates who peaked early in a primary only to lose to a more experienced elected official once the air war began. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter ultimately defeated wealthy businessman Tom Knox in the 2007 mayoral primary, and in 2010, millionaire businessman Ned Lamont took an early lead against Dan Malloy, who went on to win the primary and the governorship in Connecticut. California State Treasurer Phil Angelides trailed venture capitalist Steve Westly who poured $35 million of his own fortune into the 2006 gubernatorial primary until Angelides went on TV and won the primary.

The Schwartz campaign sought to ease concerns of supporters and donors by assuring them that once they begin to advertise on TV, the race will tighten and the congresswoman will coalesce the backing to become the party’s nominee. "We know that once we begin to communicate on television, the polling in this race will move substantially," Dukes said. 

Schwartz is the sole female member of the Pennsylvania's congressional delegation and she gave up her seat, including her spot in the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, to run for governor. An early favorite of the Democratic Governors Association, Schwartz racked up endorsements including the well-resourced pro-choice group EMILY's List and was anointed the frontrunner by virtue of her name recognition in the Philadelphia area and her ability to raise millions.

Schwartz would be the first female Democrat nominated to run in the general election should she win the primary.