By Thomas Fitzgerald, The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)
PHILADELPHIA — Democrat Tom Wolf, a businessman from central Pennsylvania, was elected governor Tuesday in his first campaign for political office.
Republican Tom Corbett became the first incumbent governor to lose re-election in the state’s modern history.
“We need to re-establish education as the priority,” Wolf said, speaking to supporters at the York Expo Center shortly after 10 p.m., after thanking Corbett for his service.
He exhorted Pennsylvanians to believe in themselves and their future. “Let’s make this the time,” Wolf said. “Let’s get started.”
A misty-eyed Corbett addressed a crowd of about 200 supporters shortly before 10 p.m. at the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh.
“They said I might be a one-term governor and I am,” Corbett said. “But I am proud of what we did.”
He said he had fought for fiscal discipline and limited government, while making tough choices along the way.
Exit polls showed Corbett losing across the board — among men, women, all age groups except those over 65, and all income levels. He also was losing in every region of the state but central Pennsylvania.
When he takes office in January, Wolf will likely face a Republican-controlled legislature and a budget deficit as he tries to make good on a promise to dramatically increase the state government’s share of public school costs.
Running on the promise of a “fresh start,” Wolf poured $10 million of his own money into his campaign for the Democratic nomination, swamping better-known rivals.
He hammered Corbett for cuts to state education spending early in his administration, while passing out business tax cuts and refusing to tax the value of natural gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale formation that underlies much of the state. In addition, Wolf argued, jobs growth was anemic compared to the rest of the nation — putting the lie to supply-side economic theory, he said.
Exit polls suggested the Democrat scored on the jobs issue: 90 percent of voters interviewed said they remain worried about the economy, and Wolf led among those voters.
All told, candidates and independent interest groups spent at least $70 million on the campaign in 2014. That included $47.4 million tallied by the Center for Public Integrity, for about 50,000 television ads on broadcast and national cable channels in Pennsylvania.
Wolf, 65, ran his family’s York County building-supplies company for nearly three decades, building into the nation’s largest supplier of kitchen cabinets while sharing profits with workers. He also served for 18 months as state revenue secretary in the administration of former Gov. Ed Rendell.
Wolf has a doctorate in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and served in the Peace Corps in India as a young man.
Corbett, 65, was state attorney general for two terms before winning election by 9 percentage points in 2010, a Republican wave year. As attorney general he sent a series of state lawmakers and top aides to prison on corruption charges.
Wolf’s running mate for lieutenant governor, Democratic state Sen. Mike Stack of Philadelphia, appearing at the Sheet Metal Workers hall in South Philadelphia, said in an interview after the polls closed “We need to invest in public education or we are doomed.”
After casting his own ballot Tuesday afternoon, Wolf said he was heading home for dinner with family.
“We’re having chili,” he said.
The Democratic candidate — with a horde of reporters, cameramen and staffers in his wake — swept in and out of his Mount Wolf polling place in about a minute.
Before Corbett, the last Pennsylvania governor to lose re-election was William Bigler in 1845, after two years in office. A Democrat, he ran afoul of abolitionist sentiment after supporting the Kansas-Nebraska act, which ended the Missouri Compromise and allowed slavery in new western territories.
After a constitutional convention in 1874, Pennsylvania governors’ terms were lengthened to four years, but they were no longer allowed to succeed themselves.
Beginning with a new state constitution in 1968, governors were allowed to have two, four-year terms. Corbett is the first incumbent under those modern rules to have lost.
Photo: Tom Wolf via Flickr