HARRISBURG (AP) Pennsylvania Democrats tapped millionaire businessman Tom Wolf as their nominee to challenge Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, launching what promises to be a bruising campaign that began with immediate salvos between the candidates.
Wolf will accuse Corbett of making hobbling cuts in aid to public schools and of being too cozy with the natural gas industry. He'll also test Corbett's support from the business community. Corbett, in turn, will paint Wolf as a tax-and-spend liberal whose policies will threaten the economy.
The general election will be expensive: Already, the Republican Governors Association reported having $8.6 million to spend in Pennsylvania, while the Democratic Governors Association reported $3.5 million.
In a brief, three-minute victory speech under the floodlights at a minor league baseball stadium in his home city of York Tuesday night, Wolf invoked Yankees great Lou Gehrig and described himself as "the luckiest person on the face of the Earth right now" before attacking Corbett's policies.
"We have a clear choice: 2014 is going to be a very important choice for all of us," he said. "We have a clear record of an administration that wants to hollow out our schools, wants to play fast and loose with jobs, that wants to take our natural assets and play fast and loose with them, and that also wants to have a stacked deck ... that will actually not have a level playing field."
About 175 miles to the west, Corbett accepted the Republican nomination in a hotel ballroom in Pittsburgh, where he told Republicans it appeared that he would face Wolf in the fall election.
"Whoever it is in that race, we understand that the choice for the people of Pennsylvania this fall will be very clear," Corbett said. "Because if you look at the field of candidates, their positions and their proposals, they want to raise taxes, I don't. They want to return to the days of runaway spending and irresponsible budgets, I don't."
Wolf's victory capped a months-long TV courtship of voters with folksy ads that played up his small-town roots, featured his Jeep Wrangler and testimonials from his wife, his two grown daughters and employees of his kitchen cabinet company. Wolf poured $10 million of his own money into his campaign, which made him a household name and gave him a crucial early advantage.
He highlighted turning around the Wolf Organization, a York building products company that has been in his family for six decades, as well as his stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in India and his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
His ads touched a chord.
Unofficial returns from 99 percent of the state's precincts showed Wolf with almost 58 percent of the vote, far ahead of U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, state Treasurer Rob McCord and former state environmental protection secretary Katie McGinty. Schwartz captured under 18 percent, McCord almost 17 percent and McGinty under 8 percent. Turnout was light, with roughly 850,000 of the state's 4.1 million Democrats casting ballots.
Corbett is viewed as vulnerable and a Wolf victory in the general election would break a four-decade gubernatorial tradition: ever since the state constitution was changed in 1968 to allow governors to succeed themselves, every governor has been awarded a second term.
Neither Corbett nor Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley faced a primary challenge. State Sen. Mike Stack of Philadelphia won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor and will be Wolf's running mate.
The four Democratic candidates had spent more than $31 million to win the nomination and were on track to break the state's record for a gubernatorial primary.
Corbett, 64, elected in 2010 largely on his reputation as the state's corruption-fighting attorney general, has been saddled with low job-approval ratings. Despite running unopposed, Corbett has been running TV ads, including one aimed at Wolf and another that touches on his own unpopularity by saying he didn't go to Harrisburg to make friends, but to make tough decisions.
In the primary, Wolf, 65, sought to define himself as a non-politician while fending off attacks from Corbett, the Republican Party and two of his Democratic foes, McCord and Schwartz, after the primary race became nasty in early April. On Tuesday night, his Democratic foes pledged solidarity.
"He's a good, good man," McCord said in his concession speech, "and it will be fun to help him continue this fight."
Associated Press writer Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia contributed to this report. Levy reported from York.