York County native Tom Wolf has risen from near obscurity in statewide politics to strongly capture the Democratic nomination for governor of Pennsylvania, making him the blue party's prospect for unseating incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in November.

Returns from more than 90 percent of the state's precincts showed Wolf with 58 percent of the vote, ahead of U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, state Treasurer Rob McCord and former state environmental protection secretary Katie McGinty, as of press time.

Wolf took 481,184 votes to McCord's 139,820, McGinty's 63,266, and Schwartz's 146,244.

The Mount Wolf native and resident spent the past year traveling the state to convince Democratic voters that he - a 65-year-old businessman with an Ivy League education and a small-town York County upbringing - should be the nominee to face Corbett, who's consistently ranked among the most vulnerable sitting governors in the United States.

It would be only the second time in the state's history a Yorker was governor; George Michael Leader of York Township was the 36th governor from 1955-1959, and he was also a Democrat with a namesake York County village.

If elected in November's general election, Wolf would take office 60 years, nearly to the day, after Leader's swearing in.

November: Wolf immediately turned his attention to the fall Tuesday night, addressing a spirited crowd of supporters packed into downtown York's Santander Stadium.

He and wife Frances Wolf rolled onto the baseball field with the top down on the 1970s Golden Eagle Jeep that became a campaign trademark after being featured in commercials.

Quoting a line from "The Pride of the Yankees," Wolf told the crowd, "Tonight, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

Democratic candidate for Governor Tom Wolf greets supporters at Santander Stadium in York to celebrate his primary election win on Tuesday.
Democratic candidate for Governor Tom Wolf greets supporters at Santander Stadium in York to celebrate his primary election win on Tuesday. (John A. Pavoncello)

He pointed to Corbett's four years trying to "hollow out schools" and "play fast and loose" with Pennsylvanians jobs, and urged supporters to push through to November.

"Right now, as of today, this moment, let's get started," he said.

The campaign to the general election will focus on education, jobs, the economy, and "leveling the playing field" for working families through changes to the tax code, he said.

"I'm a pragmatic, lifelong Pennsylvanian, that's what I am," Wolf told reporters when asked how he would respond to a possible Corbett assertion that he's "too liberal" for Pennsylvania.

He said Corbett has lots of money and political expertise, but Wolf's life story makes him a different kind of candidate.

The story: Wolf grew up in a farmhouse tucked behind the tightly packed homes in blue-collar Mount Wolf, served in the Peace Corps, earned a bachelor's from Dartmouth, a master's from the University of London and a PhD from M.I.T.

He started out driving a forklift at the family business, kitchen cabinet supplier The Wolf Organization, before taking over the $200 million, 250-employee building products company. He sold the business and served as secretary of the Department of Revenue under Gov. Ed Rendell, then abandoned a 2010 gubernatorial run to return to and oversee a restructuring that employees credit with saving the company.

Wolf financed $10 million of his campaign with personal money, including a loan, but he declined to say Tuesday whether that will sustain him through to November.

"I haven't even thought of that," he said.

Pundits have credited the commercials aired early and often in the campaign with boosting Wolf's visibility in the statewide race. While celebrated in York, Wolf was virtually unknown in the Democratic strongholds - Philadelphia and Pittsburgh - needed to secure a state win.

Wolf acknowledged he hadn't expected such a wide margin in his victory, though the numbers suggest his story resonated with voters across the state.

Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, and Rep. Jake Wheatley Jr., D-Pittsburgh, were among those who traveled to York for Wolf's election night celebration.

"He brought a different message," Wheatley said. "He's not a typical politician. He wants to bring people together to find solutions. His message is, 'We're all Pennsylvanians and we can do it together.' You can't beat that message."

- Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.