Originally published Nov. 19, 2013. Check out what else we've written about York County's Tom Wolf.

Tom Wolf's day starts at about 6 a.m. with 40 minutes of cardio on the treadmill.

He observes the recommended guidelines for a period of climbing intensity followed by a cool down; he stops when he has burned 600 calories.

Almost every day, he selects either a blue shirt or a white shirt; a blue suit or gray suit.

Nothing about his appearance screams "multi-millionaire businessman" on this Friday, a white shirt/blue suit day.

It's been a long day, as most of his are lately.


The time is 10:26 p.m., four minutes shy of a full hour past his usual bedtime. A campaign worker is driving him (in a hybrid Ford Wolf bought from the Beshore and Kohler dealership near his Mount Wolf home) down Interstate 83 past Reesers Summit.

Being on the road campaigning for governor for six or seven days per week has been cutting into his pre-sleep reading, mostly nonfiction books about economics and politics. On this day, he's in the middle of Bruce Katz's "Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy."

But for all of Wolf's measured practicality and sensible reading material, his supporters are quick to defend his passion, noting this is the man who risked much of what he had, aborting his bid for governor in 2009 and gathering all of his personal money to buy back his family business because employees called

him and told him it was about to go bankrupt.

He's the same man, they argue, who turned the business model upside down during a recession and saved the Wolf Organization, and potentially hundreds of York County jobs, paying back the bank at 100 percent when others were paying 30 cents on the dollar. The company is now distributing building products to 28 states.

So while Wolf is an academic with a Ph.D. from MIT and a self-professed "nerd," he says the same vision that helped him save his business can help him do great things for Pennsylvania.

It's those "nerdy qualities" that allow him to discern patterns and take abstract ideas and "actually achieve something, to be more than an aggregator of policy interests," he says.

"I like taking ideas and synthesizing them into something that can make a difference," he says. "I don't see much evidence that (incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett) sees the broader context and patterns. And absent of that, it's hard to take us to any place that really matters."


With at least eight Democrats in the race and Republican Corbett suffering dismal ratings in the polls, the incumbent is "seen as someone who is eminently beatable" in the 2014 gubernatorial race, said non-partisan political scientist Christopher Borick.

"The governor's problems on various fronts and his inability to craft a coherent message to the public has put him in a position that no incumbent would want to be in," said Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.

It appears the state is about to break a "two terms Democratic, two terms Republican" trend that started in the '70s, when the state's governors were first allowed a chance for re-election, he said.

And while Wolf "might not be an overwhelmingly charismatic guy, and rather wonkish," the candidate does have a "pretty powerful narrative when you look through his background," Borick said.

The most prominent Democratic challengers include state Treasurer Rob McCord, who has been elected to statewide office and has an ability to raise money, and U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, a suburban Philadelphia congresswoman with a good base and strong organization, Borick said.

"Where does Tom (Wolf) fit into the pack? He's the outlier, if you will," Borick said. "It might be a bit cliché to call him a wild card, but his impact on the race could be somewhat significant."

Borick said Wolf will be helped by his statewide experience as Secretary of the Department of Revenue after being appointed by Gov. Ed Rendell, though it wasn't a statewide elected position. Wolf can also benefit from his diverse background, business success and the $10 million of his own money pledged toward the campaign.

"That makes him an intriguing figure in a crowded field," he said. "It might not take a high percentage of the vote to win because it's so crowded; it gives someone like Tom an advantage."

The money also brings a distinct and enviable advantage, Borick said. Statewide candidates need at least $3 million to $5 million to be competitive, and winning candidates typically spend between $5 million and $10 million for a statewide race.

With the Democrats so energized, Corbett needs the chance for competition in the general election so he can point out his opponent's flaws and focus attention on the opponent's weaknesses, Borick said.

Corbett might be hoping for a Democratic opponent who he can label "too left, or too liberal," he said, but Wolf -- should he survive the primary -- doesn't have a voting record to establish such a trend.

"Or one of the things that a campaign might try to spin regarding a wealthy candidate is that they don't understand the issues facing the common person," Borick said. "But I think again if you look at (Wolf's) resume and some of the volunteer work he has done over time that he might have buffered himself from some of those arguments."

Wolf interrupted his college studies to join the Peace Corps, serving two years in a small village in India. He also spent time managing a hardware store and, while writing his doctoral paper, working as a forklift operator. He brags he can remove a stack of lumber from a rail car without dropping it and has the scars to prove it.

"There's nothing on the surface that gives you an easy target with (Wolf)," Borick said. "He's a family man. Fairly wonkish. Has a nice background. ... There's no reason to believe he can't be competitive in this race."

Now it's up to the campaign to get that compelling story out to the voters statewide, in places where his name isn't as recognized as it is in York, he said.


The white shirt/blue suit Friday started in York around 5 p.m. with a Democratic dinner where Wolf delivered a speech to a campaigner's dream crowd: enthusiastic supporters.

Some knew his whole life story, regarding him as a local celebrity, practically a hero for swooping in and saving the family business.

He was introduced as "a business leader with a heart," and given a standing ovation from supporters.

Democrat Mary Toomey, an 84-year-old Mount Wolf woman, bubbled out facts about Wolf as though she had been waiting all day to tell somebody.

"Tom Wolf. I just adore him ... I must tell you, I have known him from the day he came home from the hospital."

He's multilingual, has a Ph.D., attended prestigious schools and served in the Peace Corps in India, she lists.

"And he sang in my choir," she said. "A solo, and was very good."

For all the intense praise he received in York, Wolf offers a self-deprecating observation as he gets in the car to leave.

"Well, I'm also a 64-year-old bald guy," he said.

That lack of pretense carried him through his next campaign stop, after more than an hour's drive to another Democratic dinner, sponsored by the Lebanon County Democratic Committee. Some people there knew of him, they said, but they didn't know much about him.

Wolf spent the first minute of his introduction explaining he's not the novelist, Tom Wolfe. That man, he said, spells his name with an E.

He used the three minutes he was allotted to tell the crowd he has a background different from the standard politician.

He told them of the broader perspective he hopes to bring to Harrisburg, from education to infrastructure, and that they should envision "what we want Pennsylvania to be when we grow up."

People need to think bigger and broader about the future and 21st-century infrastructure and how it should look, he said, not just fix the bridges.

He spoke of the Peace Corps and his academic accomplishments.

"I built a business, actually twice, in York County," he told them, saying he created more jobs in his business than Corbett did in the whole state in the month of July.

The Democratic voters of Lebanon, processing the brief introduction they'd just been given, were left with varying interpretations of the candidate.

Undecided voter Cornell Wilson, 42, of Lebanon City, was impressed with Wolf's "business head" and said he'd probably be good for the economy.

Also undecided, Cesar B. Liriano, 35, said Wolf seemed sincere and he "looks like a really nice guy."

JoAnn Thomas, 77, of Lancaster County, has her own radio show. She seemed to be singularly focused on a trait of Wolf's that someone outside her profession might not notice: the soothing nature of Wolf's voice.

"It's pleasant, so pleasant," she said. "When we have to listen to a governor for so many years, that's important."


Two-term governor Ed Rendell said he appointed Wolf because he wanted a "business person, someone with good common sense."

The Yorker said the first thing he did as Secretary of Revenue was talk to the employees, all 2,300 of them, and get a feel for their jobs so he could process the operation. That's not a goal he has listed for governorship.

Rendell said Wolf examined state Department of Revenue's operations and met the governor's goal of developing a system to better collect outstanding taxes, resulting in a windfall of back taxes.

Wolf also supervised the state's lottery and reduced the overhead, making it more efficient and "having an open mind" about new games and revenue generators, the former governor said.

He improved the advertising and moved the lottery's wise-cracking groundhog mascot, Gus, into the spotlight.

People loved it, Rendell recalled, lamenting the new administration's decision to ax the groundhog.

While Rendell has said he doesn't plan to endorse a candidate, he said Democrats around the state are receiving Wolf well.

With his progressive views on social issues and his business background and financial sense, "he's a very attractive candidate," the former governor said.

"His views are right and, given his background and the fact that he's been successful in everything he's done, you'd have to assume he'd be a good governor."

-- Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.

Crowded field

Yorker Tom Wolf is one of eight Democratic gubernatorial candidates hoping to unseat Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

The others are:

---Former state Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger of Dauphin County.

---Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz,

---State Treasurer Rob McCord of Montgomery County.

---Former state Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty of Chester County.

---Cumberland County pastor Max Myers.

---Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski.

---U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Montgomery County.