Yorker Tom Wolf is leading both Gov. Tom Corbett and a crowded field of Democratic gubernatorial candidates in two new polls released this week, gaining him new attention as a front-runner in the race.
Wolf beat the governor with a 52-33 percent approval rating, which means 52 percent approve and 33 percent disapprove, with Corbett posting a negative rating of 36-52, according to a Quinnipiac University study released Wednesday morning.
And a survey from Harper Polling shows the Mount Wolf businessman taking 40 percent of the vote if the Democratic primary were held now. He's leading by double digits over nearest primary competitor U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who had 14 percent of the vote.
Following were state Treasurer Rob McCord with 8 percent, former Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger and former Auditor General Jack Wagner tied with 7 percent, and Kathleen McGinty, also a former Environmental Protection secretary, with 6 percent. Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, the seventh Democratic contender, is not listed.
Other Democratic candidates listed in the Quinnipiac poll - Schwartz, McCord, Hanger, McGinty and Wagner - also had higher approval ratings than Corbett. The poll showed 55 percent of voters saying Corbett doesn't deserve re-election and 34 percent saying he does.
Wolf has come from behind to seize the lead, but the race is far from over, said Tim Malloy, assistant director of Quinnipiac's polling institute.
"We have eight months and change and we don't know what kind of damage Democrats will inflict on each other in a primary campaign, but Wolf is the man of the hour," he said.
Wolf said Tuesday that he appreciated the "nice numbers," but he didn't seem inclined to celebrate.
"The only poll that counts is the one on May 20," he said. "I'm just going to keep playing the course."
He'll continue traveling around the state over the next three months, and his television ads will stay on the air until the primary, he said.
Harper Polling President Brock McCleary said Wagner's entry into the race and Wolf's multi-million dollar advertising campaign were "notable recent events" in the Democratic primary race for governor.
"While the talk has been about (Pittsburgh resident) Wagner's potential for geographic advantage, the real impact in the race has been Wolf's spending," McCleary wrote. "In fact, it has given form to a race that to this point has been filled with candidates who lack broad name identification beyond niche constituencies."
According to the Harper survey, Wolf's name identification increased from 23 percent in November to 65 percent. The perception of his image shifted from 11 percent favorable and 11 percent unfavorable to 58 percent favorable and 6 percent unfavorable between the two polls.
Wolf had the largest percentage of image responses, followed by Schwartz, who had 32 percent favorable and 13 percent unfavorable.
As might be expected, Wolf's strongest support came from the York area, the South Central region, where he took 56 percent of the vote when people were asked who they would support if the race were held now.
But Wolf also led Schwartz, who's from the Philadelphia area, 37 to 31 percent when Philadelphia area voters were asked the same question.
In the Pittsburgh area, he led Wagner 36 to 18 percent.
According to Harper, the sample size for the survey was 501 likely voters and the margin of error is plus or minus 4.38 percent. The automated telephone survey was conducted Saturday and Sunday.
The margin of error is plus or minus 4.38 percent.
Quinnipiac surveyed 1,405 registered voters, with live interviewers calling land-lines and cellphones Feb. 19-24. That poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percent.
- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.