Tom Wolf
Tom Wolf (John A. Pavoncello — jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com)

Maybe just this once. After all, it is Tom Wolf.

That's apparently what some longtime local Republicans are thinking as they change their party affiliation so they can vote for Wolf, a York County native, in the May 20 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

The Mount Wolf businessman has a fight ahead as one of seven Democrats vying for the party nomination, then trying to unseat incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

But while the Yorker is up against some big-name recognition statewide, he's the superstar at home.

Yorkers who typically vote for the GOP have been calling the York County Department of Elections and Voter Registration, asking what they need to do to change affiliations, said elections director Nikki Suchanic.

"Then that's usually followed up by them saying they want to vote for Tom Wolf," she said. "I would assume that they're probably longtime registered voters who never had to worry about changing their party affiliation."

Exactly how many of them have made or plan to make the switch is unclear, Suchanic said. Registration closed Feb. 18 and will be closed until after an unrelated special election on March 18.

From the end of 2013 to Feb. 18, the number of Democratic voters has increased by 212, from 96,563 to 96,775. The Republican registration, grew, too, but only by 144 people, from 131,004 to 131,148, Suchanic said.

Locally grown: People in York know Tom Wolf, and they know his story, said Bob Kefauver, who heads York County's Democratic Party.

He has a doctorate from MIT, spent time in the Peace Corps, and saved his family's building supply company. He still drives his old Jeep Wrangler and wears shirts from the Bon-Ton.

"But what it comes down to is his character. He's a good, honest, hard-working man," Kefauver said. "Tom Wolf has something that hasn't existed in this nation for longer than I care to remember, and people are able to look at Tom Wolf beyond all the partisan bickering that's happening on a daily basis both out of Harrisburg and Washington."

Wolf said Thursday that some friends and family members in York County have told him about their switch to Democratic, and he's "amazed and gratified" by the show of support.

"I really wasn't anticipating that, but I really love it, and I think it's wonderful that people are willing to go to great lengths to support me, and that's why it's so gratifying," he said. "These are the people who know me best ... and I think it's the highest compliment anybody could get."

And Wolf has gotten some high compliments. His close friend, Bon-Ton executive Tim Grumbacher, gave him $1 million for his campaign. Grumbacher recently told The York Dispatch that he, too, is a former Republican.

'Nice guy': While the switch is good news for the Wolf campaign, it might be less than welcome to the Republican establishment, which enjoys a comfortable majority of York County voters.

But it wasn't unexpected.

"It's York County, and Tom Wolf is from York County," said Bob Wilson, chairman of the York County Republican Committee. "A hometown guy on the ballot running for a race such as that, it's expected. I'll be the first to say, despite our philosophical differences, Tom is a very likeable individual. A nice guy."

But Wilson said he doesn't believe Wolf will win the Democratic primary. And it remains to be seen whether the Wolf followers will stay Democratic for the general election in November, for which they can vote for members of any party.

The race: The last (and only) time a Yorker held the office of Pennsylvania governor was 1959, when George M. Leader left office.

Wolf, as of the last campaign finance filing, led the pack for money raised. His numerous contributions and a $10 million personal pledge gave him the edge over Corbett and the field of Democrats.

Wolf is chairman and CEO of York-based family company The Wolf Organization, which deals in kitchen cabinets and specialty building products. He served as Secretary of Revenue under Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell.

Wolf is competing against former Auditor General Jack Wagner, 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, and U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Montgomery County.

Debates: Keystone Progress is hosting debates Friday and Saturday for Democratic gubernatorial and lieutenant governor candidates during the 2014 Pennsylvania Progressive Summit.

Six of the seven Democratic gubernatorial candidates, including Yorker Tom Wolf, have agreed to participate. The group is still waiting for word from former Auditor General Jack Wagner, who just recently threw his hat in the ring, and Gov. Tom Corbett, according to a Keystone Progress spokesman Michael Morrill.

All but one of the six candidates for lieutenant governor have confirmed their attendance. Keystone Progress is still waiting to hear from Jay Paterno, who is also a new candidate.

The candidates will take questions from an audience of progressive activists and leaders from across the state who are attending the summit, but people can also pay $20 at the door to attend only the debates, Morrill said. Both debates are being streamed live on PCN and at www.pcntv.com.

The gubernatorial debate will be held 6 p.m. Friday, with the lieutenant governor debate held at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday. Both will be held at the Harrisburg Hilton, 1 N. Second St.

— Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.