As Pennsylvania Democrats prepare to meet, feud with Wolf divides members


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HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Wolf's plan to form a new organization to take over many of the campaign tasks now handled by the Democratic Party divided party leaders as they gathered Friday on the eve of their summer meeting.

Wolf, who won a four-way primary race with 58 percent of the vote, is organizing a state political-action committee called the "Campaign for a Fresh Start" that will be headed by ex-rival Katie McGinty.

Among its responsibilities will be communications, research, getting out the vote and coordinating with the legislative campaign committees.

Last week, Wolf named McGinty, a former state environmental protection secretary from the Philadelphia suburbs who came in fourth in the primary, as his choice for state party chairman. But incumbent chairman Jim Burn, a Pittsburgh lawyer, vowed to fight for another four-year term.

Behind-the-scenes efforts to persuade Burn to step down were unsuccessful, even as the Wolf campaign said it had the votes from state party committee members to win in a showdown vote.

"The state committee asked me to stay in February. They asked me to stay now. I serve them and I said 'yes,'" Burn, who was elected chairman in 2010, said in a written statement.

Wolf said he will not attend Saturday's Democratic State Committee meeting in suburban Harrisburg, and former Gov. Ed Rendell, who briefly employed Wolf in his cabinet, issued a withering assessment of the state party's stance.

"They have no significance, no political power, no punch," he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "They can only raise money if the governor raises money for them."

The Democratic State Committee, he said, is now "an organization with no money, no power, no resources."

County Democratic Party chairmen were divided on the issue.

Greg Stewart, the Democratic Party chairman in Centre County, said he had planned to vote for Burn long before McGinty entered the picture.

"Over the last four years, Jim has done a phenomenal job" of working with party leaders at the county level across the state, Stewart said. "That means a lot ... because we are all volunteers.

"I'm hoping Tom comes tomorrow," Stewart said, predicting the nominee would receive a warm welcome. "It's nothing personal."

In the Philadelphia suburb of Montgomery County, chairman Marcel Groen said his philosophy is that the gubernatorial nominee should get to pick the chairman.

"If we get caught up in these kinds of skirmishes, there's no prize," Groen said. "It makes no sense."

Roger Lund, the Adams County party chairman, called himself "a big Tom Wolf supporter" and said the state party and Wolf's new organization perform different functions that can complement each other.

The state Republican Party seized the opportunity to toss darts at the opposition; GOP spokeswoman Megan Sweeney said the Democratic Party doesn't trust Wolf's judgment.

Mike Mikus, a Wolf campaign spokesman who formerly was McGinty's campaign manager, said the soon-to-be-formed committee is moving to hire a full staff.

"We felt that we had the votes to win on Saturday, but in the sake of party unity decided to go this way," he said.

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