On a day when one more poll showed a big deficit for Gov. Tom Corbett, the campaign for governor took a puzzling detour through history Tuesday as allies of the governor's campaign sought to raise questions about the nearly half century old draft record of Democratic nominee Tom Wolf.
In a Grant Street press conference conjuring echoes of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's critique of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, several Pittsburgh area veterans displayed draft records that they said posed "troubling questions'' about the student and Peace Corps related draft deferments that Mr. Wolf had received in the late 1960s during the Vietnam War. The documents chronicled the draft status from his time as a high school student in 1966 through 1971, when he was classified as 1-A, meaning that he was eligible to be drafted but was not called to serve because his lottery-generated draft number was high enough to exempt him from that year's levy.
The speakers, Kim Stolfer, of Firearm Owners Against Guns, and Sam DeMarco, of the Tea party affiliated group, Veterans and Patriots United, voiced concern at the records but failed to show that Mr. Wolf had done anything improper or had in any way run afoul of the Selective Service System.
"This record is anything but clear, and in some cases, highly troubling,'' Mr. Stolfer insisted.
In particular, he had his colleague pointed to an entry on the purported service records that suggested that Mr. Wolf had been summoned for an armed forces physical on Dec. 5 1968, a time when he was serving in the Peace Corps in an interruption in his undergraduate career at Dartmouth College. Next to that date was the notation "FR,'' which the GOP activists said stood for "failed to report.''
In a demonstration of the thoroughness of the opposition research on both sides, however, the Wolf campaign _ which had obviously anticipated such scrutiny _ supplied a copy of correspondence with the Selective Service agency from July of this year in which an an information specialist for the agency said the initials stood for "forwarded record.''
Mr. DeMarco declined to say how his group had obtained the Wolf draft records.
Mike Mikus, a spokesman for the Wolf-affiliated Committee for a Fresh Start, stood by as the lunchtime event proceeded outside the City-County Building. Afterward, he denounced the charges as the actions of "a desperate campaign reaching for straws.''
Mr. Mikus borrowed his own page from history -- in this case, the partisan controversies over the Vietnam-era National Guard records for former President George W. Bush, and before that, of former Vice President Dan Quayle. He maintained that the GOP attack was ironic because Mr. Corbett had enlisted in the National Guard at around the same time.
"He joined the National Guard to avoid going to Vietnam,'' he said.
Billy Pitman, a spokesman for the Corbett campaign, said, "It's appalling that Tom Wolf and his campaign are disparaging the committment and sacrifice of Pennsylvania's national Guard Forces.''
And he insisted that the group who staged the press conference had no affiliation with the governor's re-election effort.
The communications for the event, however, was handled by Matt Beynon, a veteran GOP campaign operative. When asked about his role, he said, "I'm helping out the governor.''
Mr. Beynon was an associate of Mr. Corbett's media strategist, John Brabender, when they both worked on former Sen. Rick Santorum's 2012 presidential campaign.
The records on display amid the midday traffic showed that Mr. Wolf's draft status varied during the years. He registered with the system in 1966 when he was still a student at the Hill School, a private highschool. Upon entering Dartmouth in 1967, he was classified 1-D as a member of the Navy Reserve Officers Training program. He entered the Peace Corps in 1968 and would end up serving in India with a draft deferment tied to his work with the volunteer agency. He returned to Dartmouth in 1971 and received a standard student deferment because the campus NROTC program hd gone out of existence. In the meantime, the government conducted a draft lottery in which draft eligible individuals received a number based on their birth date. The lower the number, the more likely one was to be drafted. Mr. Wolf's number was 143. In 1971, after his student deferment expired, the highest number called was 125, according to the Democratic campaign, so he was not called for service.