HARRISBURG (AP) - State government veteran John Hanger dropped out of the race for Pennsylvania governor Thursday, acknowledging that front-runner Tom Wolf's non-stop TV campaign had left the Democrat "no path to victory" as the field shrank to five candidates.
At a Capitol news conference, Hanger said his proposals had helped focus the issues in the race, particularly his call for legalizing marijuana and taxing its sale.
But he said the "startlingly effective" TV ads Wolf launched in late January halted whatever momentum the Hanger campaign had. Wolf, a York businessman, contributed $10 million of his own money to the campaign.
"Tom Wolf has ... taken this race by the neck," Hanger said. "He's the first true front-runner we've had in this race and he's a commanding front-runner. His victory is not guaranteed but he's in a very strong position."
A Franklin & Marshall College poll released late last month found 48 percent of Democratic voters were undecided and 36 percent were backing Wolf. Of the other four candidates included in the survey, each had less than 10 percent.
Hanger, a 56-year-old Hershey resident, has served as secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection in the Rendell administration and as a member of the state Public Utility Commission before that. He became the first Democrat to enter the race when he announced his candidacy in November 2012.
His departure leaves five candidates in the Democratic ring: Wolf, state Treasurer Rob McCord, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, former state environmental protection secretary Katie McGinty and former state Auditor General Jack Wagner.
The Democratic winner in Pennsylvania's May 20 primary election will challenge Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's bid for a second term.
While he praised Wolf and most of his other former competitors, who collectively reported raising nearly $30 million last year, Hanger harshly criticized Pennsylvania's weak campaign finance laws, which allow unlimited contributions from individuals and political committees.
Pennsylvania's gubernatorial campaigns should be publicly funded, he said.
"The existing financing system is toxic and destructive to good government and good public policy making," he said. "Everything I've experienced in this race confirms my judgment that we have to rip this finance system out by the roots and burn it."
Hanger had struggled to raise money for his campaign. His latest campaign finance report, filed at the end of January, showed that most of the nearly $1 million he raised last year came from his own pocket and a line of credit on his home.
He was the fourth candidate to abandon the race. Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, minister Max Myers and Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski had previously dropped out.