Corbett campaign move signals move toward re-election
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania Republicans made a key move on Tuesday that political analysts saw as the first tangible evidence that Gov. Tom Corbett is seeking re-election.
Mike Barley, executive director of the state party, said he will be Corbett's campaign manager for the 2014 race, replacing Brian Nutt, who directed Corbett's 2010 victory.
“We're prepared for it to be a knock-down, drag-out battle,” Barley said of next year's race.
“The moves on the Republican side are an affirmation of what we've known for a long time: This is an incumbent Republican governor who is vulnerable,” Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn of Millvale said.
With Corbett's poll numbers sagging for months, Democrats have begun lining up to take him on. York County businessman Tom Wolf, a former cabinet member of ex-Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, told supporters in an email that he's in the race and prepared to put $10 million of his money into his campaign.
Until Tuesday, Corbett gave no definite signal that he would run. He said last fall he would continue the tradition of governors seeking and winning second terms since a 1968 constitutional change allowed it.
Corbett is raising campaign money and has become more visible, presumably part of an effort to win voters' support, said G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College.
“This is the first overt political sign,” Madonna said about Barley's appointment.
Barley joins the Corbett campaign in two weeks, with a goal of raising $30 million. Nutt will be a senior adviser and important to the campaign, Barley said.
Nutt said his role in the campaign “has yet to be determined.”
Nutt is a registered lobbyist whose clients included an investment banking firm under contract with the Corbett administration to help provide privatization opportunities. The firm, Greenhill & Co., is a consultant to a British-based firm involved in Corbett's proposed lottery privatization proposal.
Nutt said he represented Greenhill early on in its general contract with the Corbett administration but not on the lottery deal.
Poll numbers such as Corbett's 39 percent to 49 percent job approval rating in a March 13 Quinnipiac University survey prompted Democrats to consider running.
Corbett could turn it around, analysts said.
“I'm not saying he has a great chance. I'm saying he has a fair chance of being re-elected,” said Gabriel Pellathy, a political science professor at St. Vincent College near Latrobe.
“We're a year-and-a-half out, so who knows?” said Wes Leckrone, a political science professor at Widener University.
Among other potential candidates, the most prominent Democrats are U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Philadelphia, former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak of Delaware County and Rob McCord, the state treasurer from Bryn Mawr. Former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger, of suburban Harrisburg, announced he's running, and several others are considering it.
Schwartz might win the nomination as the only woman in the Democratic race, Leckrone said. Sestak, a former U.S. Senate candidate, and McCord are potentially strong challengers, Leckrone said.
Corbett could face a primary challenge from Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor.
“We'll see,” said Barley, when asked about a primary challenge. “I am very comfortable with where the governor is with our party.”
Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.