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Wolf maintains large lead over Corbett with month left in governor's campaign

| Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014, 5:23 p.m.

The latest sample of voter opinions in the Pennsylvania governor's race tested for lingering effects of Gov. Tom Corbett's handling of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation investigation.

It shows the struggling Republican incumbent still trailing Democratic challenger Tom Wolf by double digits.

Robert Morris University Polling Institute found 54.6 percent of voters say the Sandusky case would not affect their vote, according to an online survey sponsored by Trib Total Media. Almost 27 percent say Corbett's handling of the investigation makes them less likely to support his re-election, and 12 percent say it makes them more likely to vote for Corbett.

Corbett was Pennsylvania's twice-elected attorney general when his office began investigating Sandusky, a longtime Penn State University assistant football coach, on suspicion of sexually abusing boys. It took 16 months for the office to charge Sandusky in November 2011, under his appointed successor Linda Kelly after Corbett became governor.

Corbett has said his office handled the allegations appropriately.

“In this instance, a solid case resulted in convictions on 45 counts, effectively taking a serial child predator off the streets and putting him behind bars where he can do no more harm for the rest of his life,” said his campaign spokesman, Billy Pitman.

Sandusky was convicted in June 2012 and sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison. Three Penn State officials are accused of covering up his crimes.

An investigation by Attorney General Kathleen Kane this year found no evidence Corbett slowed the case for political purposes but cited “inexcusable delays.”

The survey showed about 50.1 percent of voters think it took too long for the office to charge Sandusky.

Philip Harold, associate dean of the School of Education and Social Sciences at Robert Morris, said its polls include an open-ended question for people to explain their positions. The phrase “Penn State scandal,” and “Sandusky” kept coming up involving Corbett, he said, triggering questioning.

Some of that blowback may be misdirected, Harold said.

“Die-hard Penn State fans are unhappy about the way Joe Paterno was treated and the NCAA sanctions” against the school, he said — issues the attorney general's office played no role in.

University trustees fired Paterno, the late head coach. The NCAA last month reduced sanctions on the school stemming from the scandal.

The poll surveyed 500 likely Pennsylvania voters from Sept. 26-30, days after the candidates squared off in their first debate. The survey's error margin is 4.5 percentage points.

Results said Wolf leads Corbett 50 percent to 29.2 percent. Almost 21 percent of voters remain undecided. Education and economic issues remain top issues.

Among voters decided on or leaning toward a candidate, 84.3 percent are “extremely” or “somewhat” committed to their choice.

“After four years of Gov. Corbett's failures on education and the economy, Pennsylvanians are ready for a new vision to get our economy moving again,” Beth Melena, a Wolf campaign spokeswoman.

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or mdaniels@tribweb.com.

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