Corbett picks PNC Park over Pennsylvania GOP fall dinner
HARRISBURG — The governor skipped the state GOP's fall dinner on Friday to take in a Pirates game, a move political observers said could pay off at election time more than dining with the party faithful would.
Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who faces a potentially tough re-election race next year, was at the game in PNC Park when the Bucs lost 6-5 to the Cincinnati Reds in their battle for a playoff spot.
“Typically, a governor tries to make it to important party functions,” said Tom Baldino, a political science professor at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre. But for Corbett, plagued by poor poll numbers over the past year, “it's probably better to be out among the people, to bring those numbers up,” he said.
Corbett “was detained by previous commitments in Western Pennsylvania,” said his campaign manager, Mike Barley. The governor, who is from Shaler, was “well represented” at the party's dinner by Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who spoke to attendees and worked the crowd. Corbett “sent a personalized video message” to state committee members on Saturday.
Some state committee members attending the meeting were surprised. A few grumbled about Corbett's absence. On Monday, Republicans contacted for comment didn't want to speak publicly and downplayed his absence.
Barley said no one complained to him.
Corbett watched the game with his wife, Susan. They sat three rows from the field behind home plate. He went to the press area for about half an inning and talked on the air with radio broadcasters.
Corbett was better off being seen and interacting with Western Pennsylvania voters, said Joseph DiSarro, chairman of the political science department at Washington & Jefferson College. He needs the votes of so-called “Reagan Democrats” — moderate to conservative Democrats — in Western Pennsylvania to win the 2014 election, DiSarro said. He'll get the votes of most if not all Republican State Committee members and party leaders he missed, DiSarro said.
It is important to have those party regulars fired up to campaign for him, and that's part of the importance of attending a party function, Baldino said. But Corbett's first task is to improve poll numbers that show one in five respondents saying he has not done his job well enough to be re-elected, according to a Franklin & Marshall College poll last month.
Larry Ceisler, a public relations consultant from Philadelphia and a Washington County native, said he listened to Corbett on the radio and saw him on TV at the Pirates' game, which drew more than 38,300 people. That kind of exposure is better than meeting with Republicans in a Harrisburg hotel, Ceisler said. “He was in the stands, and people could see him,” Ceisler said.
Corbett should talk about state issues with some of the passion he expresses when talking about the Pirates, Ceisler added.
The fall meeting was originally scheduled for Sept. 13-14 but was moved to Sept. 20-21, party spokeswoman Valerie Caras said.
Corbett's campaign staff was on hand all weekend to “distribute information, meet with members and participate in sessions,” she said.
“That combined with one of the largest dinners and great support for our 2013 state judicial ticket and local candidates made this weekend an enormous success for the Pennsylvania GOP,” Caras said, adding members are “extremely excited” to work for Corbett next year.
Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 and email@example.com.