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Support for second Corbett term stays low

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By Adam Smeltz
Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, 6:18 a.m.

The number of Pennsylvania voters who say Gov. Tom Corbett deserves a second term may be increasing, although the Republican has a steep climb in his re-election campaign, according to Franklin & Marshall College poll results released on Thursday.

About 23 percent of voters surveyed told pollsters Corbett has done a good enough job to stay in the governor's mansion — up from 20 percent in October — but 63 percent said they want a new chief executive in Harrisburg.

The poll, conducted from Jan. 22 to Jan. 27, reached 580 voters. Its sampling error range is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

The shift coincides with a worsening view of President Obama, whose job performance ranked as somewhat or strongly unfavorable among 48 percent of surveyed voters.

Forty-four percent of Pennsylvania voters in February 2013 had a similar assessment of Obama, who visited a U.S. Steel plant in West Mifflin on Wednesday after his annual State of the Union address.

“The honeymoon is way over,” said Jennie Sweet-Cushman, a Chatham University political science professor who said government wiretapping, privacy concerns and worries about the Affordable Care Act could depress Obama's approval rating in the Democratic-leaning Keystone State.

Political analysts said the brighter outlook for Corbett might stem, in part, from the November passage of a $2.3 billion transportation bill expected to improve state roads and bridges. His softer rhetoric on same-sex marriage and an absence of recent major crises could buoy his campaign as well, they said.

Franklin & Marshall poll director G. Terry Madonna said he knows of no sitting governor who has rebounded from such low approval numbers to win re-election. Several pollsters rank Corbett among the most vulnerable incumbent governors in the 2014 election cycle.

“The question is, can the numbers change? Can he somehow find a way to change the narrative?” Madonna said.

Other results show 62 percent of respondents said Pennsylvania is “off on the wrong track,” and 31 percent said unemployment and the economy are the state's top problems. Schools and school funding took second place with 19 percent.

Those who said Corbett's job performance was “fair” or “poor” chalked up their criticisms in part to his handling of schools and the economy. Predecessors Tom Ridge and Ed Rendell had more robust approval ratings late in their first terms — more than double Corbett's numbers — but benefitted from booming economies, Madonna said.

“The governor will certainly have to continue to do a better job of getting his message out. He's done a good job for the people of Pennsylvania,” Corbett campaign manager Mike Barley said. He said Corbett cut more than $1 billion in business taxes to help spur the economy.

Barley said most voters don't yet know the eight Democrats vying to challenge Corbett. The primary election is in May. He painted them as tax-and-spend politicians whose approach “isn't going to resonate with Pennsylvania voters.”

Democrats fired back. State party Chairman Jim Burn said the Franklin & Marshall poll is “just the latest evidence” of Corbett's vulnerability after cuts to education funding and other missteps, though observers said it's too soon to count out the incumbent.

“He's not going to be a pushover or an easy knock-over. If these poll data are correct, there's a bedrock of support for him and a large number of people who are fence-sitters or grade him as fair,” said Stephen J. Cimbala, a Penn State University professor of political science.

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or

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