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Don't write Corbett off — yet

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Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

HARRISBURG

Tom Corbett is not toast.

No matter how bad it looks right now for the incumbent Republican governor, the unknown factor is who the Democrats nominate in the May primary.

Sure, there are polls showing contenders like U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz and others beating Corbett. Those polls are done in a vacuum. They are really anybody-but-Corbett results and fairly meaningless because most people statewide don't really know Schwartz, Katy McGinty, Tom Wolf or more than 10 challengers overall who might run for governor.

Schwartz, McGinty, John Hanger et al. are names tossed out in the polls with no negatives attached whatsoever. There's been no negative TV advertising against them like Corbett has faced from secretive political committees; they are blank slates except perhaps in narrow circles or certain geographic regions.

Even if Treasurer Rob McCord runs, and despite winning statewide twice, he's never been tested in the higher-profile race that a gubernatorial election is.

How will “Democrat opponent X” fare against Corbett after a month of blistering TV ads? This early out, we simply don't know.

At least one scholarly political analyst has rated Corbett as the most vulnerable incumbent in the nation. And Pennsylvania Republicans privately worry about his re-election and wonder how down-ballot races could be affected.

The conventional wisdom in Capitol corridors is that Corbett could be the first one-term governor since Pennsylvania voters approved a constitutional change allowing a second term.

Corbett's campaign has said it will raise $30 million for the race. Maybe it will. But it could be more difficult to raise money if there's doubt about a second term. Here's betting Corbett probably will have more than his Democrat challenger, especially if multiple Democrats chew each other up and drain donor resources.

Corbett might lose. He said in 2010 that he didn't care if he was a one-term governor — if that's what it took to make the tough decisions to make the state fiscally sound.

Corbett still faces a potentially damaging report from Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, on his handling of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case as attorney general.

But the general election is 14 months away. That's an eternity in politics. Candidates of either party could self-destruct by then. Outside events could change the dynamics.

A recent staff shake-up, including his third chief of staff since January 2011, can't make Corbett's re-election happen. He has to want it — more than anything.

Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com).

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