Share This Page

Heyl: Rubber, Corbett expected to hit road as polls show likely loss in governor's race

| Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, 11:06 p.m.

The smell of burning rubber is wafting through Pennsylvania.

It is the scent that results when the accelerator is floored, but the vehicle remains in park with its tires squealing. It is the scent of Gov. Tom Corbett's re-election campaign.

Despite there being more than two months before Election Day, a sense of inevitability is pooling under the Governor's Mansion like leaking oil collecting beneath an aging Chevy. Corbett faces nearly insurmountable odds in defeating Democratic challenger Tom Wolf in November.

After his abysmal polling numbers in late spring, Corbett needed to gain considerable ground on Wolf over the summer. Instead of moving forward, the governor was pushed off the spring line of scrimmage as easily as a lightweight offensive lineman with an eating disorder.

In June, a Franklin & Marshall University poll had Wolf in the lead, 47 percent to 25 percent with 27 percent of respondents undecided. The latest Franklin & Marshall poll released on Thursday had Wolf ahead 49 percent to 24 percent, with 25 percent undecided.

There's more. Corbett's favorability declined to 24 percent in the latest poll, down from 27 percent in June. Corbett's unfavorability increased to 56 percent, up from 49. Corbett's unlikely path to victory seems clear at this point: Somehow persuade the entire undecided demographic to vote for him, while maintaining hope that a small percentage of Wolf supporters tragically perish in a rare autumnal avalanche in Colorado.

The Corbett campaign's curious response to the atrocious numbers was to tie Wolf to Ed Rendell, Corbett's predecessor as governor. A Corbett campaign commercial that debuted on Thursday equated voting for Wolf to voting for a third term for Rendell.

Corbett campaign spokesman Billy Pitman explained the reasoning behind the spot: “Wolf was Rendell's chief tax collector, and their administration left Pennsylvania with higher taxes, high unemployment, a $4.2 billion budget deficit and a complete failure of our children by cutting state funding for schools and using one-time stimulus funds to cover it up.”

That's all well and good, but it's a highly unusual campaign strategy to tie your opponent to someone more popular than your own candidate. Rendell was re-elected in 2006 by a 20-point margin over Republican Lynn Swann, and conceivably could have won again in 2010 were it not for term limits.

So the commercial's message essentially is this: “Remember that governor who was so popular that you re-elected him in a landslide? Guess what — our opponent is just like him.”

I can't figure out how that helps Corbett sway the undecided.

The gap between the candidates likely will narrow between now and Election Day. Or will it? Some predicted the race would tighten over the summer. What appears to have tightened is Wolf's grip on a likely win.

Meanwhile, the tires continue to squeal in Corbett's campaign, but the car isn't moving.

The scent of burning rubber? Inescapable.

Eric Heyl is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.