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Tom Corbett's long re-election climb

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Saturday, July 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

According to a recent Harper Poll, 24 percent of likely voters believe that Gov. Tom Corbett deserves re-election and 56 percent believe he does not. By any standard, that is an uphill climb.

Pete DeCoursey, veteran Harrisburg political soothsayer and Capitolwire bureau chief, reported that when Sen. Arlen Specter had numbers slightly better than this in 2009, he became a Democrat, concluding that the Republican primary was hopeless.

Corbett has remained fiscally conservative even as his favorability poll numbers have steadily declined. It seems that a majority of voters like the notion of not raising taxes and cutting spending. But the result of all that stinginess is not so popular. Wait until the faces of average Pennsylvanians are tied to the governor's actual spending cuts.

This re-election campaign would have been dicey even without those low poll numbers. Expect ads featuring chronically ill citizens who cannot get health care without Medicaid expansion. A bridge collapse or any public works failure will be blamed on the administration's failure to pass a transportation bill.

Health-care and service workers will tell their stories about the effects of inadequate public transit funding. And public schoolteachers and schoolchildren will have their say.

For a couple of years, when talking about the governor's race, Democrats repeated the adage, “Well, we can't beat somebody with nobody.” But now they have a lineup of somebodies, energized by recent polls.

Allyson Schwartz, the congresswoman for Montgomery County and Northeast Philadelphia, has a statewide following as a progressive leader. She is a health-care advocate and ran a Planned Parenthood clinic before public life.

This cuts both ways, and some Republican leaders say she is the Democrat they are hoping for if they are to have a shot. The veteran pol also has a voting record of more than 20 years that will make for ample political hay.

Still, it is a deep bench. Kathleen McGinty, a former environmental adviser to the Clinton and Rendell administrations, is a social progressive but wants “Pennsylvania to become the blue-collar Silicon Valley” by doing better with our gas reserves.

State Treasurer Rob McCord, Harvard-educated, late to politics after business success, was easily re-elected last year. He promises the view from the outside while enjoying the inside.

Tom Wolf, a York County businessman and former state revenue secretary, is a pro-education, proven jobs creator, who has pledged $10 million of his own money to the primary.

John Hanger, a former Department of Environmental Protection secretary, wants to stop education cuts, enact a reasonable drilling tax, increase drilling oversight and expand Medicaid.

Max Myers, a minister, has begun a populist campaign focused on poverty, employment, education, equal rights and the environment.

Says DeCoursey: “Consultants I talk to don't even know how you win, starting at a 24 percent re-elect.”

But if the governor decides to have a go at it, the path out will require at least all three of these things — an opponent whom he can demonize, a pitiful turnout in Philly (which can happen in a non-presidential or non-mayoral year) and the usually reliable loyalty of Western Pennsylvania voters.

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (

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