Dems believe Corbett vulnerable; experts not yet convinced
HARRISBURG — Political analysts say it's too soon to write off Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, though some believe he's the nation's most vulnerable incumbent governor, and Democrats on Tuesday began a campaign that accuses him of breaking promises.
“Writing off Tom Corbett is premature. It's completely understandable the chorus is growing louder as a result of his weakened (political) condition,” said Christopher Borick, a political science professor and pollster at Muhlenberg College.
Corbett came up empty-handed on his legislative priorities when the General Assembly recessed for summer, and a Quinnipiac University poll in June found about a third of voters approve of his job performance. The National Journal in Washington last week suggested GOP leaders might ask Corbett to step aside so a stronger candidate can run.
“The governor is going to run,” said his campaign manager, Mike Barley. “He's going to be the party's nominee. He's going to be re-elected.”
Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn of Millvale said Democrats would begin a series of ads, web videos, press events and voter contacts to offset Corbett's anticipated re-election slogan of “Promises made, promises kept.”
“Since he was sworn into office, he has repeatedly broken his promises,” Burn said. “In addition to being an ineffective leader who backs failed policies that hurt Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett can't even be trusted to keep his promises.”
Allegheny County Republican Committee Chairman Jim Roddey said Democrats “are manufacturing whatever they can. I'm not aware of any promises he hasn't kept.”
Burn said one of Corbett's broken promises was to make Pennsylvania's job growth No. 1. In reality, he said, its job growth ranks 46th in the nation under him.
Barley said Democrats “continue to root against the economic recovery going on in Pennsylvania. The governor's agenda of less taxes and more jobs is working. Pennsylvania added more jobs than 48 other states last month — over 19,000 — and has added over 130,000 since Gov. Corbett took office.”
The ranking of 46th in job creation comes from Arizona State University. Corbett's campaign released Bureau of Labor Statistics figures showing Pennsylvania was second in job growth in June.
Both figures are true, said Nathan Benefield, a researcher for the Commonwealth Foundation.
“It's somewhat misleading to look at short-term trends — one month, or even one year — without considering long-term trends,” Benefield said. “Yes, Pennsylvania's job growth is slower than the nation over the past year, but it has been for decades.”
Though public polling spells trouble for Corbett, polls are simply “referendums” on Corbett, Borick said. Even when paired with likely Democratic challengers, who are largely unknown statewide, the comparisons are hollow, he said.
How Corbett fares has a lot to do with who wins the Democratic nomination in the May primary and weaknesses that candidate might have, analysts said. The Democrats may nominate someone “too far to the left” for Pennsylvania, said Joseph DiSarro, chairman of the political science department at Washington & Jefferson College.
Six Democrats have said they'll run: U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Montgomery County, York businessman Tom Wolf, former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty of Philadelphia, ex-DEP Secretary John Hanger of Hershey, Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz and the Rev. Max Myers of Mechanicsburg. Many expect state Treasurer Rob McCord of Narbeth to announce his candidacy.
Burn said he expects no surprise candidates, such as Sen. Bob Casey of Scranton, to jump into the race.
Corbett became governor in January 2011, when Pennsylvania had a $4.2 billion deficit, and he made unpopular cuts in order to balance the budget, said Borick. He failed to communicate effectively and empathize with people hurt by cuts, Borick said.
“If he's failed at anything, he failed to deliver the message,” Roddey said. “He knows that now.”
Borick suggests Corbett's popularity could turn around if he scores a legislative victory and the state's economy improves in 2014. “Then his prospects look better,” he said.
Something more dramatic may be needed, DiSarro said. Corbett needs to embrace a few Democratic issues and take those away from the Democratic nominee, such as agreeing to Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare or legalizing medical marijuana, he said.
A key factor that Corbett's critics forget: his goal to raise $30 million, much of it for TV ads, analysts said.
“There's nothing that $30 million can't buy,” Philadelphia public relations specialist Larry Ceisler said.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 and email@example.com.