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Analysts don't discount Corbett, say Wolf has early momentum

| Wednesday, May 21, 2014, 10:48 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Democrat Tom Wolf emerges from his landslide primary victory with momentum and an edge against Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, analysts say, but political experts aren't predicting Corbett's defeat.

The scales tip to Wolf now, “but I think it may be a lot closer than people think” in November, said Michele DeMary, a political science professor at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove.

“I don't think it's a done deal,” said Michael Cassidy, who teaches political science at Temple University's Harrisburg campus and was a Democratic state legislator in the 1970s.

Tuesday's primary election gave Wolf “huge momentum,” Cassidy said. Wolf carried every Pennsylvania county in a four-way race, garnering almost 58 percent of the vote, according to unofficial totals from the Department of State.

Corbett, who ran unopposed, has been tagged by national analysts as one of the country's most vulnerable incumbents. His poll numbers are consistently weak.

“I see Wolf having the edge, but that does not translate the same during the first week of November,” said Gerald Shuster, a professor of political communications at the University of Pittsburgh.

Wolf's inexperience — as someone seeking statewide office for the first time — is a disadvantage and an advantage, said Shuster: “He's not tied to politicians. He's not tied to the Marcellus shale industry. He's not tied to teachers' unions.”

A York County businessman, Wolf campaigned on the need for a “different” type of governor. With the least political baggage and more money than his opponents, Democrats “coalesced around him as the strongest candidate to be able to beat Tom Corbett,” said Cassidy.

Corbett's campaign has $6.3 million on hand. Wolf finished his primary run with $1.6 million, according to the latest state figures. Through donations and a loan, Wolf provided $10 million to his campaign.

“As inept as he has been, in many respects, at explaining his administration, (Corbett) still has the power of incumbency,” said Michael Federici, chairman of the political science department at Mercyhurst University in Erie.

Incumbency means name recognition, more “free media” and typically an advantage in raising campaign money, Federici said.

“Voters don't really know Wolf that well,” Federici said.

Corbett “is not a garrulous kind of guy,” said Shuster. “People know that about him. He's kind of cool, in terms of temperature.”

Corbett needs to resume TV ads, with little delay, aggressively “defining Wolf” before Wolf defines himself further, said J. Wesley Leckrone, a political science professor at Widener University.

Both candidates can expect money to flow from the national Republican and Democratic parties, analysts said.

Yet Corbett needs to unify his base among Republicans, since some are dissatisfied, DeMary said.

Republican lawmakers need to give Corbett a victory before their summer recess, addressing his issues such as pension reform and liquor privatization, Shuster said. Otherwise, “people say, ‘Why are you there, if you can't push it through' ” a GOP-controlled legislature, he said.

Corbett's campaign emphasizes the state's lower-than-national unemployment rate and increase in job opportunities during his tenure. “The message they're trying to get out is tough (budget) decisions had to be made” in 2011 when he took office facing what Corbett identified as a $4.2 billion deficit, said Leckrone.

But nationally, Republicans argue the economy isn't doing well. “It comes down to whether people buy into the fact that they are doing better in Pennsylvania,” said Leckrone.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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