Costa: Democrats can take state Senate if Wolf expands lead over Corbett

Pennsylvania State Senator Jay Costa responds to questions from the writers and editors at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review at their North Side offices, Thursday, July 24, 2014.
Pennsylvania State Senator Jay Costa responds to questions from the writers and editors at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review at their North Side offices, Thursday, July 24, 2014.
Photo by Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Natasha Lindstrom
| Thursday, July 24, 2014, 10:24 p.m.

If millionaire businessman Tom Wolf holds or grows his 22-point lead over Gov. Tom Corbett in polls, Pennsylvania Democrats have a strong shot at taking control of the state Senate in November, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa said on Thursday.

Half of the Senate and the entire House are up for re-election. The GOP has a commanding 111-92 lead in the House but a slimmer 27-23 majority in the Senate.

Costa, D-Forest Hills, said during an interview with Tribune-Review editors and reporters that the Democratic Party aims to swing the Senate using a two-pronged strategy: Make sure disgruntled Republicans stay home, and convince Democrats that “the incumbent Republican is tied at the hip of the governor.”

Pennsylvania GOP spokeswoman Megan Sweeney balked at the idea of Republicans losing control of either chamber. She said Democrats are “fatigued” by “out-of-control spending” under former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and President Obama.

“We're very confident that we're going to keep the Senate and the House and even make gains,” Sweeney said.

The Corbett campaign platform emphasizes private job creation and less taxes. A 30-second attack ad the Corbett campaign put out this week accused Wolf of owing a huge “hypocrite tax” for supporting tax hikes as Revenue secretary under Rendell while moving his company to Delaware.

The Wolf campaign fired back in a statement that his company “has never taken advantage of the Delaware tax loophole.” The campaign said the Wolf Organization is headquartered in and files corporate taxes in Pennsylvania, and it pays taxes in 28 states.

“In fact, Tom (Wolf) has proposed a comprehensive plan to close the Delaware tax loophole and other corporate loopholes when he's governor,” the Wolf campaign said.

The “weakness of the governor” gives Democrats a bigger edge than the appeal of Wolf alone, Costa said. He said though Wolf has a “great story” — small businessman-turned-millionaire who has shared his wealth — he lacks the personal vitality of Rendell, who won the 2002 governor's race by a large margin.

“(Rendell) was viewed as America's mayor,” Costa said. “It's not the governance; it's about the pizazz you have and the charisma. Wolf is just not going to drive people to the same degree to the polls.”

Unless Corbett tightens the gap by mid-September, the state Senate probably won't do much during the 10 legislative session days remaining this fall, Costa said.

“If Corbett is losing badly or he continues to sort of do like he's doing now, I think there will be greater reluctance to do anything at all of any significance,” Costa said.

Should Corbett close in, Republicans might try again to change the liquor store system to give him a bump, Costa said, but it would not amount to the full-blown privatization plan championed by the governor.

“If anything gets done at all, it's going to be wine in the supermarkets,” Costa said.

There is one initiative he thinks could clear the Legislature before the election: a package of bills to reduce the size of the 203-member General Assembly. With bipartisan support and only a “couple of holdouts,” Costa said, those bills “could very well make it home.”

Natasha Lindstrom is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8514 or

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