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Poll shows Wolf's lead over Corbett widening

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Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014

A summer of campaigning and advertising did little to revive Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's moribund popularity among Pennsylvania voters, the latest figures show.

The results of a poll on Thursday from the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin and Marshall College say Democrat Tom Wolf leads Corbett 49 percent to 24 percent — compared with 47 percent to 25 percent in June.

Analysts say they've seen few incumbents trail by that much.

“He has the most daunting task of any governor seeking re-election I know of,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of the poll and the college's Center for Politics and Public Affairs. “For the better part of his term, he had the lowest job performance for any incumbent governor seeking re-election in modern history.”

Fewer than half of registered Republicans say he deserves re-election. Two-thirds of voters think the state is on the wrong track.

Corbett's campaign spokesman Billy Pitman said they take the results with “a grain of salt,” and the poll appears to be an outlier compared with two other polls this summer that showed the race tightening, but even those showed Corbett trailing.

Wolf, a York County businessman, has had wide support among voters since the Democratic primary. Jeff Sheridan, Wolf's spokesman, said his candidacy speaks to voters who are “ready for a fresh start.”

Wolf's favorability rating is at 37 percent, compared with 24 percent for Corbett. The poll reached 520 voters from Aug. 18 through Monday, with a sampling error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

Joe DiSarro, professor and department chair of political science at Washington & Jefferson College, said despite the figures, it's too soon to write off Corbett.

“It's hard to say that an incumbent is ever out of the picture because of polling when there is at least two months to go,” DiSarro said. Corbett spent the summer publicizing his pension reform plan at news conferences across the state and held campaign rallies with supporters such as those from Boilermakers Local 154 in Pittsburgh.

Both candidates have aired ads statewide this summer. Eighty-three percent of voters polled say they saw candidate commercials. Corbett's campaign points out he balanced a $4.2 billion deficit when he took office and that Pennsylvania picked up 184,000 private-sector jobs since then.

Corbett has not reshaped his image, Madonna said, and voters associate him with $1 billion in education funding cuts.

“If negative commercials haven't worked, and he can't give the voters a reason to vote for him, that's the fundamental reason why the election hasn't changed,” Madonna said.

The candidates will have three debates before Election Day on Nov. 4. Those, Madonna said, are unlikely to inspire shifts in support unless a candidate commits a major gaffe.

Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said Corbett is in “a class by himself” as a trailing incumbent. Incumbents in Illinois, Maine and Kansas trail, Skelley said, but not as much.

The Republican base “coming home” to Corbett could help close the gap, Skelley said, but it would take a misstep on Wolf's part to flip the numbers in Corbett's favor.

“Something is going to have to change pretty drastically in the next month,” Skelley said, “or it's going to be pretty easy to write his political obituary.”

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or

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