Pennsylvania’ popular crime-busting Republican State Attorney General Tom Corbett ascended to the governorship during a banner few years for the GOP in the Keystone State.
The 2010 midterm election was unequivocal success for Republicans. It arrived just two years after Barack Obama’s resounding 11-point victory in 2008. The GOP gained five Congressional seats, Republican Pat Toomey edged out Democrat Joe Sestak for the Senate, and Corbett led the party from the governor’s mansion.
Fast forward four years later and Corbett is back on the ballot. While there is still well over a year from the 2014 election, he is fighting for his political survival.
Prominent political scientist, Professor Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, believes that if the GOP wants to hang on to the governorship in Pennsylvania, they may want to consider urging Corbett to step down and replacing him with a stronger and untarnished alternative.
“We believe Gov. Tom Corbett is the incumbent likeliest to lose if he makes it to November 2014,” Sabato said. “Perhaps the best way for the Republicans to keep the streak going would be for Corbett to step aside,” he said.
Since January, multiple polls have showed Corbett trailing two of his likeliest challengers (Allyson Schwartz and Rob McCord) by double digits and personal and job approval numbers (only rising above 50% once in his time in office) at all-time lows, some were the lowest even in the history of the polling organizations.
But not so fast, says John Brabender, who helped guide Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign to surprising upsets over Mitt Romney in the 2012 Iowa caucuses and subsequent primaries before ending his bid. Brabender disputes Sabato’s analysis citing Corbett’s past overwhelming statewide electoral strength.
“Over the last decade Corbett has been by far the most popular Republican in Pennsylvania. He won for AG in 2004, despite Bush losing for president in Pennsylvania and was re-elected by a 6.5 point margin in 2008, despite McCain losing by double digits,” he said.
Corbett does have some advantages going into his re-election. In 2010, he was able to raise nearly $30 million and is expected to raise as much, if not more in 2014. Midterm elections tend not to replicate the higher voter turnout of presidential election years. In 2010, nearly two million less voters showed up to vote than in 2008 when Barack Obama was at the top of the ticket. Corbett will not have to share a ballot with President Obama or even the popular Bob Casey. He’ll face one of the six relatively unknown Democrats vying for the nomination in what could be a costly and bruising primary. Finally, Corbett will have history on his side, as no incumbent in the state’s history has ever been defeated for re-election.
Corbett’s budgets sought drastic cuts in education funding and saw thousands of public school teacher layoffs. He signed legislation that would prevent women from purchasing abortion coverage through the health exchanges, even if they used their own money. He also supported legislation requiring mandatory ultrasounds for women which opponents believe are intrusive and unnecessary. In terms of job creation, an April 2013 report on job growth released by Arizona State University School of Business, found Pennsylvania was ranked 49th when it comes to creating jobs under the Corbett administration.
‘If you can find us [a Latino], please let me know’
But polling numbers on Corbett are anemic and some of his problems can be chalked up to his own self-inflicted verbal gaffes. When the Pennsylvania legislature was pushing through the “Women’s Right to Know” bill, which would require women to get an ultrasound before they could get an abortion, the governor drew nationwide criticism, especially among women’s groups, for his remarks at a press conference. When asked if the provision to have a woman view an ultrasound before being allowed to have an abortion went too far, Corbett responded “I don’t know how you make anybody watch.” “You just have to close your eyes–as long as it’s on the exterior, not interior,” he said.
While addressing the state’s dismal unemployment numbers in April, Corbett addressed the figures by saying that job applicants who couldn’t pass drug tests are “a serious problem” for Pennsylvania. “There are many employers that say, ‘we’re looking for people, but we can’t find anybody that has passed a drug test,’ a lot of them,” Corbett said during an interview on Radio PA’s “Ask the Governor” program. “And that’s a concern for me because we’re having a serious problem with that.”
In his most recent gaffe, during a roundtable discussion hosted by Al Día, a Spanish-language newspaper in Philadelphia, Corbett suggested that he was unaware of any Latinos serving in his administration and told the attendees at The Union League of Pennsylvania, “if you can find us one, please let me know.”
Corbett has also been hurt by the sexual abuse case that brought down legendary football coach Joe Paterno. Some charged that Corbett delayed bringing charges against Jerry Sandusky’s actions at Penn State to avoid offending his Penn State alumni donor base–a large constituency in Pennsylvania. Attorney General Kathleen Kane pledged during her campaign in 2012 to investigate why it took the attorney general’s office (lead by Corbett) three years to files charges. “The story is so awful that we suspect it will remain on many Pennsylvanians’ minds for years,” Sabato said. “Bad feelings about Penn State in fall 2014 may invariably translate to bad feelings about the incumbent governor,” he said.
Crowded Democratic field already lobbing jabs - at each other
But Democrats also face turbulence in crowning their nominee to take on the free-falling Corbett. While the opportunity to defeat an incumbent has never been more ripe than it would seem in Pennsylvania in 2014, six candidates have lined up, and they run the risk of a bloody primary in effect bruising the likely nominee. Five-term congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, state Treasurer Rob McCord, businessman Tom Wolf, former State Secretary of Environmental Protection Kathleen McGinty, McGinty’s successor John Hanger, and State Senator Mike Stack and Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski are also mulling bids.
“Allyson Schwartz is the kind of proven leader who can bring people together and break through the partisan gridlock in Harrisburg in order move Pennsylvania forward on economic growth, education, and health care,” said Schwartz campaign spokeswoman Reesa Kossoff. “That’s why every poll in this campaign has shown her to be the candidate most likely to defeat Corbett in the general election.”
Most political observers believe the fight remains between Schwartz and McCord, both of whom have the war chest and networks to compete against the financial advantage Corbett will have on them. Schwartz has the most statewide name recognition and McCord has already run two successful and overwhelming state wide victories as treasurer.
But the jabs have already begun. Last week, candidate John Hanger told a forum that a political playbook has already been written by the GOP on how to defeat Schwartz, using her voting record and her experience running a reproductive health clinic that provided abortion services to paint her as a liberal. One prominent Pennsylvania Republican wouldn’t specify on whom the GOP would rather face between the two Democrats but smiled gleefully when asked about Democrat Hanger’s analysis.
“Rob gives us our best chance to beat Governor Corbett and that’s why the governor would prefer to run against someone else,” said McCord spokesman Mark Nevins.