In Pennsylvania race, Republican governor cannot count on his own

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 13, 2014 8:03 AM

By Ellen Wulfhorst

WAYNE Pa. (Reuters) - Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is not only trailing his Democratic challenger badly, but he has lost the support of nearly a quarter of his fellow Republicans, according to polls showing his bid for a second term is in deep trouble.

With the incumbent faring so poorly, his party is counting on Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey to shore up Corbett's campaign. But even the backing of a powerful populist like Christie, renowned for his bipartisan appeal, could be too little, too late for his Pennsylvania counterpart, analysts say.

Trailing Democrat Tom Wolf in polls, Corbett has one of the lowest rates of party support of any incumbent, analysts say. If Corbett fails to win a second term, he would become the state's first incumbent governor to do so, a blow to Republican prestige at a time when the party is eager to make comeback on the national and state levels.

"His own party is walking away from him," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, which recently showed 22 percent of Republicans deserting Corbett to vote for his opponent.

In November, polls suggest, Democrats could pick up a net three governor seats among 36 races across the nation, according to the website Real Clear Politics.

Corbett has taken heat for presiding over state cuts in education funding. His Democratic predecessor cut basic funding for schools as revenues slumped and relied on temporary stimulus money until those federal funds dried up.

In 2012, Corbett brought state funding for education back up to 2008 levels, still at least $500 million below the previous year without the stimulus funds. This fiscal year, Pennsylvania is spending $5.5 billion on basic education.

Some critics also say Corbett was ineffective, having failed to push through his political agenda, given both legislative houses are Republican-controlled.

For Corbett, the bad rap on getting things done comes at a time when voters are looking to their state governments to tackle pressing issues, given the political deadlock that shows no sign of easing in Washington, D.C.

"There's disappointment with his administration," said Chris Borick, professor of political science and director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. "They think, 'Did we just blow an opportunity?'"

Supporters tout Corbett's efforts saving jobs in refineries and shipyards and point out the state's unemployment rate has dropped.

Aiming to convince Republicans to stay the course, Corbett stumped with Christie last week at a rally in leafy Wayne, one of the Philadelphia suburbs that are key to a victory on Nov. 4.

"I've worked with him now for four years, as closely as I've worked with any governor in America," said Christie, who chairs the Republican Governors Association. "This man has earned and deserves your support."

Supporters said Corbett has failed to get his message out because his opponent has outspent him. They also think Republicans need to be better informed and the governor has not fought hard enough.

"People haven't been paying attention to what Corbett's doing," said Dan Bowser, 68, an insurance agent from Thorndale who attended the Corbett rally last Thursday. "He's not blowing his own horn the way he should."

Wolf, a businessman who has poured his personal fortune into the race, has hammered hard in television campaign at Corbett, particularly on education. He proposes a tax on natural gas drillers to fund budget shortfalls.

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Listening to Christie, Rich Julason, 71, of Glen Mills, said he was fired up to go talk to "everyone and anyone that has some reservations" about the incumbent.

"When Christie comes over to run for him, it says a lot," he said. "If he didn't like Tom Corbett, he wouldn't be here."

Corbett could use a bit of Christie's communication skill, said Mary Lou Son, a 72-year-old teaching assistant from Upper Pottsgrove Township.

"Corbett has not been aggressive enough. Maybe he's too nice a guy," she said.

While Christie helped Corbett draw a few hundred people, twice as many people gathered a few miles away the same day in Philadelphia where former first lady Hillary Clinton was campaigning for Wolf.

Going after Wolf as a tax-and-spend liberal, Republicans criticize him as not being forthcoming about his tax reform plans. Wolf says he supports fairer taxes and no tax increase on the middle class but says many of the specifics will depend on the state's fiscal health.

Corbett improved slightly in the most recent Quinnipiac poll, which showed a shrinking gap to 17 points from a 20-point gap in a Franklin & Marshall poll a few days earlier.

But the latest poll showed 85 percent of likely voters were firmly set in their choice.

(Editing by Frank McGurty and Lisa Shumaker)