Street Corner Soapbox: Why Corbett Could Still Win

Categories:      News & Politics    Opinion
Wednesday, February 5th, 2014 at 7:14 AM

The results of the Jan. 30 Franklin & Marshall College poll are out, and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett's favorability ratings are so low, so down-in-the-toilet bad, it's a lock that the State House will be in Democratic hands after the next election.



The numbers are bad, though. In that Franklin & Marshall poll, 23 percent of Pennsylvanians think Gov. Corbett is doing a “good” or “excellent” job. Apparently that same 23 percent believe Corbett deserves re-election. The rest of us – parents with school-age children, the LGBT community, women, small business owners, men...okay, in short, everybody not sucking up royalties off of fracking wellpads – the rest of us, well, we're not that crazy about Gov. Tom Corbett.

Those numbers put in context also make a November Democratic win seem inevitable. Compared to the last two Pennsylvania governors who faced re-election – Tom Ridge in 1998 and Ed Rendell in 2006 – Corbett's numbers are significantly worse at the same stage of the process. A few months before their re-election bids, Rendell's favorability ratings were in the forties and Ridge's were at or above 50 percent. Corbett's got a long way to climb before he even gets to those governors' low approval ratings.

And the last time I wrote about Corbett's numbers – wa-a-a-ay back in March – his favorability rating in Public Policy Polling (PPP) and Quinnipiac polls were in the thirties. Sure, they're all different polls with different methodologies, but the Franklin & Marshall poll numbers show no major rebound for Corbett. He had ten months to pull those numbers up – and he's been touting his proposed increases in education spending to anyone who'll listen in an effort to do so – but nada, zero, zilch. People still view him as an unlovable Grinch Governor.

So I must be mad to question a no-doubt, slam-dunk Democratic victory in November, right?

For starters, can you name me the Democratic frontrunner?

What's that? You can't even name any of the Democrats? (Okay, the political junkies out there can – you know who you are.) The problem here is that there are too many candidates. Right now, eight candidates have declared their candidacy for the job – and the filing date isn't until March.

The list includes two former heads of the State Department of Environmental Protection (John Hanger and Katie McGinty), the state treasurer (Rob McCord), and a former head of the state department of revenue (Tom Wolf). Allyson Schwartz is a Philadelphia-area U.S. House Rep. Ed Pawlowski is mayor of Allentown. Max Myers is a businessman and pastor. Jo Ellen Litz is a county commissioner.

Most Pennsylvanians have no idea who these people are. The latest polling information I could find on the candidates is from a November PPP poll. Those polled then were unsure if they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the Democratic candidates in the survey. “Not Sure” was the runaway winner, reaching a high of 72 percent for Ed Pawlowski, to a “low” of 56 percent for Allyson Schwartz. So, between now and November, one of those candidates has to become a household name for Pennsylvania voters. Those “Not Sure” numbers are bigger than Corbett's unfavorable ratings. That's a big hill to climb.

And that's assuming, of course, something strange doesn't happen in the primary, and somebody out of nowhere wins the Democratic nomination. It can happen in primary elections with loads of unknown candidates. A Green Party and Socialist candidate won Montana's Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2008. It could happen here.

And then there's the ugly fact that over 40 percent of Pennsylvania Republicans still view Governor Corbett favorably in that Franklin & Marshall poll. It's a reminder that, in this heated partisan political environment, it doesn't matter who runs, as long as they have the proper letter behind their name on the ballot. Corbett's got that “R,” and Pennsylvania Republicans will dutifully line up to pull the lever next to his name on Election Day in November, no matter what his favorability ratings are.

The Corbett camp's biggest worry is that the governor's relative unpopularity even among Republicans will cause his voters to stay home, out of indifference. If they work on their ground game – the door knocking, the get-out-the-vote push on Election Day – and rile up the base over the summer (about abortion? taxes? Obamacare?), the voters should turn out. And money certainly shouldn't be a problem for Corbett, who has the oil and gas industry in his corner.

And then, anything could happen between now and November. On Sept. 10, 2001, George W. Bush was a do-nothing president who spent most of his time clearing brush in Texas. Chris Christie was a relatively unknown East Coast governor in the hours before Hurricane Sandy swept northward in the Atlantic Ocean. Barack Obama was an obscure junior state senator before he stepped up to the podium to speak at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

This election is not a slam-dunk for Democrats, no matter what the polls say.

Jay Stevens can be contacted at, and you can follow him on Twitter @Snevets_Yaj. 

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