Gov. Tom Corbett took the first official step on what looms as a steep uphill climb Wednesday as he launched his re-election campaign with a rally at the Heinz History Center.
Declaring that "leadership and government is about doing what's right, not what's easy," the former prosecutor confronted his critics and, implicitly, his lagging poll numbers, as he defended his record and boasted of cutting taxes and improving the state's business climate.
"If you're looking for a politician who takes the path of least resistance ... I'm not your candidate," he said.
As he stood before about 200 supporters in the Great Hall of the Strip District venue, he faced signs proclaiming, "Less Taxes, More Jobs," an echo of his 2010 campaign. He added a new slogan for his repeat run: "Promises kept," a mantra he repeated throughout his remarks as he pointed to a history of on-time budgets and policies designed to nurture the natural gas industry.
"Were the decisions I made to get here tough? Yes," he said. "Were they always popular with those who would rather tax and spend? No. Were they politically expedient? Never."
Among a handful of demonstrators outside the center were school advocates protesting the level of education funding in his administration.
"The fact is the taxpayers and I inherited one heck of a mess," Mr. Corbett said, arguing that many school districts should have anticipated the drying up of federal stimulus dollars that had temporarily shored up their budgets in the wake of the financial crisis.
"That was clearly a mistake," he contended, while saying that his administration in fact had boosted funding for basic education, even if it was not enough to account for the lapsed stimulus revenue.
Mr. Corbett's 35-minute speech followed appearances by his wife, Susan Corbett, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, and state Sen. Kim Ward of Westmoreland County. A handful of other state legislators dotted the crowd, including state Rep. Mike Turzai, the House majority leader. Mr. Corbett's campaign speech did not focus on the stalled legislative agenda that confronts the lawmakers when they return to Harrisburg later this month. Mr. Corbett has in the past identified transportation, privatization of liquor sales and a long-term solution to the state's underfunded pensions as core legislative goals, but the lawmakers adjourned last summer without taking action on them.
Attention at the Capitol is focused on the transportation proposal, which passed the Senate in June and is the subject of negotiation in the House. The governor has repeatedly called for lawmakers to send him a bill, saying last week in Pittsburgh that failure to do so would harm the state's economy. Observers believe it will become increasingly difficult to pass revenue-raising bills as the 2014 elections approach.
Asked after the kickoff announcement about his legislative goals, Mr. Corbett would say only: "We're working on them."
The governor's speech also failed to outline any specific goals for the next term beyond staying the course of fiscal prudence. The announcement came in the wake of consistently negative polling numbers for the incumbent, and Democrats already are maneuvering to challenge Mr. Corbett.
Despite those dismal popularity ratings, and private grumblings on the incumbent's chances from many GOP figures, there are so far no visible signs of a first-tier challenge to Mr. Corbett from within his party. Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor floated the idea of a primary challenge to the governor early this year, but he dropped it after a few months, citing the adamant resistance of the party's statewide establishment. Mr. Corbett's relatively early re-election announcement serves as a signal to any other would-be insurgents that the incumbent has no plans to yield the GOP banner.
"No one has come to me -- not even rumblings," Rob Gleason, the state GOP chairman, said of the potential for intraparty challengers. "We're ready; we're not going to take a vacation until the primary."
Mr. Corbett's announcement was met with a predictable chorus of derision from his Democratic challengers, who blasted out statements of his failing record.
Jim Burn, the state Democratic chairman, lingered outside the History Center, after being asked to leave the speech site by the event's organizers.
"It's no accident that he's the least popular governor in the country," Mr. Burn said.
Politics editor James O'Toole: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1562. Karen Langley: email@example.com or 717-787-2141. First Published November 6, 2013 11:51 AM