Corbett never recovered from early budget cuts, analysts say
November 5, 2014 12:37 AM
Gov. Tom Corbett addresses supporters Tuesday night at the William Penn Hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Gov. Tom Corbett, right, concedes the election to challenger Tom Wolf on Tuesday as Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, left, looks on.
By Kate Giammarise / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
Today, Tom Corbett stands virtually alone.
In what was otherwise a good night nationally for Republicans — with victories in high-profile Senate races, other governorships, and even in state Senate races in Pennsylvania — Mr. Corbett’s defeat in Pennsylvania seemed to defy national trends.
Why did Gov. Corbett become the state’s first sitting governor to lose reelection and stand mostly alone among Republicans nationally on Tuesday?
A mix of factors, analysts say, from deep spending cuts in his first budget that made him unpopular early in his tenure, to poor communication with voters, to few legislative accomplishments.
Mr. Corbett has battled low poll numbers for almost his entire time in office, pointed out pollster Terry Madonna of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.
"Governor Corbett's job performance dropped in his first year and he's never been able to recover," Mr. Madonna said.
He and several other analysts trace that to the deep cuts — particularly in education — in Mr. Corbett's first budget.
"That's simply dogged him throughout his administration," Mr. Madonna said.
Furthermore, the governor suffered from not communicating with voters, several political observers said.
"He never effectively explained why there were cuts in education across the board, from rural and suburban to urban [districts], to Penn State, Temple and Pitt," said Larry Ceisler, a longtime political observer who owns a statewide public affairs firm.
Contrast that with someone like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Mr. Ceisler said.
"[Gov. Christie] also made very controversial cuts and did very controversial things. Now, you didn't have to agree with it. But he explained why he was doing it," Mr. Ceisler said.
The GOP has been effective nationally talking about problems with Obamacare and the president’s foreign policy decisions, Mr. Ceisler said.
"Conversely, Tom Corbett was not effective at messaging his accomplishments as governor or why he made some of the moves that he made."
Several GOP faithful at Mr. Corbett’s gathering in downtown Pittsburgh Tuesday night opined that the governor never successfully countered Democratic messaging, specifically around education.
Said Ann Harrold, vice chair of the Ross GOP committee: Democrats "hit the ground running with the education thing, and it wasn't counteracted for a long while."
Mr. Corbett also seemed caught between the factions of his own party.
"Gov. Corbett has never really branded himself," said Professor J. Wesley Leckrone, a political science professor at Widener University in Chester. "Where is his base?"
Mr. Corbett essentially broke his 2010 campaign pledge not to raise taxes by signing the 2013 $2.3 billion transportation funding bill, which did not endear him to anti-tax conservatives. He declined to pursue legal appeals when courts ruled against the state's controversial voter ID law and struck down a ban on same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania.
While the governor didn't seem to fit in with the most conservative wing of his own party, he also didn't highlight his accomplishments that could have won over more moderate or independent-leaning Republicans, such as the passage of the transportation funding bill or the federal government's approval of his Healthy PA plan to provide health insurance to more than 500,000 low-income Pennsylvanians.
“Why [wasn't] he touting the people who are going to get healthcare who didn't have it before?" Mr. Madonna asked.
Other factors analysts cite as hurting the governor: his inability to accomplish major legislative goals such as state liquor store privatization or any kind of pension reform, despite having his own party in control of both chambers of the General Assembly and lingering anger toward Mr. Corbett's role in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal that engulfed Penn State University and the subsequent firing of football coach Joe Paterno.
Finally, Mr. Corbett was up against a fairly formidable candidate in Democratic opponent Tom Wolf, Mr. Leckrone said.
Citing the image of Mr. Wolf popularized by his television commercials: “He's a businessman who's been nice to his employees …There's nothing Corbett [could] do to run against Wolf."
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