Promising "leadership that says no to corruption," Attorney General Tom Corbett declared his candidacy for governor last night before several hundred supporters at the Senator John Heinz History Center.
As the notes of Genesis' "Turn It On Again," echoed in the museum's lobby, the Republican prosecutor pledged to "turn on the power of Pennsylvania."
Denouncing the current stalled spending talks, he called for a constitutional amendment to create a two-year budget cycle. Mr. Corbett said he would "restore trust in Harrisburg," with a series of initiatives including the abolition of the legislative grants, known as "Wams," or walking around money, and a reduction in the size of the state's auto fleet.
While there is still time for other candidates to emerge for the 2010 race, it now appears that Mr. Corbett will face off against Rep. Jim Gerlach, a Chester County congressman, for the GOP nomination. Mr. Gerlach welcomed his rival to the race with a call for a series of debates across the state.
Mr. Corbett reminded the crowd that while President Barack Obama was sweeping the state by the largest margin of any Democrat in half a century last year, the attorney general bucked that tide with a landslide re-election that drew the largest vote total of any Republican in the state's history.
Mr. Gerlach, who has never run statewide, cited that victory in acknowledging that Mr. Corbett starts as the front-runner in the race.
As he introduced the candidate, Jim Roddey, the Allegheny County Republican chairman, contended that Mr. Corbett's 2008 margin proved that "he can get those independent and moderate votes."
The most high-profile investigation during Mr. Corbett's tenure has been Bonusgate, the ongoing probe of allegations of misuse of the Legislature's staff and resources for political purposes. The investigation has earned statewide headlines and figures to be a point of continued publicity for the prosecutor.
In an attempt at political jujitsu, Mr. Gerlach has tried to use the investigation against the prosecutor, arguing that it is a conflict of interest for Mr. Corbett to be investigating political figures while he is seeking the support of party officials for his candidacy.
Mr. Corbett shrugged off that criticism. When asked about a frequent Democratic complaint that the investigation has so far targeted only Democrats, he denied any partisan motive, saying the probe continues to be guided by career prosecutors in his office.
"I know when the next round of cases comes, people will understand what we've been doing," he said. Asked if his answer implied forthcoming indictments of Republicans, he added, "That's all I'm going to say."
Mr. Corbett's 23-minute announcement speech included a general pledge, but few specifics, on the need to improve the state's business climate by "[removing] onerous regulations and excessive red tape."
He said he would take an aggressive approach to developing the state's energy resources, citing in particular the need to exploit the natural gas stores of the Marcellus shale deposits that underlie much of the western part of the state.
After the speech, Mr. Corbett said he had no plans for a formal or informal alliance with any of the numerous candidates for lieutenant governor.
While he is in his second elected term, Mr. Corbett also served as the state's attorney general from 1995 to 1997, when he was appointed to the office by former Gov. Tom Ridge after the resignation of Ernie Preate Jr. Like the forthcoming GOP race, Mr. Corbett's GOP primary in 2004 was an east-west struggle in which he won 53 percent of the vote against then-Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor. In the subsequent general election, he won over Jim Eisenhower, a Philadelphia attorney, in a race so close that the Associated Press initially called it for Mr. Eisenhower.
Mr. Corbett received his undergraduate degree from Lebanon Valley College, and a law degree St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas. In his speech, he said he served in the National Guard and taught ninth grade for a year before entering law school. Mr. Corbett appeared on the Heinz stage with his wife, Susan Manbeck Corbett, and their two grown children, Tom, a video game producer, and Katherine, a prosecutor in the Philadelphia district attorney's office.
Politics Editor James O'Toole can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1562.