Nov. 06Gov. Tom Corbett began his bid in Pittsburgh for a second term on Wednesday, one year away from the election amid the weakest poll numbers of his term, a growing list of potential challengers and a few dozen protesters.
One year in politics, analysts will tell you, is a lifetime.
"We're not done yet," Corbett of Shaler told about 200 supporters surrounded by campaign banners and red, white and blue balloons in the Heinz History Center in the Strip District, where he announced his gubernatorial campaign three years ago.
If Corbett can accomplish some unfinished priorities and convince voters that his budgetary decisions improved Pennsylvania's economy, he could win, political analysts say.
"The party is ready to support Tom Corbett for another campaign," said Rob Gleason, chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, quelling any speculation that outsiders might have about the GOP exploring whether to back another candidate.
A recent Franklin & Marshall College poll found 20 percent of voters surveyed think Corbett deserves re-election. Former Govs. Ed Rendell and Tom Ridge polled about 10 percentage points higher than Corbett at this point in their first terms.
"That's the concern," said G. Terry Madonna, director of the polling center in Lancaster. "No governor seeking re-election has had a job performance as low as his."
Among Republicans, 42 percent think Corbett should run, and 44 percent said he should step aside for another GOP nominee.
"His first job is to win back the minds and hearts of his own party," Madonna said.
Corbett said he isn't worried about poll numbers.
"If you're governing by polls, you're not governing," he told reporters after his speech. "The people of Pennsylvania will have the opportunity to say whether they like the promises I've made, and that I kept them. They elected me on those promises."
Overcoming unpopularity could be difficult, but it's not impossible, Madonna said.
Accomplishing agenda items such as boosting money for the state's crumbling roads and bridges could buttress Corbett's campaign. Increasing education funding and getting a version of Medicaid expansion through could win over voters, Madonna said.
For Corbett, major successes have been hard to come by even with a GOP-controlled Legislature.
He's trying to persuade lawmakers to pass a roughly $2 billion transportation plan and address the state's $47 billion unfunded pension liability. Lawmakers shunned Corbett's plan to privatize liquor stores.
Corbett said he kept promises to voters by creating jobs and holding the line on taxes, cornerstones of his "Promises Kept" campaign.
He said the state added more than 141,000 private-sector jobs since he took office, an increase he attributed in part to the Marcellus shale industry that made Pennsylvania the nation's second-largest natural gas producer.
He touted his elimination of a $4.2 billion deficit: "We inherited a fiscal nightmare. Pennsylvania was spending more than it had."
Corbett's first budget in 2011 in some ways defined his image. He initially asked lawmakers to cut 50 percent for state universities. He declined to restore $1 billion in federal funding for K-12 public schools though state funding for basic education since has increased, as Corbett noted in his speech.
Many viewed the cuts as "excessive" and "overly harsh," said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.
About two dozen protestors with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers gathered outside Corbett's campaign bus, chanting "Beep beep, Tom Corbett is cheap." They carried "One Term Tom" signs while parents spoke about educational program cuts.
Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn said the governor's numbers are "in the tank" because his decisions affected the middle class and some more vulnerable residents.
"He has hurt the middle class ... by making these draconian cuts in areas that were way overboard, way over the line, when he should've taken a more even-handed approach across the entire budget," Burn said.
The lingering discontent has attracted a pack of Democrats to take on Corbett.
Democrats who say they plan to run in the May primary are Treasurer Rob McCord of Bryn Mawr; U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, of Montgomery County; former Department of Environmental Protection secretaries John Hanger of Harrisburg and Katie McGinty of Philadelphia; Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf of York; the Rev. Max Myers of Mechanicsburg; and Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz.
Danny Kanner, spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association, said unseating Corbett is a priority for 2014.
Incumbency offers a significant edge, especially in Pennsylvania.
Since former Democratic Gov. Milton Shapp was re-elected to a second term in 1974 under a revised state constitution, the governor's office has flipped from Democrat to Republican every eight years. If unseated, Corbett would end that streak.
Kyle Kondik, an analyst with the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said a primary election can make a candidate sharper for a general election. The center rates Corbett as one of the most vulnerable governors.
"He does have some time to improve his poll numbers," Kondik said. "But he seems to have made a bad impression at the starting gate."
Melissa Daniels and Brad Bumsted are Trib Total Media staff writers.
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