HERSHEY – Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett compared this year’s gubernatorial campaign to halftime at a football game Saturday as he accepted the Republican State Committee’s unanimous endorsement for a second four-year term.
“We’re going to score and score and score in the second half,” Corbett promised the party faithful who cheered at the Hershey Lodge as rock music blared and hundreds of red, white and blue balloons were released from the ceiling high above.
In his speech, Corbett portrayed his first-term as a combination of bitter medicine in the form of austerity measures that erased a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall that he inherited and smart policies that have eliminated inheritance taxes on farmers and small businesses, reduced unemployment and pumped billions of new dollars into highway and bridge projects.
“We came up with a game plan, and you don’t change the game plan at halftime,” he said.
Corbett responded to Democratic critics who blame his nearly $1 billion reduction in education spending in 2011 for the layoffs of thousands of local school employees. He reiterated that much of the spending was supported by federal stimulus money that expired at the end of that fiscal year.
“It was not coming back and they knew it,” he said of the administration of his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell.
Eight Democrats are competing for their party’s nomination to challenge Corbett in November.
Corbett, who is struggling to overcome weak job approval ratings and placate conservatives who complain that he is not sensitive to their concerns, said he viewed his election victory in 2010 as a mandate to make tough fiscal decisions and rein in unnecessary spending.
“That’s exactly what you nominated me for and the people of Pennsylvania elected me to do. And I can tell you this, I kept my promise,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who also was endorsed for re-election, warned that this year’s gubernatorial campaign will require “an extra special effort” and promised a strong grassroots-based approach.
“Make no mistake, my friends, we are in a war. It is war of ideas. It is a war for truth. It is a war for the future of our commonwealth and we need to build a corps of Corbett captains” to fight it, he said.
Corbett was accompanied to Saturday’s event by his wife, their daughter and her adopted 2-year-old son.
Some state committee members expressed guarded optimism about Corbett’s re-election prospects.
“Once he gets his message out there, I’m hoping people will accept that he kept his promises and not listen to the pundits and opponents,” said Scott Thomas of Schuylkill County.
Mike McMullen of Allegheny County predicted the Corbett-Cawley ticket will overcome a Democratic nominee who has been “battered, bruised and broken” by the campaign ahead of the May 20 primary.
The governor faces a potential primary challenge from Bob Guzzardi, a conservative activist and Ardmore businessman who is regarded as a long-shot candidate.