Gubernatorial race not over yet

June 5, 2014

The first polls in Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race are surfacing, and if there’s any drinking going on at Gov. Tom Corbett’s campaign headquarters, it’s not celebratory champagne being imbibed, but hard drink – purchased at the nearest state store – being swallowed fast to ensure maximum forgetting.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday has freshly minted Democratic nominee Tom Wolf ahead by 20 points. That matches the findings of Rasmussen Reports, whose poll was released a few days before. A Public Policy Polling survey sandwiched between those two has Wolf ahead by 25 percent among registered voters.

During a recent television interview, one Republican operative even went so far as to proclaim, “Tom Corbett is going to lose.”

So the governor’s race is all but over, right? Wolf can spend the next several months cycling across Europe, planning how he will redecorate the Governor’s Residence or tending to his home products business.

Yeah. And you should also plan a visit this summer to the Thomas Dewey Presidential Library in New York, and then make a side trip to the Michael Dukakis Presidential Center in Massachusetts.

With five months to go, there are plenty of twists and turns the governor’s race could still take. Granted, Corbett’s approval numbers are not good now, and have not been for most of his tenure. For an assortment of reasons, from the perception that he’s been more conservative than advertised, gaffe-prone or excessively friendly to the natural gas industry, a pall of unpopularity has lingered over Corbett for most of the last three years. There’s no question that Corbett has a tough climb ahead of him. And if he has to agree to a tax hike in order to fill a $1.3 billion budget gap this summer, it might well be time for the governor to start pondering his private-sector options.

But Corbett will have a lavish war chest from which to draw, and you can bet his campaign is looking for every unflattering photo of Wolf it can unearth to feature in television ads this fall and it is digging furiously for morsels of dirt. The Corbett campaign will follow the playbook of every unloved politician, which is to make the election a referendum not on them, but the other guy. Wolf could also help Corbett by committing his own gaffes along the way.

It may not be enough to get Corbett over the finish line, but it seems unlikely that Wolf will win by 20 points.

Also, as Pennsylvania political observers Terry Madonna and Michael Young pointed out in a column that appeared in this newspaper Thursday, there’s a long-standing tradition in the Keystone State of one party hanging on to the governor’s office for eight years at a time. As Madonna and Young explained, Wolf is not just running against Corbett, but history.

And speaking of history, we need only look to President Harry Truman. He went into the 1948 election not only very unpopular, but also with two Democratic Party breakaway candidates running independent bids against him. New York Gov. Thomas Dewey was heavily favored to win. But when the ballots were finally tallied, Truman triumphed handily in the Electoral College and won the popular vote by 4 percent.

More recently, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis was ahead of Vice President George H.W. Bush by 17 percent in some polls in summer 1988, on his way to being unceremoniously trounced when the leaves were falling. Four years later, you would have had a tough time finding a candidate who looked more certain to lose than the bruised, battered Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who trailed both President Bush and Texas billionaire Ross Perot in some trial heats. We know how that election turned out.

Despite what you may hear now, the gubernatorial election won’t really be over until Tuesday, Nov. 4.



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