HARRISBURG – Gov. Tom Corbett, trailing badly in the polls and running out of time to reconcile anemic tax collections with election-year appetites for new spending, has undoubtedly gotten plenty of advice from fellow Republicans on how to assure his political future.
State GOP leaders interviewed by the Associated Press offered up a number of ideas.
They said he needs to toot his horn more loudly over his accomplishments, score a legislative victory that impresses the average voter, articulate ideas in ways that resonate with the everyman and take the fight to Democratic challenger Tom Wolf.
Corbett, the state’s former attorney general, received similar advice for much of his term.
“Tom is a fine man and he’s honest and he’s not Ed Rendell – he’s not showy. He operates more in the style of an attorney general than a governor,” said Jim Roddey, the Allegheny County GOP chairman. “It has not served him well politically.”
Ray Zaborney, who managed Lynn Swann’s unsuccessful 2006 gubernatorial campaign, said Corbett believes that “you put your head down and you do the right thing and people will know that about you.”
Corbett is “very engaging, very charismatic” in person, Zaborney said. “Translating that into politics isn’t his strength.”
The seriousness of Corbett’s plight has been driven home by recent developments. A Quinnipiac University poll showed Wolf maintaining a 20-point lead – almost identical to a hypothetical Corbett-Wolf matchup by the same pollster in February. And sluggish tax collections have created a potential two-year revenue gap of at least $1.2 billion, complicating the construction of a new state budget to replace the one that expires June 30.
But the governorship is – or could be – Corbett’s bully pulpit.
The Republican leaders pointed to the ongoing budget negotiations between the governor and leaders of the GOP majorities in both houses of the Legislature as a potentially rich source of political capital.
Alan Novak, a longtime state Republican chairman, said support among some legislators for new taxes – particularly one on natural-gas extraction – to balance the budget and finance new programs could work to Corbett’s advantage if he goes along.
Corbett’s support might leverage enough votes to pass one or both of his top priorities: an overhaul of public pensions and the privatization of wine and liquor sales.
“That’s the kind of thing that he could claim as an acceptable trade-off,” Novak said.
In an impromptu news briefing this past week, Corbett made clear that a commitment to pension changes from lawmakers would have to come before any discussion on a tax increase.
“If we can’t get pensions done, I’m not open to anything. They’ve got to move,” he said.
Novak said Corbett also should seize opportunities to chip away at his challenger’s lead, “any opportunity to move the needle the right way for him and the wrong way for Tom Wolf,” and hit the ground running once the Legislature breaks for the summer.
“Lots of appearances, lots of retail campaigning, lots of radio,” Novak said. “I think he really has to be at this 24/7 once this budget is done.”
John Brabender, Corbett’s longtime media strategist, said the suggestions are premature because Corbett’s main focus for now is on the budget talks in Harrisburg.
“In Tom Corbett’s mind, the campaign hasn’t started yet,” Brabender said. “People are going to know both candidates much better by Election Day.”