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What exactly happened with PA Governor Tom Corbett’s popularity?

This Tom Corbett situation in PA is endlessly interesting. Basic facts: he’s the Governor. He’s a Republican. He’s insanely unpopular in his own state. He actually just had the worst poll numbers in Franklin and Marshall state polling history, and GOP officials in PA don’t want him to run in 2014. But, AH-HA! He is running. People are already calling it one of the most interesting ’14 gubernatorial races, if for no other reason than it might be an absolute train wreck. He trails even unknown potential Democrat opponents by anywhere from 12 to 20 percentage points. Apparently he’s pursuing a ‘fake’ Medicaid expansion plan, and he might be the single most unpopular Governor in America, behind even guys like Scott Walker and Paul LePage. Philadelphians hate him so much that they’re likening him to a Dallas Cowboy. He’s somehow shifted from GOP traditionalist to Tea Party ally.

As for how it got this bad, The Wire lays out the key issues here: he once likened same-sex marriage to incest, for example. The clip is below. It might represent the absolute low-water mark of “local news reporter interviews state politician.”

He’s also not great on gun control, in a state where 94 percent of those polled claim to favor background checks, with 61 percent wanting high-capacity magazines eliminated and gun purchases capped at one per month. Corbett is a life-long member of the NRA, and immediately after the Sandy Hook shooting, he claimed America shouldn’t rush into new gun laws. Corbett does the flip that a lot of politicians (and social scientists) seem to discuss: if you can’t cap guns, or that issue seems like a dead end, maybe you should … spend more on the mentally ill? That kinda seems logical on face, but unfortunately Corbett actually cut funding to the mentally ill in his last two state budgets.

It seems like the front-runner to face Corbett in a year is Allyson Schwartz; she’s currently the 13th District rep for PA in the House. The primary is in May. Thing is, the candidates for the Democratic side really don’t differ very much in their stances. Education funding is becoming a big issue where the Democrats can hit Corbett, in addition to those two or three mentioned above: his last state budget cut $865 million from K-12 education; in Philadelphia alone (the state’s biggest school district), they had to figure out how to save about $304 million. Schwartz wants to eliminate the SRC, or School Reform Commission, which controls Philly schools. It’s ultimately run by the state.

Schwartz is running stronger than the other Democrats in some polls, although Jack Wagner could give her some problems. Wagner is a former state Auditor General and ran for (and lost) the Pittsburgh Mayor slot in 2013. He’s not a declared candidate but could enter the race. According to that PPP poll (linked above in the Corbett section), Schwartz vs. Corbett right now would be 48-33 in favor of Schwartz; you almost never see an upstart (granted, a Congresswoman) enter a battle with an incumbent and be up 15 points. In Wisconsin, for example, Scott Walker is massively unpopular in parts of the state — and is still two points ahead of potential challenger Mary Burke. For the challenger to be 15 up in a poll, that’s … well, that’s something.

It’s gotten so bad for Corbett that a Tumblr entitled “Kick Corbett Out” is now likening him to this guy:

There is a small silver lining for Corbett: he signed a $2.3 billion transportation bill recently; it should improve PA highways and pump some money into SEPTA, Philly’s main transit system. I’m from the Northeast, and while there are a lot of things that differentiate Philly from Boston, DC, NYC, and other I-95 corridor spots, one of them is honestly the reliability and access of public transportation. Philly is good, but DC is great and NYC is essential. (Boston is probably classified as “good” too.) Corbett immediately hit a state-wide tour touting the transportation legislation, so maybe he can ride that to some slightly-higher poll numbers.

My take: I don’t live in PA, although I could easily see a situation in which I might in the future (close to family, wife’s family, etc.) If I was a PA voter, I’d be super pissed about the gay marriage comments, the gun control stuff, and (probably most of all) the education slash. He almost dropped a billion dollars from the state budget related to education. That’s f’n insane, even for a GOP Governor. Oklahoma, for example, slashed the per-pupil by over 20 percent, but from a straight numeric perspective, PA’s cuts seem more steep.  I’d vote out Corbett. There’s also this clip:

The most glorious thing here for fans of the political theater in America: 2014 gubernatorial races include Walker, LePage (who once likened the IRS to the Gestapo), Corbett, and Arkansas “Blue Dog” Mike Ross, who is an interesting dude in his own right. (And the only Democrat to receive Koch Brothers money!) It’s not a Presidential year, but the political clip machine on YouTube and the cable networks should be having a field day.

Ted Bauer

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