Sometimes, one word says it all.
Astounding is what Democrat Tom Wolf just did in the gubernatorial primary, coming out of nowhere to destroy three frontline opponents by capturing a staggering 57 percent of the vote. And “astounding” might even be an understatement.
In dispatching his savvy, well-funded opponents so easily, Wolf all but guaranteed that the general election will be anti-climatic, as Republican Gov. Tom Corbett is having trouble winning his own base, let alone swing voters.
The question isn’t whether Wolf wins, but by how much. And while it doesn’t matter whether a top-of-the-ticket candidate wins by one or 1 million (a win is a win), a large margin can be a boon for the victor’s party as “coattails” boost down-ballot candidates. In close races, such as the one to replace state Sen. Ted Erickson, R-26, of Newtown, in Delaware County, those coattails can be the difference.
Here’s a look at how the Tom-Tom-Tom races may shape up:
Tom Corbett: Four years ago, Corbett was swept into office by 10 points. Since then, despite Republican legislative majorities, he has squandered golden opportunities: He failed to fix the pension crisis (while giving the unions a sweetheart deal); achieve education reform; or lower the nation’s second-highest business tax (an economy-busting job killer). He never articulated his positions on gas drilling and education funding, allowing himself to be negatively branded. And he couldn’t even deliver on two issues that had widespread support: Liquor privatization and voter ID.
Those failures, along with his highly questionable handling of the Jerry Sandusky investigation while attorney general, saddled Corbett with a worst-in-the-nation 17 percent approval rating, with fewer than half of Republicans thinking he deserves re-election.
The narrative being written by Democrats and some editorial pages is that Corbett will lose because he is a hard-core conservative in a moderate state. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Corbett’s problem isn’t that he governs as a conservative; it’s that he doesn’t govern at all. Worse, his overt (and woefully inept) political calculations backfire, which recent events illustrate.
Pushing voter ID and opposing gay marriage were two of Corbett’s best-known positions. Yet, in the span of a week, he walked away from both, citing unfavorable court decisions. But the real reason for his about-face is clear: He thinks doing so will win independents and swing voters (while shafted conservatives will grumble but stay true to Corbett). What he fails to see is that it’s too late to win over new constituencies; they may agree with a particular decision, but will gleefully boot him in November. And his base has become even more enraged, feeling that they are being taken for granted.
Naked political calculations are nothing new (Corbett favored NCAA sanctions against Penn State before filing suit against them). But pandering rarely works, especially in an election year.
Ironically, the biggest “success” fueling the Corbett campaign is his law giving Pennsylvanians the highest gas taxes in the country (interpreted by many as a violation of his “no tax” pledge). So at a time when Corbett needs to be driving his base, he is left with an empty tank.
Yet, the Corbett camp remains convinced that an energized conservative base will turn out in droves, because they have nowhere else to go. How wrong they are.
In November, look for a 16- to 18-point loss as many conservatives walk away, becoming an Anyone But Corbett election.
Tom Wolf: The York businessman and former state secretary of revenue has it made. Smile, kiss babies and say “I’m not Tom Corbett,” and he wins in a landslide. Irrelevant is that no governor has ever lost re-election, and how much money Corbett may have (Wolf will have an equally large war chest). This election is not about Wolf, but a referendum on Tom Corbett. As the frontrunner with a substantial lead, Wolf can stay above the fray, genial and relaxed while avoiding policy specifics. Add that he did not make a single gaffe during the primary, and you have the recipe for a blowout win.
The problem Corbett faces is how to cut into Wolf’s sizable lead. He must attack to close the gap, but has only three avenues:
1.) Wolf’s an out-of-touch millionaire.
Problem: Wolf drives a modest Jeep and sent his children to public school. He talks in a down-to-earth manner and his ads portray him as a generous, hands-on businessman who understands the issues facing Pennsylvanians.
Result: Voters, including Republicans, will support Wolf since many believe the state needs to be run more efficiently — like a business.
2.) He is a “tax and spender” from his days as secretary of revenue under Ed Rendell.
Problem: This attack has already backfired, as even the most casual voter realized that Corbett’s attack ads making that claim were ludicrous. Revenue secretaries don’t set policy and cannot be blamed for taxes enacted by the governor and Legislature.
Result: The revenue secretary issue will shift focus, as Wolf will hammer Corbett that his revenue secretary spearheaded the effort to outsource the Pennsylvania Lottery to a foreign firm — enough to scare the bejesus out of damn near every senior citizen. And you don’t need to play the lottery to determine the winner on that issue.
3.) Wolf’s business.
Problem: Wolf’s primary opponents already attacked him on aspects of his business, yet, Wolf’s poll numbers climbed. Attacking a successful business is difficult, especially when, as in Corbett’s case, the attacker is a lifelong politician who never created a job. How Wolf financed something, what pension fund invested in his company, or where the business is chartered are entirely too complicated to explain in a 30-second ad.
Result: Wolf’s stock goes up.
Wolf’s victory showed that Democrats put aside heart and voted with their brains, sensing that Wolf was clearly their best hope to beat the nation’s most vulnerable governor. They smelled blood in the water, and took no chances, making Wolf victorious in all 67 counties. He won’t repeat feat that in the general, but may well win more than 57 percent of the vote.
Tom McGarrigle: In a normal election, a Republican running in the 26th Senatorial District would enjoy an advantage, as the Delaware County GOP has a proven track record of winning important elections.
But this is not a normal year, and Tom McGarrigle’s troubles start and end with Tom Corbett. Remember that 2010 was the largest Republican year since 1946, yet, Corbett still lost Delaware County. Given that his losing margin will be substantially more in November, there comes a point that, mathematically, McGarrigle will face too much of a deficit to win. Have we reached that point yet, and what is that number?
No, but we’re close, and it will depend on turnout.
If the Democrats vote en masse to rally behind Wolf and Republicans sit it out viewing the outcome as inevitable, it will be the Democrats’ night. It is important to note two things:
A.) Roughly 10 percent of Republicans deliberately chose to not vote for Corbett in the primary, despite no opposition. That’s not a good sign for the GOP.
B.) Ticket splitting is quickly becoming obsolete. Independents and swing voters may switch party allegiances from election to election, but are increasingly voting straight ticket. Given that the state Senate is on the verge of going Democratic for the first time in decades, look for GOP candidates to shun Tom Corbett while hoping that Tom Wolf’s bite won’t be lethal.
For 2014 at least, this Tom Wolf looks to have the right stuff.
Delaware County Times - Chris Freind