The number of Pennsylvania voters who say Tom Corbett deserves a second term is on the way up but the climb will be steep. And time is running out.
A new Franklin & Marshall College poll this week found that the Republican governor has a lot of ground to cover by November if he wants to keep his job.
But political analysts and GOP leaders say things can change quickly in a campaign season that will be very crowded and very competitive.
“Of course, I’d like his poll numbers to be higher. But we don’t know who he’ll be running against at this point,” said Rob Gleason, chairman of the Pennsylvania GOP.
Gleason said his approval ratings will start to rise when his campaign team turns its focus to highlighting his accomplishments to the public.
G. Terry Madonna, director of F&M’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs, said effective communication has been a missing element of the Corbett administration.
The survey found that few people believe the Republican governor can be trusted to make the right decisions or that he cares about ordinary people.
Only 23 percent of voters surveyed told pollsters Corbett has performed well enough to stay in office — falling far behind where his predecessors Ed Rendell and Tom Ridge polled at similar points in their first terms.
With approval ratings that more than double Corbett’s current numbers, both lawmakers went on to win a second term. In fact, every sitting governor has been elected to four more years since Pennsylvania allowed governors to seek reelection in 1970.
But, whatever the result, Corbett will make history: His campaign will mark an incredible comeback victory or it will be the first time a governor has failed to win back the seat.
The poll, however, did not ask respondents how Corbett compares to the eight candidates running for the Democratic nomination. Many political experts and GOP leaders say that will be a key factor to his eventual victory or defeat.
“I think the governor has been doing a good job at getting his message out but it takes time for that to resonate with the people,” Corbett campaign manager Mike Barley said.
Barley said the momentum will shift as soon as voters get to know the eight Democrats vying to challenge Corbett. The primary election is in May. He described the candidates as tax-and-spend politicians whose approach “won’t be in line with hard-working Pennsylvania.”
Muhlenberg College political analyst Chris Borick agrees that “the polls will take on a different complexion once it’s a race and not a referendum.”
Borick said the campaign dynamic will start to shift around that time as well. It will no longer be about why Corbett deserves a second term but about why his challenger doesn’t deserve one at all.
“No one should write him off just yet — he has the money and resources to rebuild his brand,” he said.
Ann Womble, the leader of the Lancaster County GOP, said the party has months to deliver his message to voters. One of the central themes, she said, will be to set the record straight on education funding.
Womble said she blames Rendell for plugging his budgets with one-time stimulus funding. And when it ran out nearly $1 billion was cut from the education system.
Another theme will be how the Corbett administration cut more than $1 billion in business taxes to help create jobs and spur economic growth.
“He encourages innovative ideas to our problems and that is one of the reasons we will work hard to get him reelected,” Womble said of the local GOP committee.