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Democratic Challenger Wolf Topples Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett

By Thomas Fitzgerald, The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

PHILADELPHIA — Democrat Tom Wolf, a businessman from central Pennsylvania, was elected governor Tuesday in his first campaign for political office.

Republican Tom Corbett became the first incumbent governor to lose re-election in the state’s modern history.

“We need to re-establish education as the priority,” Wolf said, speaking to supporters at the York Expo Center shortly after 10 p.m., after thanking Corbett for his service.

He exhorted Pennsylvanians to believe in themselves and their future. “Let’s make this the time,” Wolf said. “Let’s get started.”

A misty-eyed Corbett addressed a crowd of about 200 supporters shortly before 10 p.m. at the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh.

“They said I might be a one-term governor and I am,” Corbett said. “But I am proud of what we did.”

He said he had fought for fiscal discipline and limited government, while making tough choices along the way.

Exit polls showed Corbett losing across the board — among men, women, all age groups except those over 65, and all income levels. He also was losing in every region of the state but central Pennsylvania.

When he takes office in January, Wolf will likely face a Republican-controlled legislature and a budget deficit as he tries to make good on a promise to dramatically increase the state government’s share of public school costs.

Running on the promise of a “fresh start,” Wolf poured $10 million of his own money into his campaign for the Democratic nomination, swamping better-known rivals.

He hammered Corbett for cuts to state education spending early in his administration, while passing out business tax cuts and refusing to tax the value of natural gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale formation that underlies much of the state. In addition, Wolf argued, jobs growth was anemic compared to the rest of the nation — putting the lie to supply-side economic theory, he said.

Exit polls suggested the Democrat scored on the jobs issue: 90 percent of voters interviewed said they remain worried about the economy, and Wolf led among those voters.

All told, candidates and independent interest groups spent at least $70 million on the campaign in 2014. That included $47.4 million tallied by the Center for Public Integrity, for about 50,000 television ads on broadcast and national cable channels in Pennsylvania.

Wolf, 65, ran his family’s York County building-supplies company for nearly three decades, building into the nation’s largest supplier of kitchen cabinets while sharing profits with workers. He also served for 18 months as state revenue secretary in the administration of former Gov. Ed Rendell.

Wolf has a doctorate in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and served in the Peace Corps in India as a young man.

Corbett, 65, was state attorney general for two terms before winning election by 9 percentage points in 2010, a Republican wave year. As attorney general he sent a series of state lawmakers and top aides to prison on corruption charges.

Wolf’s running mate for lieutenant governor, Democratic state Sen. Mike Stack of Philadelphia, appearing at the Sheet Metal Workers hall in South Philadelphia, said in an interview after the polls closed “We need to invest in public education or we are doomed.”

After casting his own ballot Tuesday afternoon, Wolf said he was heading home for dinner with family.

“We’re having chili,” he said.

The Democratic candidate — with a horde of reporters, cameramen and staffers in his wake — swept in and out of his Mount Wolf polling place in about a minute.

Before Corbett, the last Pennsylvania governor to lose re-election was William Bigler in 1845, after two years in office. A Democrat, he ran afoul of abolitionist sentiment after supporting the Kansas-Nebraska act, which ended the Missouri Compromise and allowed slavery in new western territories.

After a constitutional convention in 1874, Pennsylvania governors’ terms were lengthened to four years, but they were no longer allowed to succeed themselves.

Beginning with a new state constitution in 1968, governors were allowed to have two, four-year terms. Corbett is the first incumbent under those modern rules to have lost.

Photo: Tom Wolf via Flickr

Both Parties Have Candidates On ‘Endangered Governors’ List

By Thomas Fitzgerald, The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett has been described as “endangered” so often in the past couple of years, it could be mistaken for his first name.

Long saddled with low approval ratings in statewide opinion polls, the Republican governor trails by double digits in his fight for a second term.

For all his troubles, it turns out that Corbett has plenty of company in misery this year: 11 governors of both parties are in tight re-election races, and analysts foresee the roughest ride for incumbent chief executives since at least 1994, when six lost their jobs.

The modern record was 1962, when voters jettisoned 13 incumbents.

Republicans such as Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Rick Snyder of Michigan and Florida’s Rick Scott are threatened. Endangered Democrats include Pat Quinn of Illinois, John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Connecticut’s Dannel Malloy.

A combination of local political turmoil, self-inflicted wounds and a restive mood among voters is likely at the root of the gubernatorial job insecurity, analysts say.

“There’s something of a revolt in these states against the status quo,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the political forecasters at the University of Virginia. “One theory is that people are mad — if you look at the national polls, they don’t like the way the country is going — and this is being expressed at the state level against the executive who’s closest to home and on the ballot.”

Some of the governors have added to their own troubles with controversial or polarizing decisions, but the economy is the underlying common denominator in many contests, said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

“Michigan and Illinois, for instance, are not recovering as fast as some states in the country,” Duffy said. “I would say that’s a big part of Corbett’s problem as well.”

Corbett inherited a weak state economy when he took office in 2011. Early term cutbacks in education spending and the fallout from the child sex-abuse scandal that engulfed Pennsylvania State University’s football program also weakened his popularity. And the tight-lipped Corbett, a career prosecutor, has never really mastered the communications aspect of his job. In that regard, at least, his garrulous predecessor, Democrat Ed Rendell, was a tough act to follow.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in Illinois is staggering after tax hikes and spending cuts, including to education, enacted during his term. The state has had fiscal problems even after Quinn canceled some public-union contracts to try to save money.

In deep-red Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican, is in deep trouble after doubling down on an aggressive series of tax cuts, which have not produced promised economic or state revenue growth, and he has had to slash state services. (The Kansas GOP is also deeply divided between moderate and conservative factions).

Though the split is less pronounced, there are echoes of that phenomenon in Pennsylvania. Corbett has been unable to get most of his agenda, including liquor privatization and pension reform, through a GOP- controlled legislature; he secured passage of a transportation-spending package only after a prolonged fight.

Democratic Gov. Malloy of Connecticut won by a few thousand votes in 2010 and is locked in a re-match with Republican Tom Foley. Malloy raised taxes and cut public-union benefits, which alienated a key part of the Democratic base. Foley is being attacked for his record as a private-equity investor.

“In 2010, a lot of open (gubernatorial) seats switched parties, and those are the people who are up for reelection now,” said John Weingart, director of Rutgers University’s Center on the American Governor. “Some of them won races they probably wouldn’t have won if they’d run two years earlier or later, in a presidential year — and they may be vulnerable as a result.”

Since 1948, incumbent governors who have sought re-election have been successful 72 percent of the time, according to analysis by Rutgers’ center, part of the Eagleton Institute of Politics.

That sounds high, but it pales in comparison to job security in the U.S. House. Despite record low opinions of Congress as an institution, the overwhelming majority of representatives running for re-election win — 93 percent, on average, since 1954.

The parties have been able to draw House districts to their advantage, reducing their competitiveness in elections.

U.S. senators, like governors, have to run statewide, and they’ve enjoyed an average of 85 percent re-election rate since 1964.

“It’s tough economic times, and that can hurt incumbent governors in the same way it does presidents,” Rutgers’ Weingart said. “You don’t have as much good news to deliver, building projects, preserving parkland, expanding education programs — there’s less money to do that.”

Photo via Wikimedia Commons