A recent editorial by Franklin & Marshall College faculty members Terry Madonna and Michael Young argued Tom Wolf’s “real” opponent in the upcoming general election is Pennsylvania’s infamous “8 year rule” – the idea being that Tom Corbett, unpopular as he is, might squeak through purely due to inertia and PA voters’ storied loyalty to incumbents.
While Dr. Madonna does manage to touch on a neat little facet of PA politics, I think the “8 year cycle” is little more than an interesting Snapple Cap fact that sounds cool at a dinner party. People love superstition, but gubernatorial elections are driven by the fundamentals – the records and personal proclivities of the candidates – not some electoral voodoo spell.
Maybe a more apt question would be what is Governor Corbett’s “real” opponent? Is it Tom Wolf? The fact that every single Democratic candidate for governor polled ahead of the incumbent to varying degrees at the time of the democratic primary might suggest Tom Corbett’s real opponent is himself. Well, not so much himself as the $1 billion cut from public education, his abandonment of Adult Basic, his resistance to Medicaid expansion, his resistance to marriage equality, his failure to act on pension reform, liquor reform, government reform, or any number of his own legislative priorities. Those failures among so many others will dog the Governor right up until Election Day, and he knows it.
What Governor Corbett fears, and what Tom Wolf knows, is that this election isn’t like the others. As of June 4th a Quinnipiac University poll has Corbett’s disapproval at 55%. Even more than that (58%) say he does not deserve a second term. But hey, you don’t have to like the guy, right? It’s the economy, stupid!
Well, according to that same Quinnipiac poll, 60% of PA voters consider the economy “not so good,” and only a measly 23% of respondents feel as though they are more economically secure than before Corbett took office.
And even if the Governor’s approval rating were closer to the 50% mark, the cracks in the political foundation are deep. Older Pennsylvanians helped carry Corbett to the Governors Mansion in 2010, but seem poised to help sweep him out come November. Corbett’s approval with voters over 65 rests at only 33%. When asked whom they would vote for if the election were held today (on June 4th) in a Corbett vs. Wolf, race, only 32% of voters 65 and over say they’d vote for Corbett, and it drops to 30% among voters aged 50-64.
Governor Corbett’s vulnerability is real despite the negative national environment for democrats. Voters might be tempted to think that President Obama’s unpopularity within PA will help perpetuate the 8-year rule, but Barack Obama is not running for Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf is. As the adage goes, “all politics is local,” and as we can see, this locality is soundly displeased with its Governor.