Since Tom Corbett made national headlines by comparing same-sex marriage to sibling marriage, rumors have swirled about the possibility that the party will nominate someone else in 2014.
Many Republicans call the gaffe a catalyst for a movement to convince Corbett to step aside.
Talk is loudest among Republicans in southeastern Pa.
“The dam is breaking,” said one GOP official. “It’s just a matter of getting the right group of people in front of the Governor to say, ‘the party’s over.’”
“There’s a level of embarrassment and shame now that wasn’t there on Thursday,” said a GOP operative. “What he said yesterday will be shown on TV wall to wall in southeast Pa. next November.”
But the rumors should be taken with a grain of salt. The conversations have been off the record. No Republican of notable stature is willing to risk defying the Governor if there’s a chance of ending up alone out on a limb.
PoliticsPA talked with over a dozen Republican elected officials, party leaders and operatives since Friday, and none agreed to speak on the record.
“I think it would take someone speaking out against [Corbett] publicly, and nobody is willing to take that first step,” said a former House GOP staffer.
Would he like to be the first?
I would speak out “If I was further along in my career,” said another GOPer.
One operative dismissed the weekend scuttlebutt as “a few days of emotional reactions” and said it would take a few weeks to see if the anti-Corbett movement was serious.
Corbett’s campaign manager Mike Barley similarly dismissed the rumors.
“The Governor is running and he will be the nominee,” Barley said. “We’re looking forward to talking about his strong record in the general election.”
Indeed, by Monday the anti-Corbett momentum had cooled noticeably even among those who supported the idea fervently on Friday.
The closest thing to an on-the-record rebuke came from two local candidates in a press release.
“We strongly disagree with any comparison of gay marriage to incest,” said Delaware County Council candidates Mario Civera and Dave White. “There is no need for such remarks, especially while the issue is being debated in our courts. We think Governor Corbett was right to apologize and clarify his comment.”
It’s telling that two Republicans running for local office in 2013 would weigh in. It’s especially noteworthy in Delaware County, where the local party is powerful – and stays in line with state party leadership.
Their statement was vetted by the Governor’s office, said one GOP source. It was necessary because Democratic opponents of Civera and White have worked hard to link them to Corbett.
The unusual move underscores perhaps the biggest concern driving off-the-record critics in SEPA: that Corbett’s poor numbers will risk otherwise healthy down-ballot Republicans.
“The big concern is that he’s going to take state reps down with him,” said a GOP official.
“No state legislator or state senator running next year will want to be seen on stage with this guy,” said another operative.
“Republicans are now more concerned about preserving our legislative majorities than they are about preserving a failing candidate,” said another GOP official.
Almost all of the sources agreed that the anti-Corbett movement needs a legitimate alternative in order to be viable.
“You can’t replace somebody with nobody. Unless Pat Toomey wants to run, which is doubtful, there isn’t anyone with the statewide profile and fundraising ability to win with such short notice,” said an official.
Almost everyone interviewed by PoliticsPA named Toomey as the official who could best pull off a campaign, thanks to his name ID and fundraising skills.
Additionally, since he next re-election isn’t until 2016, he could run without giving up his seat in the U.S. Senate.
There’s a coordinated campaign to recruit Toomey into the race, said one operative.
Toomey has given no public indication that he is considering a bid for Governor and has already said he supports Corbett in 2014.
“Senator Toomey is entirely focused on getting the government in Washington re-opened, and doing it in a way that protects taxpayers and our economy,” said Toomey campaign spokesman Mark Harris.
Other possibilities mentioned include names PoliticsPA reported when the ‘replace Corbett’ movement first began stirring in July: Reps. Jim Gerlach, Mike Kelly and Pat Meehan and state Sen. Dominic Pileggi. Some include Lt. Governor Jim Cawley on the list.