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Politically Uncorrected: Quit Expecting Corbett to Quit

Tom Corbett portrait loresA failed attempt at Tom Corbett’s legislative agenda, a long and likely hot summer underway, a single question now dominates many Harrisburg political conversations: when will Tom Corbett quit? When will he announce he is not running for a second term, setting the stage for a GOP gubernatorial primary next May to select his successor?

Why Corbett should quit looms painfully obvious, even to many who support him.

Only about one-third of Pennsylvania voters give him a positive job performance — abysmal for an incumbent less than 15 months from Election Day. Roughly one in four voters thinks he deserves another term. Worse perhaps is that his much-vaunted legislative “agenda,” including liquor privatization and pension reform, has gone nowhere, badly damaging his image for effectiveness.

To many, Corbett looks like a one-term governor–so politically damaged that he probably can’t be saved. This ominous sentiment isn’t limited to Pennsylvania.

A horde of respected, independent national pundits and publications has already weighed in, concluding he is so unpopular he can’t be re-elected. One has named Pennsylvania as the most likely state in the nation to change parties in 2014. Another, the prestigious National Journal, is already speculating in print about his possible Republican successors.

Corbett could find numerous and compelling reasons to quit.

Yet, it’s not going to happen. Corbett is not going to quit, not going to withdraw as a candidate for re-election and, in fact, not even face a major opponent for renomination by the Republican Party. Despite all the arguments to the contrary he will run for re-election in 2014, and will be the nominee of his party.

Why he won’t quit boils down to a half dozen hard realities about state politics, the Republican Party and Tom Corbett himself. Together, they reveal much about state politics and perhaps more about the current state of GOP politics.

Hope Springs Eternal – It’s not clear who the Democratic nominee will be or what strengths and weakness the person will bring to the ticket. In past non-open seat elections both parties have fielded exceptionally weak candidates. The 2014 Democratic field looks strong at this point, but it is too early to tell. Undoubtedly, the tone of the Democratic primary as well as the eventual nominee could provide Corbett with an opening he badly needs.

The Skunk Factor – Certainly, there might be Republicans who would run against Corbett in a party primary. But few want to be the skunk at the picnic. Though weak, Corbett would probably defeat all comers, but he would emerge from a primary even weaker than now–almost surely losing the fall contest. So the payoff is likely defeat in the primary and ultimate blame for the loss in November. A winning strategy this is not.

No Viable Replacement – Corbett may be weak but he is still an incumbent with all the advantages incumbents have running for re-election. Some national publications have reported internal maneuvering among Republicans to replace Corbett. That’s not going to happen. The most obvious replacements, Congressman Jim Gerlach, Pat Meehan and Charles Dent would have to give up super-safe seats to run. Moreover, the large structural debt facing the next governor intensified by the fractious Harrisburg infighting among Republicans makes doubtful any of them would take on the challenge.

Show of Weakness – A Corbett withdraw would be a tacit admission that the last four years of a Republican administration had been an abysmal failure. Inevitably, Corbett’s GOP successor as gubernatorial candidate would be saddled with defending Corbett’s legacy in November without any of the advantages of incumbency. It would be a field day for the Democratic nominee.

Not the Real Problem – The Corbett administration has failed to secure its major policies, but the lion’s share of the blame falls to Republicans in the legislature. There, personal and policy differences have eviscerated Corbett’s agenda. It’s hard to imagine any Republican gubernatorial replacement that can bridge the big ideological differences that exist, nor mend the personal differences.

It’s Always about the Money – All statewide campaigns run on big money. Republicans usually have it; Democrats usually need it. In 2014, Corbett still retains the support of deep-pocketed conservatives as well as the business community. He will be reasonably well financed with more than sufficient resources to wage an energetic campaign. Money alone won’t win this one for Corbett. But a lack of money won’t lose it for him either.

Madonna is Professor of Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, and Young is a former Professor of Politics and Public Affairs at Penn State University and Managing Partner of Michael Young Strategic Research. Madonna and Young encourage responses to the column and can be reached, respectively, at and

12 Responses

  1. If the Republicans think they can win this thing by hoping the Dems will nominate the 2014 version of Ivan Itkin, they’re sorely mistaken.

  2. @ Lew Bryson:

    Thanx for reading critically; I purposely chose not to edit this ramble, because it conveys fundamental feelings that appear immutable.

    He probably got caught-up in the world of double-negatives, but his point obviously was that–based on everything people have noted about his priorities during the prior almost half-century–JoePa had consistently promoted the citizenship-component of his student-athletes; thus, it would be out-of-character for him to have blithely ignored allegations of child abuse [sexual or otherwise], particularly because he had already told Sandusky he was not to become his heir-apparent.

    I continue to “grind this axe” because of the absence of a cogent counter-argument from the pro-Corbett camp regarding his re-electability; he cannot depend upon the loyalty of every Republican in the Commonwealth to avoid challenging him, particularly noting the national phenomenon [noting that, now, Mitch McConnell and Mike Enzi are already being primaried from the “right”] that has been exhaustively documented [on and, now, elsewhere].

  3. “We don’t care if you’re idiotic enough to believe that Joe Paterno would put the safety and welfare of ANY child ahead of his football program.”

    Really? Did he actually say that? That it would be “idiotic…to believe” that Joe would put the safety and welfare of a child ahead of the Penn State football program? That’s a classic!

  4. When I read comments about race riots in Pennsylvania incited by the PAGOP, it makes my blood boil. Yes Rob Gleason, we African-Americans have a right to vote and we are going to exercise our rights to send you a message. I call again for A MARCH ON HARRISBURG. Let’s stop right in front of the Shaner Republican Center on 112 State Street and send Rob Gleason, the new Bull Connor of the PAGOP and Tom Corbett a message that they can’t kill Martin’s dream in Pennsylvania.

  5. Former Lower Merion Constable Eric Bradway will run for Governor against Corbett on the Democratic Ticket

  6. It’s possible that I may not have emphasized sufficiently the import of the Sandusky Affair in the prior note; that Corbett remains mute is…disheartening…for he continues to fail to provide a chronology of what transpired under his aegis.

    A Facebook posting accompanied this photo:

    And, although some may find this expression of anguish a bit extreme, it reflects the passionate foundation of how the new Alumni Trustee Election outcome was aligned towards those who feel Joe Pa has been unjustly treated.

    Read, lament the kids, wonder about Corbett’s electrical-silence, and ponder the political fortunes of the gubernatorial incumbent:

    “If you think ANY of us at Penn State who support and love Joe Paterno are “giving up or moving on” WITHOUT proper justice for our legendary coach and mentor, you’re crazy. We don’t care about your ad hominem attacks against Joe, they don’t impress us or sway us one iota. We don’t care if you’re stupid enough to believe the fraudulent drivel written about Joe in the “Fact Freeh Report.” We don’t care if you’re moronic enough to support the PSU 11/9/11 board of trustees and their cowardly, corrupt and incompetent handling of the Joe Paterno firing from Penn State. And we totally reject the NCAA’s regulatory over-reach, arbitrary and wrongful vacation of Joe’s legitimate “won on the field” victories in his legendary career as college football’s best coach. We don’t care if you’re idiotic enough to believe that Joe Paterno would put the safety and welfare of ANY child ahead of his football program. We know for a fact he would never do that and anyone who believes such an unsupportable idea is deluded or kidding themselves. We will fight on to get justice for Joe as long as it takes. We will fight on to clear Joe’s name as long as it takes. And we will demand Joe’s statue be returned to a rightful and lasting place of honor on the University Park campus, because we WILL honor the man who had as much to do with building Penn State’s greatness, accomplishments and reputation as any man in Penn state’s long, storied and illustrious history. If you think you can dissuade us from these things we pledge, you are wrong. If you think we will give up and quit, you are wrong. If you think you can stop us, you are wrong. “Fight On, State” is NOT just a football slogan. It is our collective Nittany Lion raison d’être. It is our unstoppable resolve. It is our immovable dedication to the truth and justice. We will NOT be defeated or discouraged.”

    This was written by Douglas Robb, who lives in L.A.


    No legislative victory can easily trump the passion that underlies this paean.

  7. After speaking with many of my friends that are political operatives, I think I finally understand what Rob Gleason, PAGOP Chair is up to, when he injected racially divisive comments into the mix after the Zimmerman trail, in a STAND YOUR GROUND state like PA, while the PA Supremes are hearing a case on Voter Suppression. The present consensus theory is that Gleason and the PAGOP wouldn’t mind an LA style RODNEY KING RACE RIOT! A good old school riot would certainly would be a distraction from the JoePA and Jerry story and the tepid economy in PA. It would also get the Corbett Team back to his Law and Order agenda that Corbett began with. Imagine seeing the PA National Guard standing their ground against all these angry Pennsylvanian African Americans who are all potential suspects of voter fraud. It gives me the chills just thinking about the possiblity. This could re-ignite the Corbett hopes from the ashes. BRILLIANT! I knew PAGOP Chair Rob Gleason was one clever wily coyote ( a rare albino one). You may think this theory is tasteless political satire, but if you really think about it, it is a BRILLIANT move. STAND YOUR GROUND PAGOP CHAIR ROB GLEASON AND THE CORBETT TEAM FOR TAX-PAYING PENNSYLVANIANS EVERYWHERE!

  8. Each of these arguments is intuitively vulnerable.


    Any strategist who bases his/her candidate’s political future on the concept that “Hope Springs Eternal” will invariably fail without a positive message; even Obama—having dissed Romney—conveyed a platform which was positive/assertive [albeit misguided].

    “The Skunk Factor” would be obviated were the Republican to might declare his/her candidacy not to be a party-insider; note the success of businessmen such as Florida Governor Scott.

    “No Viable Replacement” may currently exist officially, but others might enter once an individual were to break-the-ice; this could trigger the formation of a Scott/Goldwater/Rhodes delegation [à la Nixon].

    Caring not about whether such conduct would reflect a “Show of Weakness,” an individual who might challenge Corbett could run to his “right” [in a cycle which will encourage this approach nationally] by promoting, for example, “Right To Work” as a priority [challenging the entire party apparatus in the process, from Gleason on down]; pivotal would be the imminent release of the “Tom and Jerry Show” [a.k.a., The Sandusky Albatross].

    If Corbett were to claim that his failures were not of his doing—that his gubernatorial actions were “Not the Real Problem”—he would simply be vulnerable to the claim that he failed to interact effectively with people within his own party; this would resonate among those who wish, for example, to defuse the “Pension Bomb.”

    Finally, in some realms, any challenge may be viewed cynically as doomed because “It’s Always about the Money,” but the right candidate with the right message could suddenly provide an equalizer; if for no other reason than to nudge Corbett to retire, the adage “you can’t beat someone with no one” would have been satisfied.


    I might add that his support for a gasoline hike would blow-away his “no new taxes” mantra, and we all recall the fate of Bush-’41 when he demanded the “read my lips”…yielding Clinton.

  9. First Thank you Mr. Madonna. I know time is running short on Corbett’s Camelot. But I so dearly want to join the Feast of the Takers, who are disguised as Markers. Ms.Gromis, as I told you, I have the papers to show we are distantly related. Please get me a Seat at the Round Table. If you have to hire my wife,ok, just don’t place her in my department. I have my somber funeral suit all picked out so I can join the political funeral train ride. Leslie, when is Chairman Gleason and John going to start running those ads about how well the white folk are protected by the PAGOP and Tom’s team? I know those ads upset some folks but I look forward to them so so much. Those pictures of Obama always give me nightmares. Chairman Rob Gleason makes me feel safer than having George Zimmerman as my neighborhood watch guy. Remember Chairman Gleason is a wily coyote, who is only trying to build up his own Tea Party creds. He really loves all God’s children, especially when they are insured.

  10. Corbett promised to get rid of WAMs. The new budget is loaded with them. Corbett also proposed two tax hikes, one of which was signed into law.

  11. Gov. Corbett has kept his campiagn promises and has upset both sides of the aisle. That proves to me he is trying to fix issues. He is the fall guy, but really it is the State Legislature’s failure. Corbett gets beat up on the budgets, but he has done what he said he would do.

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