The frayed ends of coattails
As of Oct. 1, there will be 34 days remaining in Tom Corbett's bid for re-election as Governor of Pennsylvania, and if the polls are any indication, only 34 vital days will remain in Corbett's political life.
In a state where Democratic voters traditionally dominate the landscape by a whopping 75 percent, a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 59 percent of those likely to vote in the gubernatorial election favored Corbett's challenger, Tom Wolf, a York County businessman. A peek inside Wolf's supporters cut further to the bone: A little more than half of them say their vote is a vote purely against Corbett -- perhaps due to his polarizing actions on the natural gas industry and public school funding -- and 55 percent of them looked at Corbett's record unfavorably.
Corbett's uphill climb in the closing weeks of his campaign has become a financial drain as well; of the $25 million that has been raised for his re-election campaign, nearly $20 million of it has been spent, while Wolf sits with a tidy $7 million left on $28 million raised.
With less than five weeks remaining until the Nov. 4 election, GOP candidates up for key seats are looking to escape from under Corbett's lengthy shadow. Of the seven Republican-held Senate seats in the Philadelphia suburbs, six are currently held by Republicans, and even the loss of two seats in the Senate would form a deadlock in the 50-seat chamber.
On the opposite side of the ledger, Republicans could receive a boost from President Obama's poor approval rating on a national scale, but the story here is a local one, and the potential windfall of Corbett's unpopularity could dramatically change politics in Harrisburg for some time to come.
Corbett is not the only Republican candidate scrambling under seat cushions to find either loose change, potential votes or small miracles. Last Sunday evening, Rep. Chris Ross, who was close to retiring from his seat in the 158th District in the Pennsylvania House, was appointed by Republican Committee members to fill the vacancy left by candidate Cuyler Walker, who resigned his candidacy on Sept. 22. The reasons behind Walker's mysterious resignation -- currently awash in wild and unproven rumors and innuendo -- are not known, and Walker has declined to explain to the Commonwealth Court why he resigned. He is now under a police investigation that is apparently related to the rumors.
While agreeing to inherit the potential backlash of this mess, Ross has to mount a quickie campaign in hopes that he can defeat Democratic challenger Susan Rzucidlo for a third time. Just as the dimensions of the 158th District have changed, so too, has Rzucidlo. Her campaign, inspired by a door-to-door, road warrior strategy, is being run on the promise to build bridges, not walls, in Harrisburg through coalitions and connections.
While the coattail effect of Corbett's unpopularity will likely unseat a number of hard-line Republican candidates across the state, Ross -- a longtime, dutiful servant of not only the citziens of his district but also the Republican Party -- has been reduced to forging through a political quagmire. It's one he did not cause, one whose real truths may surface at the worst possible time, and one that may ultimately cost him re-election to the political arena.
He has less than five weeks.