Corbett's reelection kickoff: The slog begins

Gov. Corbett is escorted to a car at an American Legion post in Fox Chase on Thursday. He found a warmer welcome that day in Willow Grove.
Gov. Corbett is escorted to a car at an American Legion post in Fox Chase on Thursday. He found a warmer welcome that day in Willow Grove. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 11, 2013

Let the games begin!

Two days after our exhilarating off-year election, Gov. Corbett launched the Philly leg of his reelection campaign at an American Legion post in Fox Chase, and offered a preview of what is to come.

While the faithful chanted "Four more years," a vocal horde of protesters outside yelled "One-term Tom." His wife, Susan, noted: "There's a party going on outside, and they've worked up a really nice beat to what they're saying. So I vote for you all to join me in a conga line when we leave."

But, alas, no.

The political slog will last a fun-filled 363 days, but who's counting?

The governor's approval ratings rival those of Congress. A recent Franklin and Marshall poll shows that 44 percent of Republican voters believe Corbett should be replaced as the party candidate. During his first run, Corbett collected 17 percent of the vote in heavily Democratic Philadelphia.

At the kickoff rally, both Corbett and Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley acknowledged they had done a poor job of promoting the administration's achievements, communication not a core skill. Said Cawley: "We have an untold story, and we're going to start telling it today." Noted Corbett: "Maybe I didn't work publicly. I'm the type that works behind the scenes."

The governor appeared downright peppy, speaking to a packed hall of 200 supporters where, to be honest, the average age hovered around AARP-eligible.

A year is a very long time in politics. It would be a mistake to underestimate Corbett's odds with his pro-business platform, fracking friends with deep pockets, and the political muscle of national conservative groups primed to negatively campaign against the eventual challenger.

Corbett's opening gambit, plastered on posters, is "Less Taxes. More Jobs." (The grammarian in me asks if it shouldn't be fewer.) Corbett won't levy state taxes - mind you, the stuff on fracking is a "fee" - leaving the loathsome task to Philadelphia and other local governments that are forced to make up the difference due to reduced funding.

However, Corbett has proven stellar in job creation: Eight Democrats - one short of fielding a baseball team - have announced their candidacy to unseat him.

For those folks keeping track, and I suspect few are, the current field offers three women, two residents of Montgomery County, one from Delaware County, and not one but two former state secretaries of environmental protection.

Given the March filing deadline, there is still plenty of time for candidates who might be former state secretaries of other departments or hail from the 60 counties unaccounted for.

Until May, when the Democratic candidate is chosen, Corbett appears to be running against Ed Rendell's legacy. His mantra is how he eliminated an inherited $4.2 billion deficit. "We don't want to make a change at the end of my term," Corbett said, "and go back to the policies of let's tax and let's tax and let's tax and let's spend."

The governor never mentioned his predecessor by name - this is Philadelphia, after all - but he is positioning himself as the anti-Rendell, a tactic that will attract little dissent. To balance the budget, Corbett defended his position of cutting education funding, which has made him unpopular not just in Philadelphia but in all Pennsylvania cities with troubled school districts.

"I'm still waiting for that third leg of the stool," he said of the teachers' union, which is operating without a contract. Corbett never mentioned the union by name and tactfully praised teachers. Most of the protesters were from an alliance of city-school advocates. A few of them carried moving boxes while a U-Haul truck circled Oxford and Rhawn Avenues with the sign "Send Corbett packing."

The governor told his supporters, "Newspapers don't get to see it, but I love to meet the people." A while later, as Corbett dashed from the American Legion hall past the throng to his black SUV, he briefly did.

215-854-2586 @kheller