Gov. Tom Corbett launched his campaign for a second term Wednesday, yanking the spotlight from a growing list of Democrats who want his job and portraying himself as a business-minded executive who made tough, but necessary decisions as he took charge of a financially troubled state government.
The Republican ex-prosecutor appeared before about 100 supporters at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, his home base, and repeatedly drummed on the theme that he kept his 2010 campaign promise of more jobs and less taxes despite the difficulties.
“We kept that promise, and today we are adding one more line: Promises kept,” Corbett said during a 35-minute speech after Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, Corbett's wife Susan and several others warmed up the crowd. “I tell you what I'm going to do.”
Later, Corbett flew to northeastern Pennsylvania for an afternoon rally in Pittston at a construction company that specializes in pipelines. He was to appear Thursday morning at an American Legion Post in northeast Philadelphia and at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Montgomery County that afternoon. In the following days, he is scheduled to appear at campaign events in West Chester, Allentown, Doylestown, Lancaster, York, Hershey and Erie.
Still, Corbett is making his 2014 bid official at a time even some party elders are questioning whether he can turn around his lackluster popularity and erase the memory of insensitive blunders and ideological fights, such as a tougher voter identification law and much-criticized budget-balancing cuts to spending on public schools and universities.
After two-and-a-half years of governing as a conservative, Corbett is moving to the middle on transportation and health care policy issues. On Friday, he also invoked the memory of a stalwart Republican moderate -- the late U.S. Sen. John Heinz of Pittsburgh -- as his inspiration to seek elected office.
On the campaign trail, Corbett will stress his efforts to shrink the size of government, instill fiscal discipline, cut business taxes and improve the business climate. To be sure, the former state attorney general and U.S. attorney has battled recession-wracked state government finances, public employee labor unions and spiking pension costs.
He took over in 2011 as the economy was bouncing back, if slowly, from the recession and enjoyed the benefits of a Legislature that is controlled by his fellow Republicans. After campaigning as a corruption-busting attorney general in 2010, Corbett has run a scandal-free administration while keeping a low profile and priding himself on making decisions that may not be popular, but ones he views as right.
“So Pennsylvania, if you're looking for a politician or elected official who takes the path of least resistance, allows the latest poll to drive decisions or accepts ‘no’ for an answer, then I'm not your candidate,” he told the crowd.
Corbett has history on his side: No sitting Pennsylvania governor has lost a bid for a second term in the nearly 40 years since governors have been permitted to seek re-election. He faces no primary battle, but his historically low polling numbers are attracting a large field of Democrats to seek the party's nomination including state treasurer Rob McCord and U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz.
Corbett remains wounded by criticism that he is politically tone deaf, his administration is clumsy and that he balanced the budget on the backs of public schools and the poor.
However, Corbett enjoys rock-solid popularity with many business groups and the booming natural gas exploration industry, which are expected to help him finance a juggernaut campaign. He also has kept faith with social conservatives by defending the state's law banning recognition of same-sex marriage and signing laws to toughen regulations for abortion clinics and voter ID requirements.
Outside Corbett's event, several dozen protesters wore white shirts bearing the phrase “One-Term Tom” and carrying signs protesting education spending cuts.
Inside, Maggie Jayson, a 64-year-old Pittsburgh real estate agent, said she unwaveringly supports Corbett for his focus on limiting government spending and helping businesses grow.
“I think he's been very meticulous in doing what he set out to do,” Jayson said. “God bless him.”