Wolf holds on to lead despite Corbett’s final push

The final two weeks of the Pennsylvania governor’s race have had all the appearances of a high-profile, competitive contest.

The polls thus far would suggest otherwise.

But heavy hitters in the political world are still showing up to campaign. On behalf of Democratic challenger Tom Wolf, former President Bill Clinton appeared in Pittsburgh on Monday, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul endorsed Gov. Tom Corbett at a luncheon on Friday.

To top it all off, President Barack Obama is scheduled to appear for Wolf on Sunday in Philadelphia.

The race between Corbett and Wolf has been one of the nation’s most expensive governor’s races despite being a rout in the polls.

Corbett and Wolf have raised a total of $55.4 million as of Oct. 24, just $2 million shy of the Pennsylvania record. In 2002, Gov. Ed Rendell and opponent Mike Fisher, the state attorney general at the time, raised $57.4 million, according to The National Institute on Money in State Politics.

With a comfortable lead in the polls for months, Wolf has been advising caution against an early coronation.

“It’s important not to rest. It’s not over yet,” he told a small crowd Wednesday in Bloomsburg, 30 miles west of Hazleton along Interstate 80, according to media reports. “Some of you were nice enough to call me governor, but I’m not governor yet.”

The gap between Corbett and Wolf in the polls has been narrowing as more Republicans have declared their support for Corbett.

“I think it’s closed largely because the governor's focus on taxes has resonated with a number of voters,” said Christopher Borick, a professor of political science at Muhlenberg College.

In the Oct. 29 Franklin & Marshall College [F&M] poll, 66 percent of Republicans said they now support Corbett, up from 48 percent in August.

The F&M poll showed Wolf with a 50-43 lead based on a model of historically likely voters from the past five general elections. This model shows a slightly closer race than one based on self-identified likely voters that makes Wolf a 53-40 favorite.

Terry Madonna, director of the F&M poll, said there may be lower turnout this year than previous midterm elections, which could make the margin of victory dependent on which party has a better turnout on Election Day.

Madonna said there was a 49 percent turnout in 2006, a 46 percent turnout in 2010 and that he and his colleagues are predicting a 44 percent turnout this year. But it could be even lower.

“I wouldn’t be stunned if it dropped to 40 percent,” he said.

To make their final cases to voters and spur turnout, each candidate had about $3 million left to spend going into the final two weeks of the election, according to the last filing report from Oct. 20. Wolf has spent more than $1 million of it on TV ads during the final week of the election, and Corbett has spent nearly $700,000, according to Federal Communications Commission filings.

Raising money down the stretch

Despite being behind in the polls, Corbett’s ability to fundraise over the past month hasn’t dropped off. Wolf only outraised Corbett $3.3 million to $2.9 million during the fifth filing cycle, which covered Sept. 16 to Oct. 20.

Madonna was not surprised that Corbett has maintained his fundraising.

“The business community is solidly behind him, unwaveringly so,” he said. “I think they understand the stakes.”

In total, Wolf has raised $31.5 million compared to $23.9 million for Corbett, as of Oct. 24. Neither candidate will likely come close to the record $43.7 million Rendell raised in 2002.

Most of Corbett’s largest recent contributions have come from the Republican establishment.

The Republican Party of Pennsylvania gave Corbett just more than $300,000 in October.

Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley’s campaign committee, Friends of Jim Cawley, gave the Corbett campaign $125,000. The Northeast PA Leadership Fund gave Corbett $65,000.

One notable absence from the recent filings was Corbett’s largest donor during this election, the Republican Governors Association. Its last contribution to Corbett was on Sept. 10.

Labor unions continued to support Wolf. His largest contributor from the fifth filing cycle was the Carpenters PAC of Philadelphia and Vicinity, which gave $152,000.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 PAC gave Wolf $110,000. The International Association of Fire Fighters and the Pennsylvania State Education Association PAC each gave $100,000.

Wolf also received a first-time contribution of $100,000 from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Nationwide, Bloomberg has been the second-largest individual donor during this election, according to The Center for Responsive Politics. He’s contributed more than $12 million to federal candidates, parties and political-action committees.

Other than Wolf himself, his largest contributor is M. Thomas Grumbacher, chairman of the board of Bon-Ton department stores. He gave Wolf another $150,000 in October, bringing his total contribution to $2.3 million.

Wolf’s $10 million contribution to his own campaign means that he will likely remain his own top contributor.

A narrowing lead in the polls

Less than a week before the election, Wolf leads 53-40 among likely voters polled by F&M, but Madonna and Borick predict a slightly closer margin on Election Day based on historical data.

Education and taxes, along with the economy, have been the most important issues in the governor’s race.

Madonna, the poll’s director, said these have been omnipresent themes in the election for months, with Corbett defending his record on education spending and attacking Wolf for proposing a tax hike.

In October, Corbett had a 30 percent approval rating, up from 24 percent in August. But his approval rating is still lower than Ed Rendell’s approval rating in November 2006 when he was re-elected.

The F&M poll was conducted from Oct. 20 to Oct. 26 and polled 738 registered Pennsylvania voters. The poll’s margin of error is 3.4 percentage points.

Looking beyond the governor’s race, F&M predicts no overwhelming victory for either party.

“These electoral indicators show no clear advantage for either party compared to these prior elections,” according to F&M. “Pessimism about the direction of the state is greater than 2006, but about the same as 2010.”

Tracking TV ads

Since July 1, PublicSource has been tracking the political ads by the Corbett and Wolf campaigns on the four major networks (NBC, FOX, ABC, CBS) in Pennsylvania’s six TV markets.

While Corbett spent $1.7 million on TV ads during the general election before Wolf spent a dime, it’s been Wolf who has outspent Corbett in the past two months.

Wolf has spent $6.9 million and Corbett has spent $4.9 million since Sept. 1.

“It still shows you the importance of traditional media,” Borick said. The average voter in this election will be in his or her 50s, he said, so both campaigns can still use the tried-and-true tactic of spending lots of money on TV ads.

For the entire election, Corbett still maintains a slight lead over Wolf in TV ad spending. As of Oct. 31, Corbett has spent $9.25 million and Wolf has spent nearly $9.1 million. However, all of the files for the final week of election ads haven’t been published by the TV stations as of press time.

Reach Eric Holmberg at 412-315-0266 or at eholmberg@publicsource.org. Follow him on Twitter @holmberges.