GOP endorsement the easy part for Corbett campaign

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Gov. Tom Corbett is poised to receive a re-election endorsement from the Republican State Committee this weekend, but that does not necessarily mean the party is united behind him.

As Corbett begins his fourth year as governor, his support remains stubbornly weak even within his own party. Fewer than half of Pennsylvania’s 3 million Republican voters think he deserves a second term, a Franklin & Marshall College poll released Thursday said.

Conservative Republicans and tea party activists are resentful over, among other things, Corbett’s newly signed $2.3 billion transportation funding program because it violates his 2010 campaign pledge not to raise taxes or fees.

Sensing the governor’s vulnerability, eight candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination in the May 20 primary.

No one is expected to challenge Corbett for the Republican Party endorsement when the state committee gathers Saturday in Hershey.

The only potential GOP primary opponent to emerge so far is conservative activist Bob Guzzardi, a businessman from the Philadelphia suburb of Ardmore who is considered a long shot. Guzzardi is a vocal critic not only of Corbett but the state GOP establishment.

“I am not going to compete for the endorsement,” he said. “The endorsement would be the kiss of death for me.”

Business groups and other Corbett allies portray him as a results-oriented but publicly reticent chief executive who helped lead the high-stakes transportation funding fight, erased a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall in 2011 without raising taxes, delivered three on-time budgets and promoted policies that spurred development of Pennsylvania’s vast natural-gas industry.

“There’s a good story there,” said Sam Denisco, vice president of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

They predict Corbett’s popularity will surge as he works with the GOP majorities in the Legislature to advance his election-year agenda and can focus on a single Democratic opponent after the primary.

History is on his side too: in the four decades since Pennsylvania governors have been allowed to succeed themselves, none has been denied a second term.

“His problem is not one of policy … it’s one of poor messaging,” said Kevin Shivers, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. “This governor is a doer. He gets things done and moves to the next challenge.”

Pennsylvania Republican Party Chairman Rob Gleason said Corbett is not a publicity seeker.

“He’s a conservative, steady, honest man, and he always has been,” Gleason said.

Corbett’s conservative detractors said they were offended by his signing the transportation bill, which is gradually increasing gasoline taxes at the wholesale level and imposing a range of motor-vehicle fees to generate the new revenue.

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