- Associated Press - Thursday, September 11, 2014

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - With a new poll showing Republican Gov. Tom Corbett trailing Democratic challenger Tom Wolf by 24 points among voters likely to cast a ballot Nov. 4, Corbett says his campaign has struggled because he took on pension reform and other politically difficult issues in his first term.

The independent poll by Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University, released Thursday, is one of the first surveys of likely voters in the race. It showed Wolf with 59 percent support and Corbett with 35 percent.

The results were consistent with polls of registered voters that showed Wolf leading by similarly wide margins since he won the May primary.

Wolf, a wealthy businessman, consistently outpolled Corbett when respondents were asked which candidate would do a better job handling the issues of jobs, education, government spending and taxes. Fifty-four percent said they believe Wolf is honest and trustworthy; 43 percent said the same of Corbett.

Fifty-one percent of the Wolf supporters said their votes for governor were more anti-Corbett than pro-Wolf, while 62 percent of Corbett’s backers said their votes were more for Corbett than against Wolf.

“What’s Tom Corbett’s biggest problem? Tom Corbett,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

The poll surveyed 1,531 registered Pennsylvania voters in telephone interviews between Sept. 3 and Sept. 8 and, from that group, culled the 1,161 likely voters by asking if they intend to vote in November and analyzing their voting behavior, Malloy said. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Meanwhile, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Thursday that Corbett told its editorial board that he has suffered politically because he unsuccessfully took on issues that “no one else will touch,” including public pension reform, the privatization of wine and liquor sales and the management of the state lottery.

The governor said that, if re-elected, he would call lawmakers into special session early next year to renew his so-far-unsuccessful effort to rein in the cost of pensions for state and school employees.

Corbett called pension costs a “Pac-Man” that is gobbling up increasingly large shares of the state budget. He charged that Wolf is ducking the issue and that nothing will be done if he’s elected.

Wolf has said the pension problems are partly due to nearly a decade of underfunding by the state. Rather than further reducing pension benefits for future employees, as Corbett proposes, Wolf says a 2010 law reducing pension promises to new hires and refinancing existing obligations needs more time to work.

Republican activists said they believe the race is tighter than the poll indicates, less than two months before Election Day.

“It’s too early to call the race,” said Jim Roddey, Allegheny County’s Republican chairman.

But he acknowledged that “it’s certainly an uphill battle.”

Alan Novak, a former state Republican chairman, said he believes Corbett could pull off a surprise victory, but that negative TV ads may be the only effective strategy.

“In a race like this, you’ve got to make the alternative unacceptable” to voters, he said. On the other hand, “Tom Wolf has made himself hard to be a scary figure.”

Roddey said Corbett needs to shore up his support in central Pennsylvania and speculated that GOP opposition to Wolf’s call for shifting more of the income-tax burden onto the wealthy and levying a new tax on natural-gas production may energize the party’s base and boost turnout for Corbett.

He noted that no Democrat from Philadelphia, the hub of the state party’s support, is running for a major office. “I think that makes a big difference,” he said.

Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster released a poll last month giving Wolf a 25-point margin over Corbett among 520 registered voters. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

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