- Associated Press - Friday, January 31, 2014

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.

Guzzardi said Corbett’s support for the measure amounted to “an arrogant breaking of the promise” he made when he signed the no-new-taxes pledge promoted by Washington-based Americans for Tax Reform days before the state committee endorsed him in 2010. Later in that campaign, he expanded the promise to include fees.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, a leading conservative in the Legislature, said he signed the group’s pledge 15 years ago. “The governor signed the same pledge and he broke it in three years,” he said.

Beth Roberts, a leader of the 1,100-member York 912 Patriots, cited the transportation bill and what she described as Corbett’s efforts to coerce state committee members into endorsing his choice for the 2012 U.S. Senate nomination as reasons she opposes his re-election. Corbett’s favorite, entrepreneur Steve Welch, finished third in a five-way primary.

Roberts, a state committee member from Dover, said she hopes to vote for Guzzardi in November but, if his name is not on the ballot, “maybe I’m writing in Bozo the Clown.”

Matthew Brouillette, president and CEO of the Harrisburg-based anti-tax group the Commonwealth Foundation, puts the odds of Corbett being re-elected at 50-50. He said Corbett’s success hinges largely on whether he can overcome his discomfort with the crossfire of a political campaign.

“He’s not your typical politician and you need a politician to win a political race,” he said. “While he’s done a number of good things, you can’t win a political race without being political.”

David Patti, president and CEO of the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Business Council, which has endorsed Corbett, said he doesn’t believe large numbers of conservative Republicans are so disenchanted that they would withhold their votes in November.

“For most of them, when push comes to shove, they’re going to be realistic and pragmatic enough” to vote for Corbett, he said.

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