|PA Gov. Tom Corbett (left) will likely soon have much in common with fmr. PA Sen. Rick Santorum (right). Like Santorum, Republican Corbett looks poised to loose his statewide reelection bid in a big way. Photo on the right is courtesy of|
You almost have to feel sorry for Governor Tom Corbett (R) of Pennsylvania. After a near double-digit victory in 2010, he's trailed every potential Democratic challenger in every survey taken for the better part of eighteen months now.
And while a number of articles have been written about his deep unpopularity, none seem able to settle on a single reason as to why he is likely to lose his job this November. There's the argument that Corbett is simply too far right in a decidedly blue-leaning state. Or that unpopular education cuts have alienated moderates. Even lingering resentments over his involvement (or lack thereof) in the Sandusky/Paterno scandal has been implicated.
Whatever the reason, the data is clear - Gov. Corbett is the most vulnerable incumbent in the country, by a mile.
As noted in a previous post on this blog, out of a host of vulnerable incumbent governors and senators, Corbett is in the weakest polling position. His best polls since challenger Tom Wolf captured the Democratic nomination on May 20 came from a pair of consecutively released surveys finding him down eleven points, one of which was from a GOP polling firm.
Yes... an ELEVEN POINT deficit is the BEST Corbett has managed against Tom Wolf, and even those polls look like overly favorable outliers.
One PA Gov poll out Monday found Corbett down 54-33%. Less than two weeks before that, Quinnipiac University found him down 59-35%. The current Pollster average gives Tom Wolf a twenty-two point lead.
Is there anything Corbett can do to pull this one out, given the size of his polling deficit, and the amount of time left in the campaign? No, not if you consider incumbent Senate and Gubernatorial polling data from back to 2004.
According to the numbers, incumbents lose their jobs rarely enough. But it's exceedingly rare for them to lose them by the margin Corbett is poised to lose by this November. Even worse for Republicans, no senator or governor has managed to improve their September polling numbers to the extent Gov. Corbett would need to win, at least not dating back to 2004.
Consider 2012, for example. There were twenty-eight incumbent governors and senators that competed in their respective state's general election that November. Only one of them, Scott Brown, was defeated for re-election. But the head-to-head polling against Elizabeth Warren was nowhere near as panic-inducing as Corbett's has been thus far.
In 2010, there were thirty-six incumbent governors and senators that made it to their state's general election, and again, only FOUR of them were defeated. Russ Feingold and Ted Strickland suffered relatively narrow losses, while Iowa Governor Chet Culver fell even harder. Yet still, Gov. Culver's general election polling against Terry Branstad didn't look as bad as Corbett's, and his final result was actually an improvement from his September 2010 polling average.
During the 2008 Republican bloodbath, 38 incumbent governors and senators competed in that November's general election, and five of them lost. Among them, Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska didn't look terribly strong by the end of September 2008, but his polling numbers weren't as weak as Corbett's are now. And of course, Stevens went on to lose anyway. The same applied to Norm Coleman, John Sununu, Elizabeth Dole, and Gordon Smith - all incumbents with poor, but not terrible numbers in September, that went on to lose in November by varying degrees.
In 2006, fifty-six(!!) incumbent senators or governors faced challengers in the November general election, and only SEVEN lost. George Allen, Lincoln Chafee, Jim Talent, Conrad Burns, Mike DeWine, and Bob Ehrlich all failed to win re-election, and had smaller polling deficits to overcome than Corbett today.
Thirty-two incumbents governors and senators faced re-election in 2004, and only three lost - Governor Kernan of Indiana, Governor Benson of New Hampshire, and of course, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschule. All three's polling indicated they were better positioned than Corbett is today. All three lost anyway.
So as not to beat a point to death (too late, I know), consider the two past campaigns that are most similar to what the Corbett/Wolf contest looks like today.- fellow Pennsylvanian Rick Santorum in 2006, and Blanche Lincoln in 2010. Like Corbett, the signs of a tough re-election campaign appeared early for the Santorum campaign in their 2006 contest against Bob Casey (D). Like Corbett, Santorum rarely trailed Casey by less than double-digits. And of course, Santorum went on to lose in spectacular, historical fashion. In fact, his 59-41% defeat in 2006 is the second largest for any incumbent governor or senator since at least 2004, maybe longer.
The largest defeat belongs to the next closest comparison to the state of the Corbett/Wolf race . . . the Lincoln/Boozman battle of 2010. Like Santorum in 2006 and Corbett today, Lincoln just couldn't catch a break in her polling numbers. And like Santorum, the final result reflected that - she received an even more embarrassing 58-37% shellacking.
None of this is to say that because it has hasn't happened a single time since 2004 that it isn't possible for a sitting governor or senator to erase a twenty point polling deficit in the final 6 weeks of a campaign. But odds are odds, and they certainly seem heavily stacked against Corbett winning re-election.