As debate approaches, is Corbett surging?

     Democrat Tom Wolf and Republican Gov. Tom Corbett speak during the first gubernatorial debate Sept. 22 in Hershey, Pennsylvania. (Matt Rourke/AP Photos)

    Democrat Tom Wolf and Republican Gov. Tom Corbett speak during the first gubernatorial debate Sept. 22 in Hershey, Pennsylvania. (Matt Rourke/AP Photos)

    Tom Corbett squares off against Democrat Tom Wolf in the second debate of the Pennsylvania governor’s race Wednesday morning on KYW Newsradio.

    And in a campaign that’s gone pretty badly for Corbett, the opportunity comes when there are a few encouraging signs for the governor.

    Several independent polls have showed Corbett trailing Wolf by well over 20 points. But a Mercyhurst University poll,the first since Corbett’s strong showing at last week’s debate, showed the margin at 15 points — at least moving in the right direction for the governor.

    Franklin & Marshall College political scientist Stephen Medvic said he’s not surprised to see the race tighten a bit.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    “But still, five weeks out, to be down 15 or 20 points means that the governor has to make up three to four points a week to make this race close, and that’s a tall order I think,” Medvic said.

    The Corbett campaign has a new ad poking fun at Wolf. In it, actors comment on what they say are Wolf’s tax plans.

    “It says here Tom Wolf is going to raise the income tax on middle-class families. It’s about time somebody does,” says a guy at a dining room table.

    “I’m working two jobs now. There’s no reason I can’t find a third one,” says a man behind a counter.

    The Wolf campaign says that’s dead wrong, that his proposal to make the state income tax more progressive will cut taxes for lower- and middle-income families. But when Corbett challenged him for more details at last week’s debate, Wolf said he didn’t have the figures to calculate a specific rate. That response earned him a scolding editorial from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    Muhlenberg College political scientist Christopher Borick said Corbett has an opening to exploit.

    “I really believe the biggest opportunity now for Gov. Corbett is to raise doubts about Tom Wolf and his tax plan,” Borick said. “And, to be honest, Tom Wolf has remained very vague. His statements on taxes and a possible change in the tax code are somewhat vacuous.”

    Seeking the specifics

    I called the Wolf campaign to ask what figures Wolf needs to be more specific about his plan, noting that Chris Comisac of the website Capitolwire had managed to analyze the potential impact of the kind of changes in Wolf’s proposal using 2012 tax data available from the state revenue department.

    Wolf campaign spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said he couldn’t say what figures specifically Wolf was referring to, but noted that Wolf’s income tax proposal (to give a uniform exemption to a portion of everybody’s income and raise the rate, making it more progressive) was just one part of a plan that had several elements, including a gas extraction tax and corporate tax reform.

    Sheridan said Wolf also didn’t know what the fiscal condition of the state would be when he takes office, which makes specific needs hard to calculate. He did say that Wolf regards the approximate higher end of the middle-class income for an individual to be $70,000 to $90,000, and $140,000 to $180,000 for a married couple.

     Meanwhile there’s a titillating news story the Wolf campaign is doing its best to take advantage of — the revelation that some state officials, including three Corbett appointees, traded pornographic emails.

    Medvic doubts many voters will blame Corbett for the actions of adults in his employ, but he said the story distracts from the governor’s messaging at a time he needs to make up ground. And he said it could matter in another way.

    “If it gives people the sense that state government’s just not working, just in general, it’s another thing that makes people a little sour on the current administration, and, in that sense, it’s really not good for the governor,” Medvic said.

    There’s was a consensus among observers that Corbett was more forceful and specific in the candidates’ first debate. Expect Wolf to try to reverse that this time.

    The debate starts at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning at the studios of KYW.

    It will air live on KYW radio and be streamed live on its website.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal