Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and Democratic challenger Tom Wolf traded familiar shots and battled to a draw in their final debate last night, at least as I saw it.
Corbett got the better of Wolf in the first two face-offs, I think, by summoning his skills as a trial lawyer and taking control of the conversation. Last night’s encounter at WTAE in Pittsburgh, co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters, had a more structured format. Each candidate was limited to one-minute responses, which ensured Wolf the chance to give uninterrupted answers. It also allowed the panel to cover a lot of ground
Wolf was at his best when he pointed to the need for change.
“We’re in dire straits,” Wolf said in his closing statement. “Our education system is awful. We’ve hollowed out our schools. Our economy isn’t functioning … the bond-rating agencies have downgraded us. We had to take a payday loan just to keep the lights on.”
Wolf was weakest when he again declined to offer specifics on his proposals to transform the state income tax and resolve the state’s pension funding problem.
Corbett was strongest when he said he’d followed the course he’d set for limited government and tax restraint, and when he whacked Wolf for not explaining his plans.
“Mr. Wolf wants to spend more money, we know that,” Corbett said. “The question is how much. He needs to tax more to get that money, but he won’t tell the people of Pennsylvania how much, nor will he tell them, right here, a few weeks from the election, how he’s going to do it. Whose taxes are going to go up? Whose taxes are going to go down?”
Points of agreement and contrast
The panel also managed to raise several specific issues that pointed up clear agreements and disagreements between the two candidates.
Merit selection of judges. Both agreed that appointing higher-ranking judges would be better than electing them.
Legalizing marijuana. Corbett opposes legalized recreational use and favors studying some medical uses. Wolf, who says we should “work quickly” to legalize medical use, would decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug.
Voter ID. Corbett says he still favors requiring a photo ID to vote “to ensure there’s one person, one vote.” Wolf opposes it, saying there’s no evidence of in-person voter fraud.
Cutting the size of the legislature. Wolf opposes it, Corbett favors it.
The death penalty. Corbett wants to keep it, saying it has a deterrent effect. Wolf says there should be a moratorium on executions, saying he’s “not convinced we’re dispensing justice fairly.”
One thing that didn’t come up was the latest flaplet over whether either candidate dodged service in the Vietnam war, and which should be offended by statements from the other side. There’s a good summary of that here.
The most recent Quinnipiac University poll shows Wolf leading Corbett by 17 points among likely voters. That’s an improvement from the 25-point gap in the September poll, but a big deficit to face four weeks from the election.