One down, two to go – debates offer few contrasts between Corbett and Onorato

    Republican Tom Corbett and Democrat Dan Onorato met in Dauphin County Monday night in the first debate in the race for governor of Pennsylvania. Though the candidates spent the night launching attacks, few details or differences emerged between them.

    The first debate between Republican Tom Corbett and Democrat Dan Onorato grew testy at times last night.

    But for the most part, the two candidates stayed on script, and hammered home the arguments they’ve been making on the campaign trail for more than a year now.

    Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato never veered far from his stump speech last night, repeating well-worn stock lines about how he’d lower taxes, make Pennsylvania’s regulatory environment more business friendly, and ensure the state’s students are getting the jobs training they need.

    Onorato said voters can trust him in the governor’s mansion.

    “I’m the only candidate running for governor that actually has to balance a budget every year,” he said.  “I run the second-largest county, and I’ve been doing it for seven years. And I’ve presented seven balanced budgets, and never raised property taxes in seven years.”

    Corbett argued Onorato was leaving out the other side of the story, though.

    “When he talks about not raising the property tax in Allegheny County, he’s absolutely correct,” Corbett said. “But what he leaves out is that he has created the single largest tax increase in the history of Allegheny County, in order to balance a budget, when it came to the Port Authority.”

    Corbett was referring to a tax on alcoholic drinks and car rentals.

    Onorato fired back in his next answer, saying Corbett’s record doesn’t line up with his rhetoric.

    “Tom’s the one who signed the no tax pledge, and changed the definition three times in the last month,” he said. “Tom’s saying he’s going to cut state government. He’s asked for an increase every year in his budget. Tom said he’s going to reduce the cars. His fleet went up. They’re facts.”

    The two men played up their own experience and dismissed their opponent’s, each trying to frame himself as an outsider, while attempting to paint the other as a career politician.

    The debate was hosted by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, so many of moderator Ted Koppel’s questions focused on topics like tort reform, unemployment compensation, and whether or not to allow lawyers to argue for damage amounts in lawsuits.

    At times, it was hard to tell which candidate was which.

    Onorato didn’t sound like the Rendell 2.0 Republicans have tried to frame him as, when he argued for lower taxes and level spending.

    Corbett also made the case for fiscal responsibility.

    “The last two budgets that we had were made up on a wing and a prayer on estimates of receiving money from tolling Interstate 80 two years ago,” Corbett said. “And this year, that we would receive X amount of money for Medicare. And we received $250 million less than that.”

    Onorato, who trails Corbett in both polling and fundraising, spent much of the summer trying to needle his Republican opponent into agreeing to more than a dozen debates.

    Corbett’s campaign never bit, so last night’s event was the first of just three forums.

    The two candidates stayed true to their roles of underdog and favorite after the debate, when Onorato came out and held an impromptu press conference for seven minutes, while Corbett slipped away without answering any questions.

    The two men will debate in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia over the next few weeks.

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