If polls are right and Democrat Tom Wolf is really 13 points ahead of incumbent Tom Corbett in the Pennsylvania governor’s race, the Republican’s only hope is to get a huge margin in turnout, and that works pretty much only if Philadelphia, by far the state’s strongest Democratic stronghold, is a bust.
And that’s one big reason why the Wolf campaign is bringing President Obama in for a rally in North Philadelphia Sunday. While the president’s overall approval numbers are in the toilet, he’s still wildly popular among black voters.
Mike Barley, Corbett’s campaign manager, told me the Democrats are taking “a very big calculated risk” by standing the president next to Wolf.
“They are hoping that they can tap into the enthusiasm in parts of Philadelphia where he still might be popular,” Barley said. “Conversely, the fact that he’s coming in to Philadelphia to campaign for Tom Wolf, and that close association that will exist there serves as a get-out-the-vote tool for us in the rest of the state.”
If there were any doubt about the Republicans’ intent to exploit the Wolf-Obama connection, check out Corbett’s latest TV ad (above) in which an announcer says Wolf “may just be Barack Obama’s biggest fan,” and that he shares Obama’s “radical agenda.”
That ad is running in every media market in the state — except Philadelphia.
There are one million more Democrats that Republicans in Pennsylvania, but historically Democratic turnout lags behind the GOP, especially in off-year elections. Wolf is charging around the state on a bus tour, holding get-out-the-vote rallies. Campaign spokesman Jeff Sheridan said as of bedtime Thursday, Wolf will have clocked in 28 events over the past week.
What kind of enthusiasm is there in Philadelphia’s African-American community for this election?
I spoke to Maurice Floyd, a veteran Philadelphia political consultant with experience in the city’s black wards. He told me there is enthusiasm for Tuesday’s election — less for Wolf, than against the incumbent.
“It’s more or less voting against Corbett than anything else,” Floyd said. “I think when you talk to folks, that’s exactly the note that they’re talking about. We just need a change.”
City Councilwoman Marian Tasco, who heads the high-performing 50th Ward in Northwest Philadelphia, agreed there’s intense anger at Corbett about school funding, but said her people are warming to Wolf.
There’s one other wrinkle to the Philadelphia turnout story. The Wolf campaign isn’t writing checks to Democratic ward leaders to help fund their field efforts on Election Day.
These payments, known as “street money,” have historically been the way candidates stoke enthusiasm among the roughly 3,000 Democratic committeepeople in the city. There is some grumbling in the ranks about that, but Floyd said he thinks Democratic foot soldiers will deliver anyway.
“They’re not going to quit because the Wolf organization has not delivered so-called street money,” he said. “They’re going to go out and do exactly what is expected of them because that’s they’re elected to do, and they’re going to do it.”
Finally, here’s a potential wild card in the picture: It’s possible SEPTA’s city transit division will go on strike next week. That would disrupt the lives of Philadelphia voters who rely on buses, trolleys and subways to get around while leaving the state’s other 66 counties (and the suburban regional rails) mostly unaffected.