It’s all about Ohio. Win the Buckeye State, win the White House. Very true, especially for Mitt Romney, since no Republican has won without it. But Ohio is only kingmaker by default. Its 18 electoral votes wouldn’t be needed if Romney could win Ohio’s larger neighbor—Pennsylvania, with its 20 electors.
This was eminently achievable, until two men severely diminished hope for delivering the Keystone State: Jerry Sandusky and Republican Governor Tom Corbett.
Make no mistake: Pennsylvania should have been a lock for the GOP. The fact that it has not voted Republican for president since 1988 is misleading. When there is a solid candidate, Pennsylvania is always in play. Ronald Reagan won Pennsylvania twice, and George H.W. Bush took it in ’88.
In 2010, GOP Governor Tom Corbett rode to victory with a massive 10-point margin. Conservative Pat Toomey was elected U.S. senator, and Republicans gained control of the State House in historic fashion, smashing the Democrats and taking a 10-seat majority. The State Senate remained solidly Republican—as it has for three decades.
So why is it likely that Romney will lose the Pennsylvania prize?
Enter Corbett and Sandusky.
The most worthless commodities in politics are endorsements. Party leaders endorsing their own is expected, swaying no one. And celebrities choosing sides only makes for good cocktail talk. Romney doesn’t benefit from Clint Eastwood, nor Obama from Bruce Springsteen.
But while endorsements don’t sell, popularity does.
If a leader possesses a bold vision—and the ability to articulate ideas in a common sense, bipartisan way—he will have followers from the entire political spectrum. New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie is the best example.
While no single Republican could swing Jersey to Romney, that feat should have been in the bag in much more Republican Pennsylvania. If Christie could rack up wins in The People’s Republic of New Jersey, gaining immense popularity, how could Corbett not deliver Pennsylvania?
Because after the first year of his administration, when virtually nothing was accomplished, Corbett’s own legislators nicknamed him “Christie-lite.” And after the second year, with an even more startling lack of achievements, the nicknames became unprintable.
We’re not talking about a failed extreme right-wing agenda, but common-sense ideas—dismantling the largest state-controlled liquor system, solving the state’s massive pension crisis, giving state union workers a contract in line with private sector employees—that Corbett promised but didn’t come close to delivering, despite holding all the cards.
Then there was his handling of sexual predator Jerry Sandusky.
Corbett’s attempt to steal the national limelight at Penn State news conferences by portraying himself as the savior who took down Sandusky rapidly backfired. Instead, his decisions in that case (he was the investigating attorney general) grew into a firestorm that continues to explode.
No one is buying Corbett’s claims that he didn’t play politics with the Sandusky investigation. A whopping 69 percent of Pennsylvanians don’t view Corbett favorably, making him the nation’s least popular governor. And a miniscule 17 percent think he handled the Sandusky investigation well.
If Corbett had been just a fraction of Chris Christie, and had run the Sandusky investigation properly, Mitt Romney wins Pennsylvania hands down.
Instead, because of Corbett’s toxicity, Romney was forced to focus on Ohio, which he will likely lose, and with it, the White House.
But that may be the least of Corbett’s troubles. Kathleen Kane is poised to become the first elected Democratic attorney general in Pennsylvania history. If elected, Kane promises an intense review of the Sandusky investigation, with no hesitation to charge anyone—including the Governor—should improprieties be uncovered.
And who thought politics wouldn’t be interesting after this election?