1970 figures prominently in GOP's 2014 prospects
HARRISBURG - The 2014 election may offer a new way to interpret two events that took place back in 1970.
That year is both the effective date of the constitutional changes that allowed Pennsylvania governors to seek re-election to a consecutive second term and the start of the modern era of legislative reapportionment.
Starting with the election of Gov. Milton Shapp in 1970, each of five governors elected since then has run for and won a second term. All these governors were presumed heavy favorites for re-election with one exception. In a development largely unforeseen but perhaps understandable in a recession year, Gov. Dick Thornburgh had a close win in 1982 over a lesser known challenger.
Unlike his two-term predecessors, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett moves closer to a re-election run in clear political jeopardy. His approval ratings are low, his legislative agenda is stymied in a GOP-controlled Legislature and he's in the midst of a major reshuffling of top aides.
A recent Franklin and Marshall College poll in May found just one in four (25 percent) voters believe Corbett performed sufficiently well to deserve re-election. The poll surveyed 526 registered voters between April 30 and May 5 with a margin of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
Those survey results appeared even before Corbett went 0 for 3 in winning legislative approval at the end of the spring session for transportation funding, liquor store privatization and public pension reform.
A looming question is what will happen to those GOP lawmakers on the ballot in 2014 if Corbett's low approval ratings persist and he's unable to score some major victories.
Will Corbett's candidacy exert a down-ticket drag? We may see the first test for this hypothesis in the months ahead.
The dynamics of reapportionment could come into play to help GOP candidates weather the storm, said Terry Madonna, Ph.D, who conducts the Franklin and Marshall poll.
The Legislative Reapportionment Commission was created in 1971 to redraw boundaries for state House and Senate district based on population shifts in the 1970 census. In the decades since, the commission dominated by lawmakers has tended to follow the preceding election results in terms of giving one party a registration advantage in districts.
The 2010 election was a blowout for Republicans in Pennsylvania.
Even though the state Supreme Court last year forced the commission to amend its original plan to lessen the number of split municipalities, the plan taking effect in 2014 is still seen as advantageous to GOP candidates.
However, the advantages of reapportionment could be undercut if turnout is low among Republican voters.
And many variables are in play including the name of the Democratic gubernatorial nominee.
Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, D-43, Pittsburgh, speculated last week that two women candidates in the Democratic field, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz and former state Environmental Secretary Kathleen McGinty, could make a strong challenge against Corbett given the interest in issues like education funding and same-sex marriage.
(Swift is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)