In it, but not of it. TPM DC

GOPers Hope That Messy PA Dem Primary Will Save Embattled Corbett

AP Photo / Matt Rourke

On Monday Rep. Allyson Schwartz, one of four candidates in the primary, became the last of the bunch to begin airing ads in the primary. That ended a period in which businessman Tom Wolf, which recent polls generally show as the frontrunner, dominated the airwaves with campaign ads.

But Wolf doesn't have the race locked up. Schwartz, for example, is the favorite of prominent liberal-leaning outside groups like EMILY's List and has reported raising $6.5 million while state Treasurer Rob McCord has said he raised a similar $6.6 million. The final candidate in the race, former Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection Kathleen McGinty, meanwhile, said she raised $2.4 million in 2013. Observers say the Democratic primary is really a three-way-race between McCord, Wolf, and Schwartz with no end in sight.

The candidates are also struggling to differentiate themselves while also avoiding attack openings their competitors are hoping to exploit. McCord, for instance, has had to defend his record as a businessman in response to new questions about outsourcing. Wolf also has had to face some negative scrutiny over his business dealings as well.

"By proving too incompetent to deliver on his priorities, gutting funding for K-12 and higher education, and staking out extreme positions on women's health and gay rights, Governor Corbett has alienated Pennsylvanians across the ideological spectrum in a way that would make even his deeply unpopular Republican colleagues blush," Democratic Governors Association deputy communications director Sabrina Singh told TPM.

The Democratic gubernatorial candidates offstage at a PA College Democrats debate (AP Photo/The Philadelphia Inquirer, Tom Gralish).

Democrats are quick to note that Corbett's poll numbers are remarkably low. A January Franklin & Marshall College poll found 23 percent of voters in the state think Corbett deserves re-election, including 42 percent of Republicans. A Quinnipiac earlier this year found Corbett's approval at 36 percent.

"It's a contested primary but Corbett's numbers are at best high 20s. Whoever comes out of that primary will be in a fantastic position to defeat Corbett. I have no doubt about that," A Democratic party official told TPM. "I don't think a contested primary really matters. Each candidate will have plenty of money. Wolf obviously has a ton of money right now. Schwartz is up on t.v. and most likely will be up on t.v. until late May when the primary is and so we'll see if her t.v. ads affect her poll numbers or if Wolf's poll numbers were just soft and McCord or Schwartz kind of take the lead but I think anybody that comes out of that primary will be able to defeat Corbett."

The reason there are still four candidates in the race with no de facto nominee (yet) is because Democrats see a strong opportunity to win the seat, Schwartz press secretary Mark Bergman told TPM.

"Democrats sense a real opportunity to get this state back on track," Bergman noted that at one point there were almost a dozen Democratic candidates running in the primary.

Corbett's campaign is hoping that the longer the primary stays divided, the better the governor's chances are of ending the bleeding and possibly eking out a win. There's also the creeping chance that the longer the primary drags on, the harder it will be for Corbett and his team to form an effective message around who the nominee will be. For the moment, Corbett's campaign seems to be focused on reintroducing the senator, especially on economic issues and letting the Democrats duke it out in the primary.

It's hard to tell who even will get the nomination at this point, Republican strategist John Brabender, who is advising the Corbett campaign told TPM. Brabender served as the chief adviser to former Sen. Rick Santorum's (R-PA) 2012 presidential campaign.

"This reminds me a little bit of the presidential primaries out there in 2012," Brabender said. "How many times did people say 'it's going to be Herman Cain. It's going to be this person, it's going to be that person' well as you saw none of it matters until you got really close to the Iowa caucus and people got to really scrutinize the candidates and make up their mind."