According to the latest Rasmussen Reports' poll from Oct. 16, incumbent Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell holds a commanding 17-point lead over Republican challenger Lynn Swann, and things don't look to be improving for the former Steeler superstar.
The Republican Governor's Association recently announced that it will be targeting six governor races with a get-out-the-vote effort; Pennsylvania didn't make the cut.
At the beginning of the race, the contest looked to be one of the most competitive in the country. Well-liked and well-known former Superbowl champ Lynn Swann had a buzz about him, and Rendell was mired in the now-infamous legislative pay-raise debacle.
But a series of early gaffs wound up hurting Swann, and Rendell hasn't looked back since. "As candidates become better known, they start doing things that people don't like," said Professor Jack Treadway, chair of the political-science department at Kutztown University. He noted a major blunder when Swann admonished everyone to get out there and vote, while it later turned up that he himself hadn't been to the polls in years.
Treadway also said that a primary election would have given Swann the chance to work out the early miscues from his campaign. With other Republican hopefuls — former Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. William Scranton III and State Sen. Jeff Piccola — stepping aside, Swann didn't get even an iota of in-the-trenches experience. "He made all his mistakes in the general election," said Treadway.
And while Swann tried to regain his footing, the Rendell machine steamed forward with massive fundraising and advertising. Going into October, Rendell had an overwhelming $13.7 million on hand, compared with $3.7 million for Swann.
"I could see it getting worse, because [Swann's] going to run out of money," said Treadway.
Taxes Remain an Issue
While that late-night legislative pay-raise fiasco knocked out a number of state legislators during primary season, Rendell has avoided much of the consternation that Pennsylvanian directed at their representatives, despite the fact that he was the one who signed the pay raise into law.
The Swann campaign has focused much of its energy on tax policies, such as cutting corporate taxes.
Kenneth Davis, chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, said that "Pennsylvania is known throughout the country as a high-tax state."
He added that the state is losing ground because it's not seen as "business-friendly."
And the tax issue extends further than just the business community. Property taxes have long remained a prickly issue with voters in the Keystone state.
Said Davis: "I think the difficulty we have here is that property taxes have been neglected in Pennsylvania for so long that there's no fair system in place."
The Swann plan would shift the assessment of property taxes from the value of the property to the purchase price of a home, according to a campaign release. The statement also promised tax relief to every Pennsylvanian in the first year of a Swann administration.
Rendell spokesman Dan Fee said that the governor was the first to pass property-tax relief after five previous governors had attempted to do so. He added that the $1 billion from Rendell's plan would include relief for 200,000 Pennsylvania seniors next year. The plan is based around money from state-lottery funding, along with projected revenue from gaming.
State Sen. Andrew Dinniman, a Democrat, said he was pleased with the progress that has been made with property-tax reform, though he did acknowledge that work still exists on this issue. "The property tax still remains a burden on the backs of many people," he said, "including older people on fixed incomes."
While Swann pushes tax issues, Rendell is relying, in part, on his support for social-welfare causes.
On social issues, the Rendell administration has been very receptive, according to Robin Shatz, director of government affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. "They've been working very hard to make sure that those most in need are not adversely affected," she said.
She added that federal budget cuts to various social programs — made by the current Congress — have slighted state issues "that are impacting our most vulnerable citizens." Poverty, Medicare and Medicaid, and health insurance for children stand as prime components for the social welfare of Pennsylvania, as they would for any state, noted Shatz.
According to Treadway, Rendell's positive record highlights the considerable problem any challenger would face in a campaign against him. Rendell did use his money for advertising to tout his accomplishments, but Swann could only promise what he would do differently, without having any past policy experience to point to.
"There's nothing really concrete about challengers," he said.
The overwhelming national surge of support for Democrats in the past few months hasn't helped Swann either.
Concluded Treadway: "I think you have a lot of voters who are just looking to put some Democrats in office."