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Local News

January 30, 2014

Corbett primary challenger touts new poll

HARRISBURG — Bob Guzzardi doesn’t think the Republican Party should let Tom Corbett lose the governor’s mansion, so he’s putting together a campaign to challenge him in the primary.

The Philadelphia businessman is emboldened by a new poll that, he said, shows just how vulnerable Corbett might be.

“If his numbers were good,” said Guzzardi, “I wouldn’t be doing this.”

The first-term governor, in the meantime, appears to be looking past Guzzardi and toward a Democratic opponent in the fall.

Gravis Marketing, a Florida-based company, asked Republicans who  they would vote for in a primary matchup between Corbett and Guzzardi. The governor came out ahead 42 to 23 percent, but more than one-third said they were unsure.

“I’m nobody,” Guzzardi said. “All’s they know is that I’m not a Democrat and I’m not Tom Corbett.”

Guzzardi, an attorney and real estate developer, has been a reform-minded activist since the midnight pay raise of 2005. He most prominently supported the campaigns of Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, and Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair.

In Eichelberger’s case, Guzzardi paid for polls showing that then-Senate President Pro Tem Robert Jubelirer could be beaten. Eichelberger, a Blair County commissioner at the time, proved the polls right in the 2006 primary before going on to victory over a Democrat that fall.

Though Corbett has performed poorly in polls, he’s managed to keep party support. He has received endorsements from the three former Republican governors – Dick Thornburgh, Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker – as well as the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey.

The state GOP and national Republican Governors Association also are backing him.

Guzzardi said he’s not focused on endorsements. Right now, he’s just trying to build enough of an organization to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot.

“I speak for the forgotten taxpayer,” he said. “I want to give the GOP base an alternative.”

That message hasn’t gotten out yet.

Robert Lebda, of Lewisburg, Union County, who helped found the Susquehanna Valley Conservatives, said he wasn’t aware that Guzzardi was even trying to mount a credible challenge. “I thought he was just trying to make a statement,” Lebda said.

Lebda said he thinks Corbett has done all right, considering the budgetary challenges. “He was dealt a bad hand,” he said.

Guzzardi is less magnanimous and focuses his attacks on Corbett’s support for a transportation funding plan that has increased the gas tax, as well as an impact fee on gas drilling companies.

The transportation plan was unnecessary, Guzzardi said. A study that suggested billions in highway spending was driven by engineering companies, contractors and unions, he said.

Rather than force drivers to pay for increased spending, he said, the state Department of Transportation ought to have changed priorities.

An impact fee for drilling, he said, is a euphemism for a tax and violates Corbett’s campaign pledge not to raise taxes.

Despite Guzzardi’s criticism and the poll he touts, Corbett probably has little reason to worry about the potential primary challenger, said G. Terry Madonna, a professor of political science at Franklin & Marshall College.

Instead, Madonna said, the governor should focus on polls showing him trailing the Democrats most likely to run against him this fall.

“I think Corbett ought to ignore Guzzardi,” Madonna said.

Billy Pitman, a Corbett campaign spokesman, seemed to suggest that’s the strategy.

“At the end of day, we expect the governor will be the nominee,” said Pitman. “Then we can work to contrast his record with whoever runs for the Democrats.”

Madonna said Corbett’s biggest concern over Guzzardi should be whether his attacks dissuade Republicans from showing up this fall. They won’t vote for a Democrat, he said, but they might stay home.

“Corbett needs to unite his base, then he needs to appeal to the moderates,” Madonna said.

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