As the Richmond Flying Squirrels fought to overcome a seemingly insurmountable 7-0 deficit against the Altoona Curve on Thursday, Gov. Tom Corbett watched, hoping to do much the same.
The Republican governor, facing tough poll numbers against Democratic challenger Tom Wolf with the election three months away, pressed his accomplishments and challenged his opponents' strongest arguments at a $23-per-ticket Peoples Natural Gas Field fundraiser.
"It's time to get the message out," he said, fighting what he called the "basic lie" upon which Wolf has run: That Corbett cut $1 billion from public education in his first term, forcing districts to lay off teachers and raise taxes.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski)
Gov. Tom Corbett joins Altoona Curve Director of Communications Mike Passanisi in the broadcast booth during the Curve’s game with the Richmond Flying Squirrels Thursday evening.
It was kinder language than his running mate, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley has used, but Corbett has strained to tell voters he's not to blame for schools' financial struggles.
Federal stimulus money dried up at an inopportune time, he said Wednesday, and the state didn't raise taxes to make up for the loss. While school board members across the state have blamed Harrisburg for the local tax hikes that ensued, Corbett has in turn pointed to the specter of public pensions.
Education, already a key campaign issue, has become even more important in recent days as the Corbett campaign has more vigorously challenged the "$1 billion" accusation. It hasn't helped the Wolf campaign is calling for Corbett to dismiss Ron Tomalis, a special adviser on education who the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently revealed has shown limited activity for a nearly $140,000 salary.
"I did not spend campaign money until now on (education)," Corbett said, arguing that reporters have allowed the education-cuts argument to flourish by failing to explain the nuance of school finance. "That's the tone of their campaign: 'You cut funding to education.'"
Corbett instead led his remarks with economic news, including the state's shrinking unemployment rate and the arrival of new business. He hasn't gone unchallenged on those points - opponents have pointed to slower-than-average growth since the recession - but he hailed the state's economic improvement while promising to carry it forward in a second term.
Whether he'll get that second term isn't yet clear: Polls have consistently shown Wolf with a wide lead, and news outlets have repeatedly labeled Corbett among the most likely to lose in November, but recent polls have shown him possibly closing the gap to single digits.
Despite an uphill fight to retain his position, Corbett said he's not afraid to fight those in his own party as November approaches. A squabble with Republican senators doesn't appear to have fazed him, even with some, like Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, questioning his decision to cut into legislative funds as a challenge to handle ballooning pension costs.
Senate Republican leaders have hired an outside attorney to consider suing Corbett over his vetoes, which targeted lawmakers' spending, but which he appears to have carried out in a constitutional gray area.
"They're in the Legislature. I'm the executive. There's the difference," Corbett said. "I see a problem, I need to fix it."