Saturday, September 23, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Should we call off the election?

Two new polls show Gov. Ed Rendell holds a commanding lead over GOP challenger Lynn Swann as the race for Pennsylvania governor enters the homestretch.

With about six weeks to go, Swann trails Rendell in one poll by 28 percentage points. Another poll shows Rendell ahead of Swann by an 18-point margin.

Maybe we should just call off the Nov. 7 election and declare Rendell the winner.

A funny thing about polls. They can be wrong. John Kerry was ahead in the polls in the 2004 presidential campaign every day in 2004. He was ahead of George W. Bush on Election Day. Even the exit polls had Kerry winning the presidency and you'd think people would have no qualms telling pollsters who they voted for after they had cast their ballots. Then the real election results started coming in. George Bush was elected president by 2 million votes.

Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to write off Lynn Swann. Maybe we should give Pennsylvania voters a chance to pick their next governor before we start making plans for Rendell's re-election party.

Something called the Keystone Poll shows Rendell leading Republican Lynn Swann 52 percent to 34 percent — with 14 percent undecided. Another poll, the IssuesPA/Pew survey, has Rendell so far ahead in the race, Swann needs to call a taxi to catch up. Rendell is ahead 58 percent to 30 percent, and 11 percent undecided, according to the IssuesPA/Pew poll.

Commenting on the IssuesPA/Pew poll, Swann campaign spokesman Leonardo Alcivar told the Associated Press, "We don’t believe this poll." Well, that settles it. Not surprisingly, the Rendell camp was ecstatic about the latest polls.

Campaign spokesman Dan Fee told the AP, Rendell was "gratified to know that voters are responding so strongly to the governor's record of achievement."

I don't get paid to say nice things about the governor or pretend he's doing a good job, so I'm having a hard time understanding Rendell's big lead in the polls.

Any impartial review of Rendell's record shows that he has been a terrible governor. Yet it appears Rendell will coast to reelection.

Never mind that he promised to cut everyone's property taxes by 30 percent and has failed to deliver on that promise in four years. Never mind that state spending has risen at twice the rate of inflation since Rendell took office to an astronomical $26 billion.

Never mind that Rendell raised the state income tax by 10 percent and imposed a $52 a year EMS tax on most working Pennsylvanian.

Never mind that Pennsylvania lags behind most other states in getting welfare recipients off the public dole and into jobs. Never mind that nearly 1 million Pennsylvanians don't have health insurance. Never mind that the casino gambling bill Rendell signed has loopholes big enough to drive a truck through.

Never mind that Rendell signed the notorious July 2005 pay raise bill into law and praised it as good legislation. Never mind that Pennsylvania has one of the highest corporate net income tax rates in the country, discouraging businesses from bringing jobs to the state.

OK, you get the picture.

Think of Rendell as the captain of the Titanic and the ship of state has struck the iceberg. The ship is going down and there's not enough lifeboats for all of us.

Six weeks is a lifetime in politics. Swann can still pull this one out. It won't be easy because Rendell, the darling of lobbyists and corporate fat cats, is sitting on $10 million in the bank and has already spent $10 million in television advertising. Swann's best chance to derail the Rendell victory lap will come in two televised debates scheduled for early October.

The first is Oct. 4 in Pittsburgh, followed by a second debate Oct. 10 in Philadelphia. Both will be carried live on television and will be rebroadcast on the Pennsylvania Cable Network. Swann has plenty of ammunition to go after Rendell and has a full hour of free television time to reach voters. If Swann is to have any chance of unseating Rendell, he must make his case during these two crucial forums.

And speaking of television, if you missed Thursday night's broadcast of the "Journalists Roundtable" program, in which I joined two other panelists to discuss the Rendell-Swann race as well as the Casey-Santorum contest, you can catch the most scintillating hour on television this Sunday (Sept. 24) at 7 p.m. and again at 11 p.m. on your local PCN cable channel.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at tphyrillas@pottsmerc.com