He’s not on the ballot, but GOP attacks on Wolf will backfire in November | Mark O’Keefe

May 31, 2020 6:30 am

Gov. Tom Wolf in his home office. Photo Source: Pennsylvania Governor’s Office.

It’s a given that Pennsylvania’s Republican candidates will back President Donald Trump no matter what he says or does.

The fact of the matter is that they feel their fates are tied to Trump. If he wins in November, they’ll win and if he loses, they’ll lose.

So, it’s pretty clear that’s what’s playing out in the Republicans’ unprecedented attack against Democratic Gov. Wolf.

They’re looking at crippling Wolf as a way of improving Trump’s chances and their own here in November. Trump did win Pennsylvania in 2016 but only by 44,292 votes or .73 percent of the total ballots cast. Pennsylvania will be once again crucial for Trump’s re-election.

It’s hard to see either Trump or Democratic presidential Joe Biden winning the presidency without capturing Pennsylvania.

So, it’s clear to see why Republicans are focusing so much on Wolf.

“Tom Wolf is going to be as much on the ballot as much as the president, the Legislature and Congress for his handling of this, but he’s going to be judged not just by Republicans but by Democrats and independents,” said Lawrence Tabas, chairman of Pennsylvania’s Republican Party.

The Republicans have been throwing everything at Wolf but the kitchen sink. And that might be coming any day now. Republicans have threatened Wolf with impeachment and several legal challenges, which are more hot air than serious proposals.

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They’ve passed numerous bills trying to reopen various businesses, knowing they’ll be vetoed by Wolf. They’ve also staged rallies with gun-carrying protesters flooding the Capitol steps in a fruitless attempt to intimidate Wolf and other Democrats.

Republican legislators have also backed GOP county commissioners who have threatened to open their counties in defiance of Wolf’s lockdown orders. Wolf has pushed back, threatening to cut funding for counties going their own way and curtailing state licenses and certificates for businesses reopening without state approval.

On social media, Republicans have waged a vicious war against the state’s Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, calling for her resignation. The reality, though, is she has the full backing of Wolf and won’t be leaving her post anytime soon.

So far, none of the smear jobs have done anything to hurt Wolf’s standing with the public A recent Washington Post poll showed that 64 percent of Pennsylvania’s back his actions. The same poll said only 44 percent of Pennsylvanians supported Trump for his handling of COVID-19.

It’s not clear also how long or how fierce the protest will continue as Wolf has slowly but surely opened up the state’s economy.

It’s not clear also how long or how fierce the protest will continue as Wolf has slowly but surely opened up the state’s economy.

Of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, 17 are in the green category with another 16 moving into green this Friday, 23 in yellow, and 10 in red but expected to move into yellow by this Friday. It’s reasonable to assume that if everything goes as expected the entire state could be green by July.

While Wolf has made some mistakes with his lockdown orders, he has kept Pennsylvania citizens relatively safe and much safer, in fact, than neighboring New York and New Jersey.

According to Statista’s numbers as of May 25, Pennsylvania was sixth in the country with 71,563 cases of Covid-19, fifth in deaths with 5,136 and ninth in death rates with 40 per 100,000. Overall Pennsylvania’s population is the fifth largest in the country with 12,808,989 people, according to the 2010 census.

New York and New Jersey lead by far in all three categories. New York has 361,515 cases, 29,141 deaths, and a death rate of 150 per 100,000 people. New Jersey is second with 154,154 cases, 11,178 deaths, and a death rate of 125.

Republicans should also be very careful in tangling with Wolf. His low-key style and demeanor have proven to be very popular among Pennsylvanians. By beating Tom Corbett in 2014, Wolf became the first candidate to oust an incumbent governor since the state allowed governors to seek re-election in 1970.

Wolf then went to trounce former state Sen. Scott Wagner in 2018 by 17 points, 57.7 percent to 40.7 percent. Wagner had campaigned as a fervent  backer of Trump and hoped to win the governor’s mansion by following in his footsteps across the commonwealth.

However, nothing of the sort happened as Wagner appeared to be out of control the exact opposite of Wolf’s down-to-earth persona.

It was quite the victory as Wolf not only won Democratic Party strongholds like Philadelphia and Allegheny counties but did well in counties dominated by Trump. Overall, he won 17 counties, six more than Clinton won in 2016.
Wolf did particularly well in the southwest, where Trump had swamped Clinton.

Trump ran up huge margins in Greene County (40 percent), Westmoreland County (32 percent), Fayette County (31 percent), and Washington County (25 percent). Wagner won all four counties but by much smaller numbers. He won Westmoreland County by 6 percentage points, Greene County by 4.3 percent, Fayette County by two percent, and Washington County by 1.2 percent.

Trump won Beaver County by 19 percent but Wolf won it by six percent. Trump won Cumberland County by 18 points, but Wolf won it by two. Wolf also won three other counties, which went for Obama and Trump. They were Erie, Luzerne, and Northumberland counties.

In the end, Republicans should be mindful of the saying, “Be careful of what you wish for because you just might get it.”

Republicans might want to run against Wolf, but they could well up regretting that move in November.

Opinion contributor Mark O’Keefe, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., is the former editorial page editor of the Uniontown Herald-Standard. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. 

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Mark O'Keefe
Mark O'Keefe

Opinion contributor Mark O'Keefe, of Mechanicsburg, Pa.,  is the former editorial page editor of the Herald-Standard of Uniontown. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star's Commentary Page.