Dominating the mid-term elections in races across the country, Republicans had, as President Obama put it, a “good night” on Tuesday.
But while the GOP claimed its largest congressional majority in more than 60 years, and even trounced gubernatorial opponents in blue states like Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts, Democrat Tom Wolf, in his first political race, handily ousted Republican Gov. Tom Corbett from his Pennsylvania seat, making Corbett the first incumbent governor in this state to lose a bid for re-election in the 40 years since the chief executive has been allowed to seek a second term.
Wolf beat Corbett by a 10 point margin, with Allegheny County voters favoring the York businessman by an even larger margin, 58 percent to Corbett’s 41 percent.
Wolf’s landslide win in a political climate that favored the GOP could be attributed, in part, to Corbett’s struggle to work collaboratively with his legislature, according to Scott Feiglestein, regional director for the Republican Jewish Coalition in Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey.
“There were a couple of things in play here,” Feiglestein said. “There was the governor’s inability to work collaboratively with the legislature to get things done, and he had an opponent with very deep pockets who could define himself early on in the election process.”
Feigelstein cited Corbett’s lack of progress with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and pension reform as two areas in which the governor may have disappointed his constituents.
The teachers’ unions, Feigelstein added, have also been “discontent” with Corbett’s funding of education, and Wolf capitalized on that issue in his campaign as well.
Corbett’s defeat, according to Feigelstein, is a loss to the Jewish community. He noted Corbett’s support of Holocaust education legislation, as well as his support of the state’s investment — to the tune of $20 million — in Israel bonds.
“Corbett was a very good friend to the Jewish community,” Feigelstein said, “whether or not the Jewish community chooses to recognize that. And the governor will continue to be a good friend to the Jewish community.”
The Jewish community did have “a good relationship with the current governor,” noted Gregg Roman, director of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. “We operate in a bipartisan environment, and we’ll work with whoever is in office. Tom Corbett was very supportive of our agenda, and we look forward to working with the new governor.”
While many pundits have attributed Wolf’s win to the electorate’s general discontent with Corbett, Jack Moline, national director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, pinned Wolf’s success to the strength of the candidate himself.
“I think Governor-elect Wolf was an outstanding candidate in an electorate with outstanding judgment,” Moline said. “He was a better candidate than the incumbent, and he ran a careful campaign that spoke to the people.”
A poll commissioned by J Street, and carried out by the Gerstein Bocian Agne firm, showed Jewish voters choosing Democrats in Tuesday’s election 69 percent to 28 percent, consistent when the margin of error is taken into account with the same polling firm’s 69-30 break in the 2012 elections and 66-31 break in 2010.
“Those numbers show the values that our tradition represents are best for the Jewish electorate are best represented by the Democratic Party,” Moline said.
Those values, he added, include “compassion and goodness of government.”
“There needs to be justice and equity in the ways we conduct our affairs of state, and government should not just be for the powerful,” he said.
The gubernatorial election result was no surprise, said Hank Butler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, with the election coming out the way polls predicted.
But the direction the new administration will take will remain unclear until Wolf has his transition team in place, including a new secretary of health and human services and a new secretary of aging.
“We are in a wait and see mode to see where Tom Wolf will develop his policies at this point,” Butler said. “The fact that Republicans have picked up significant seats in the state House and the Senate, and with Tom Wolf being a Democrat, we will truly see the art of negotiation in the coming session.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.