Sunday, June 21, 2009

Gubernatorial Oddsmaking: Art, Not Science

A reader inquires:

Why do you have Corbett and Meehan with the same odds? And why do you have Wagner and Onorato with the same odds?
Corbett-Meehan: Corbett has early backing (in some cases genuine, in others perhaps more perceived) among party pillars; reasonable fundraising ability; and the 'it's his turn' position that seems valuable in the Republican Party. Corbett also has an uninspiring presentation and personality. Meehan can rely on the more populous and prosperous side of the state (a point often overlooked by westerners), and is generally considered the better candidate behind a microphone.

A major wild card is Corbett's handling of Harrisburg corruption prosecutions; a collection of Democratic pelts could help, but the partisan prosecution angle (Veon was Perzel's pupil, yet no Republican has been charged) could complicate Corbett's candidacy. If Corbett charges a Republican or two soon, that could defuse a general election issue but alienate some Republicans (for example, indictees and their pals). While Corbett is boasting about a pile of guilty pleas from Democratic staffers, Meehan can answer with Vince Fumo's head on a pike. I see neither Republican candidate with a marked advantage over the other.

Onorato-Wagner: Wagner v. Onorato is tortoise v. hare. Onorato is far flashier, holds huge wads of cash and is the likely beneficiary of machine support and early buzz. He has been running hard for years, at times at the expense of governing, and his politics-driven mishandling of the assessment and drink tax issues has placed two huge explosives in his path to Harrisburg. Onorato's bad advisors and severe stubborn streak caused him to play foolish hardball on both issues, and after losing some court decisions he is still bleeding in both directions, with more pain to come. It also is difficult to forecast the degree to which Onorato might come to regret his early, prominent and unnecessary bearhugging of Pittsburgh's boy mayor.

Auditor General Wagner is a formidable statewide vote-getter --
he outran Barack Obama in November -- with an appealing personality and a useful resume. While Judge Wettick is slapping Onorato around the county and the restaurant association is hounding Onorato statewide, Wagner could close the funding gap and arrange some surprising endorsements. Wagner's brother is a problem, and his advisors don't seem any better than Onorato's, but over the long term I like Wagner's candidacy as much as Onorato's.

If Onorato could avoid an assessment meltdown and negotiate his way out of the drink tax mess, he probably would have the advantage, but he still seems to be intent on trying to stiff-arm Judge Wettick and the drink tax rebels.

I also don't dismiss Cunningham, although his campaign appears to be faltering. Three on the lead lap in early running among Democrats, but no clear favorite.

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