PHILADELPHIA More than half of Pennsylvania voters say Governor Tom Corbett does not deserve to be re-elected in November, while a crowded field of potential Democratic challengers stack up well against him, according to a poll released on Wednesday.
Corbett, a Republican who came into office promising to slash government spending, is widely seen as among the most vulnerable on a slate of fiscally conservative governors elected in 2010.
According to the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, only 36 percent of voters approve of Corbett's job performance as governor.
A sizable majority disapprove of his handling of the economy, education and government spending, the poll found.
Meanwhile, a crowded field has emerged to challenge Corbett, with businessman Tom Wolf as the clear front-runner, Quinnipiac found.
"Today, Gov. Corbett might tie a few possible Democratic challengers, but he beats no one," said pollster Tim Malloy. "We have eight months and change, and we don't know what kind of damage Democrats will inflict on each other in a primary campaign, but Wolf is the man of the hour."
Wolf, a former Secretary of Revenue who has pledged to spend $10 million of his own money on the race, leads Corbett 52 percent to 33 percent in a hypothetical head-to-head contest.
Wolf has blanketed the airwaves with biographical ads designed to increase his name recognition, making him the only candidate with a sustained presence on television.
The other Democratic contenders also appear to be faring well against Corbett. Jack Wagner, a former state auditor who entered the race 6 days ago, holds a seven-point lead.
U.S. Representative Allyson Schwartz and state Treasurer Rob McCord each has a six-point lead over the governor. Katie McGinty and John Hanger, both former heads of the state Department of Environmental Protection hold smaller leads that are within, or close to, the margin of error.
Corbett's problems extend into the Republican base because, while Corbett's party controls both houses of the state legislature, he hasn't been able to move big ticket items such as property tax reform, pensions and school reform, said Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.
Democrats have meanwhile accused Corbett of slashing funds for education, hobbling the state's public schools and university system. For example, Philadelphia's school district, which is controlled by the state, laid off 3,800 employees last year, rehiring 1,000 of them after the state kicked in extra funds.
Corbett argues that he has dedicated more state revenues to basic education than at any time in Pennsylvania history, and his new budget proposes big hikes in education spending.
"In many ways, education is at the forefront of this cycle," Borick said. "As his numbers decline, the percentage of voters who say education is important has gone up."
The telephone poll of 1,405 registered voters was conducted from February 19 to February 24, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.
(Editing by Edith Honan)