HARRISBURG — Democratic upstart Tom Wolf leads Republican incumbent Tom Corbett by a formidable 20 points as Pennsylvania's gubernatorial campaign shifts into gear for the general election, according to a poll released Wednesday.
The survey of 1,308 Pennsylvania voters by Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University showed Wolf backed by 53 percent and Corbett by 33 percent.
The margin was almost identical to Wolf's 52 to 33 percent advantage over Corbett in a hypothetical matchup by the same pollster in February — months before Wolf captured the Democratic nomination with 58 percent of the vote in a four-way primary race.
Fifty-five percent of the respondents in the latest poll said they disapproved of Corbett's job performance — his lowest job-approval since Quinnipiac began tracking it in 2011, his first year in office.
Corbett, who was previously the state's corruption-fighting attorney general, was viewed favorably by only 29 percent, contrasted with 46 percent who said they view Wolf favorably.
Wolf consistently outscored Corbett when voters were asked which would do a better job on a laundry list of issues that included education, the economy and jobs, energy and the environment, health care, taxes and government spending.
"There's no good news anywhere for Gov. Corbett," said Tim Malloy, the poll's assistant director.
Corbett is viewed as vulnerable for reasons that include voter backlash from a nearly $1 billion cut in education spending in 2011, his opposition to efforts to impose a severance tax on the state's thriving natural gas industry and his reticent leadership style.
Wolf, a wealthy York businessman who briefly served as state revenue secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell, has played up his turnaround of his family's building products company, his stint in the Peace Corps and his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He poured $10 million into his campaign that enabled him to air months of folksy TV ads that made him a household name and gave him a crucial early lead in the primary.
The telephone survey was conducted from Thursday through Monday. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.
On Tuesday, Wolf's campaign said he was sending letters to Corbett and members of the state House and Senate, urging them to "put politics aside" and pass a 5 percent severance tax.
"Pennsylvania should not be the only major gas-producing state without a severance tax," he wrote.
Corbett's campaign and his Republican allies in the Legislature said it is premature to consider raising taxes, particularly such a massive increase.
Wolf is "no different than your stereotypical Democrat. His first response is higher taxes," said Steve Miskin, a spokesman for the House Republican leaders. "It's not leadership to jump right in and advocate a tax" increase.
The governor told leaders of the GOP majorities in both chambers Monday that he opposes raising taxes and would prefer to reduce spending and tap existing sources of money to offset a potential $1 billion-plus revenue shortfall.
"He's very concerned that a tax increase could hurt the industry and cost jobs," said Mike Barley, Corbett's campaign manager.
Many legislators in both parties and both chambers have expressed support for the idea of a severance tax to ensure that the state shares the industry's wealth and to bolster revenue for schools and environmental protection.