Stung by criticism, Attorney General Tom Corbett retreated Tuesday from controversial comments he made last week suggesting that some jobless Pennsylvanians do not want to return to work while they can still collect unemployment benefits.
"I regret that in that one statement, I may not have been clear or complete as I possibly could," Corbett, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, told CBS3 in his first interview since making the comments on Friday.
Corbett told the television station that he was repeating accounts he had heard from "five, six, seven different people across the state of Pennsylvania, that they weren't able to get workers."
"So there are some jobs out there," he said. "I didn't say there are jobs out there for everybody there. I didn't say it well."
He also apologized to anyone who viewed him as insensitive because of his choice of words and said the state needed to do better at connecting people who need jobs with employers who are hiring.
On Friday, Corbett drew rebukes from Democrats, unions, and job-seekers when he said employers had told him of people snubbing job offers by saying: "I'll come back to work when unemployment runs out." Corbett added: "That's a problem when the jobs are there."
His latest remarks came on the same day that a new poll showed him maintaining a lead over Democrat Dan Onorato.
The Quinnipiac University poll gave Corbett an edge of 44 to 37 percent over Onorato, with many voters still undecided. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.
The previous Quinnipiac poll, released shortly before the May 18 primary, gave Corbett a virtually identical 43-37 advantage in a head-to-head race with Onorato.
"That's a formula for a victory for Republicans in Pennsylvania if those numbers hold up," Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said Tuesday.
Brown said that while a seven-point lead was hardly insurmountable, Onorato had hurdles to clear. Among them: fighting any perception that he will continue the policies of Gov. Rendell.
Fifty-five percent of those surveyed said they didn't want the next governor to continue Rendell's policies; 42 percent voiced approval of Rendell's performance in office.
The poll surveyed 1,367 registered Pennsylvania voters between July 6 and July 11 - thus including two days after Corbett made news with his comments about the unemployed. Brown said it was impossible to gauge what effect, if any, Corbett's words had on the results.
Fifty-two percent of those surveyed said they had not heard enough yet about Onorato, who is the Allegheny County executive, compared with 44 percent who said they had not heard enough about Corbett.
But as another Pennsylvania pollster, G. Terry Madonna, said: "That's nothing that $10 million can't cure. . . . That's what television commercials are about."
Another obstacle is anti-Democratic sentiment sweeping the country, Brown said, adding: "Pennsylvania is no island."
Madonna said voters who consider themselves independents have become far less likely to support Democrats. According to the poll, Corbett is favored by 44 percent of these voters to Onorato's 29.
But with the fall election more than three months away, nothing is written in stone, said Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin and Marshall College.
"This is going to be a much more competitive election than people think," he said. "It's going to be close, and it's going to be hard fought."