HARRISBURG - He's not Ed Rendell.

That's the standard reply from members of Tom Corbett's inner circle upon being asked when the state's newly minted chief executive will step out to discuss what he has been doing in his first weeks in office - and just how deep a financial crisis Pennsylvania is facing.

Since his Jan. 18 swearing-in, Corbett has spent much of his time behind closed doors, with virtually no public schedule and few public pronouncements. Aides say he is poring over budget numbers.

Even when he unveiled his plan for government reform, a central theme of his fall campaign, he did so in a muted manner: via video.

The Republican governor's understated style is a 180-degree departure from his Democratic predecessor, a natural extrovert who never passed up an opportunity to air his ideas and opinions. Those who know Corbett say that's simply not his way: The former state attorney general is not a retail politician but a law-and-order guy who will speak on an as-needed basis.

"One thing that Tom Corbett has proven through the years, as the attorney general and on his campaigns, is that he's not a publicity hound," said Brian Nutt, who managed Corbett's gubernatorial campaign and is now an outside political adviser.

"He's going to make announcements when he thinks something is important and when he thinks he has something to say," Nutt added. "It's substance over show."

Yet with his silence, Corbett may run the risk of being perceived as distant or cold at a time when the state is facing enormous fiscal problems that will require painful spending decisions affecting many Pennsylvanians' lives.

And, willingly or not, he could end up ceding the spotlight to the legislature on those and other issues. That can be good if you need to pass off blame - not so much if you want to claim credit.

"Conspicuous in his inconspicuousness" is how Eric Epstein, founder of the Harrisburg activist group RockTheCapital.com, describes Corbett in the early going.

"In my mind, access and transparency are interchangeable - you can't expect the public to read your mind," Epstein said. "In today's political climate, given the extraordinary fiscal strain the state is experiencing, we can't afford a governor who is M.I.A."

By way of comparison, Rendell in his first few weeks in office in 2003 kept a frenetic public schedule.

When he wasn't holding impromptu news conferences in the Capitol's hallways, Rendell was making public appearances. He was the first governor to see Punxsutawney Phil predict six more weeks of winter.

And when Rendell wasn't doing the talking, one of his inner-circle members was, including his budget secretary.

Even Tom Ridge, a Republican who came into the governor's office battling a perception that he came across as stiff and wooden, held a news conference on his first full day in office in 1995. In his case, it was to ask the legislature to convene a special session on crime.

Corbett has been largely invisible in his first few weeks. And it has not gone unnoticed by legislators, including some in his own party who privately question why he is choosing to keep his profile low.

He has had no public schedule, with the exception of the traditional open house at the governor's residence on the Sunday after he was inaugurated.

When he announced a government reform plan that includes paring the state's fleet of cars and eliminating the special grants that finance legislators' pet projects, he did so through a news release - plus the video, in which he read from the release.

And that was after Republicans who now control the state House had unveiled their own plans for making government more transparent and accessible.

He was absent from a high-profile rally in the Capitol Rotunda to support school vouchers, another cornerstone of his campaign. Parents and children from Philadelphia chanted, "My child, my choice." Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley stood in for Corbett.

Over the weekend, Corbett was Texas-bound, traveling to the Super Bowl with the Rooney family, which owns the Pittsburgh Steelers. His spokesman, Kevin Harley, said the governor had been busy reviewing budget numbers in preparation for his March 8 budget address.

Like Nutt, Harley said Corbett is not about flash.

"He believes that he will be measured by results, not by the number of press conferences he holds," Harley said of Corbett. "He's not enamored by the sound of his own voice. When he has something substantive to say, he'll say it."

Corbett also knows the perils of going off script. His remark last July about jobless people's attitudes ("The jobs are there. But if we keep extending unemployment, people are going to sit there . . .") set off a squall of criticism from Democrats, unions, and job seekers. The candidate said he was just quoting what employers had told him.

Asked later what he'd taken from the flap, Corbett quipped that he'd learned not to repeat things to reporters. Still, a line in his inaugural speech suggested he had learned from it: "Pennsylvania is known for hard workers, but today they must search too hard for work."

Tim Reeves, who was Ridge's spokesman and now runs a public relations firm, pointed out that Corbett faces circumstances as he enters office that are far different from what greeted his predecessors: projections of a whopping $4 billion deficit in the state budget.

How Corbett deals with that deficit will surely help define him in the public's mind.

"There will be plenty of time for gubernatorial image-building over the next four years," Reeves said. "But the foundation will be laid by his administration's work in solving this crisis."

All the more reason for a governor to be seen and heard, argued Epstein, the activist. "This is a very serious time," he said. "The state has real problems. You can't be sitting around asking the question, 'Do you know where your governor is?' "

William J. Green, a Pittsburgh-based political analyst who was Gov. Richard Thornburgh's deputy press secretary, said the first weeks and months in office are the most trying ones for any governor.

"Trust me," Green said. "You realize you don't know as much about things as you thought you knew."

Green said he also believes Pennsylvanians over the last few weeks have been too engrossed in snowstorms and the Super Bowl to fret much about Corbett's whereabouts.

"He has time," said Green. "The governor can always command the main stage, and is relevant anytime he wishes."

Contact staff writer Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or acouloumbis@phillynews.com.