Most alarmingly for the incumbent, however, were his head-to-head performances against a duo of little-known Democratic challengers. He trailed Democratic Rep. Allyson Schwartz, the early front-runner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, by 10 points. Against Democratic state Treasurer Rob McCord, he fell behind by 8 points.
Republicans are frustrated with Corbett's plight because many of his problems are self-inflicted. Other GOP governors, such as Ohio's John Kasich, have recovered from previously weak poll numbers and are now in a strong position for reelection.
Corbett's allies fault a poor communications effort from the governor and his staff, a failure GOP operatives say have let Democrats define the governor as an incompetent enemy of the middle class.
"I think Kasich has shown a willingness to sell what he's done in Ohio, and take credit for what's happened in Ohio," said a third GOP operative based in the Keystone State. "And I think the Corbett administration has been much slower and much more reluctant to do that."
Insiders point to four Republicans who could replace Corbett: Reps. Jim Gerlach, Pat Meehan, Mike Kelly, and state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi. Gerlach and Meehan, both from the suburbs of Philadelphia, ran for the GOP gubernatorial nomination against Corbett in 2010.
Kelly, from the Erie region in northwest Pennsylvania, was a political unknown until unseating Democratic Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper in 2010, but his brash, outspoken personality has made him a standout of that year's conservative class of members. Pileggi is a powerful force in the state Capitol, although he starts with the smallest base of the four possible contenders. He also hails from southeast Pennsylvania.
None of them want to be seen as campaigning for the job while Corbett still plans to run for reelection. But behind the scenes, Republicans are watching closely should any of them make their move.
"Congressman Gerlach fully expects Governor Corbett to be our nominee and he will support him," said Vince Galko, a spokesman for Gerlach. "If the situation were to change, Congressman Gerlach wound give careful consideration to his options."
Even if Corbett opts against running — a big if — the Republican replacement would still have a difficult time winning a general election in the wake of an unpopular administration, a prospect that could scare some of them off. It's why some Republicans think that despite the earnest chatter in private, Corbett will still be the party's nominee in 2014.
And a dwindling number of Republicans remain convinced that, for all his problems, the governor can still pull out victory. Insiders say that Corbett, who held a major fundraiser in Pittsburgh just last week, is expected to raise $25 million to $35 million for reelection, aided by the state's uncapped contributions. That money could be pivotal after a bloody Democratic primary. And Republicans say the administration still has time to gets its message out.