Politically Savvy Friends

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Six Weeks to Go

Dear Politically Savvy Friends,

Well, give Mark DeSantis some credit for trying to stir the political waters this last week. The guy's been mighty aggressive attacking Luke Ravenstahl over the last 10 days, going after him on ethics, crime, finances, and now most recently attacking Ravenstahl for having a bloated personal office staff [see TV story on right]. The problem for DeSantis, of course, is that there's no indication that anyone is listening to him. The mayor just keeps doing his mayoral thing, ignoring his opponent, and acting like DeSantis is some pesky insect that he must endure for a season until cold weather knocks him out.

It's tempting to say this election is all over with the only question being how big Luke wins -- 60%, 70%, 80%. But don't tell DeSantis that. Where some people think the voting public has already decided to "give the kid a chance" for at least another two years -- yes, we go through this again in 2009 -- DeSantis thinks at least 50% of the voters are still uncertain about Ravenstahl's qualifications to guide the city through tough times ahead. Even if that were true, I don't think the public is sold on DeSantis to do the guiding instead. After all, nobody really knows who he is.

DeSantis is expected to begin his campaign ads shortly. Maybe the ads will be so extraordinary that the public will give him a look-see, but don't bet on it. Part of the problem is that Luke preaches the always popular "good times are here" sermon, while Mark is into that "gloom and doom" message. My 25+ years in the political world -- take it for what it's worth -- have taught me repeatedly that, unless life is personally unbearable for people or something angers them deeply, the positive always sells better than the negative. For now at least, the "feel good" message of Luke resonates far stronger than Mark's "warnings" about the future. It may be as simple as that.

Six weeks can be an eternity in politics, and I've seen no reliable independent polls in the race for mayor of Pittsburgh. But nothing persuades me that an upset is in the making. Taking on an incumbent is always challenging, especially when as mayor Ravenstahl dominates the print and broadcast news media. The local media has given DeSantis more time and space than any other Republican candidate for mayor, but add up the column inches and the airtime and Luke the incumbent still dominates the media four-to-one. Challengers always complain to me about that, but, hey, the "news" business is supposed to report the "news" and incumbent office-holders "make" news far more than challengers. Still, most responsible journalists are now seeking DeSantis out for his "reaction" when the mayor makes a policy pronouncement of some sort because that is the right thing to do in the midst of a campaign. But after election day passes, it's back to the incumbent all the time!

If readers see anything unusual or interesting on the campaign trail, please do email me. Back and forth press conferences get pretty boring! And stay alert. If the campaign for mayor, so far, has put you to sleep, I suspect the rhetoric will only get hotter in the weeks remaining. Let's hope so!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Seven Weeks to Go

Dear Politically Savvy Friends,

Seven weeks from today, voters in Pennsylvania will stay home. I would be surprised if more than 20 to 25% of registered voters bothered to cast a ballot. Of course, that gives more power to those of us who do vote -- but it also puts a premium on those campaigns that can best organize their get-out-the-vote efforts.

The Pittsburgh mayor's race is relatively boring, despite Mark DeSantis' best effort to engage Luke Ravenstahl. As you can see if you click on the stories to the right, last week Ravenstahl announced that he was keeping most of the city directors that he asked to resign 90 days ago. DeSantis derided that exercise, but the mayor ignored him. This week, DeSantis attempted to stake a stronger ethics position -- again see the story posted to the right -- and, this time, Ravenstahl just welcomed DeSantis to the cause.

This race for mayor probably won't get close until we see some television ads that really trashes Luke -- and, even then, it's still hard to imagine an upset of Ravenstahl. Still, give DeSantis credit for attempting to create fire when most people don't even see smoke.

What may wake some people up in Campaign 2007 will be the judge races. Well, maybe not exactly wake you up, but at least get your attention. It will be hard to miss all the TV ads we expect in October. Add to that the fact that PA Clean Sweep is urging a NO vote against all seven statewide judges running for reelection. That includes State Supreme Court Justice Tom Saylor. The anti-pay raise group also wants a NO vote against the local judges up for retention, too. Their sin? Accepting the double-digit pay raise that the state Supreme Court ruled the legislature could NOT repeal for judges.

It's not clear to me that the pay raise issue still has legs, but in any case I believe the anti-pay raise groups have overplayed their hand by urging a NO vote on every single judge in Pennsylvania. It's one thing to go against a state supreme court justice -- like they did successfully against former Justice Russell Nigro in 2005 -- but it's quite another to urge voters to reject every judge even if they had no connection whatsover with the pay raise controversy. In my view, it makes PA Clean Sweep look just a wee bit unreasonable, particularly since (as I know from personal experience) many of these judges are extraordinarily good.

Unlike 2005, there will be organized efforts to urge voters to vote YES for many of these judges, both by the judges themselves and their supporters in the legal community. In an exclusive interview posted to the right, Superior Court President Judge Kate Ford Elliott sat down with me, on camera, to speak out on this issue. Sitting judges rarely go on camera, let alone talk politics. Obviously, this issue is being felt very deeply in the judicial system.

Campaign 2008 is just around the corner chronologically, even if it began months ago. Last week, Rudy Giuliani was in town to raise big bucks in Washington County, but (as we've learned from earlier visits) Rudy likes to sample the local fare. This time it was Sarris candy in Canonsburg. But after the schmooze, the former New York mayor launched into a major attack on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for not "denouncing" Move-On.Org, the liberal group that asked whether General Petraeus would become General Betray-Us. Giuliani's attack on Clinton is one way that he can win over Republican voters who disdain the Clintons, and he couples it with the somewhat legitimate argument that he's the one Republican who can take it to Clinton in moderate states lilke Pennsylvania.

Given the irrelevance of Pennsylvania in the primary season -- the PA primary is not until April 22 when the nominees should have pretty much been decided -- it's still nice to see a few of the presidential candidates traipse through our area, even if it's only for our money and food! Pierogis, anyone?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Campaign 2007 -- Does Anyone Care?

Dear Politically Savvy Friend,

I'm back! Yes, it's been a long summer and, yes, I did take a bit of a hiatus from this sport of blogging. Truth be told, it's not easy to blog every day -- which has only increased my tremendous admiration for those bloggers who manage to find time every single day to write something. You are an amazing group of people, either very sick or very determined, but in either case highly focused on meeting a self-imposed blog deadline much the way I must meet a TV or newspaper deadline. Props to y'inz, y'all, and you!

Campaign 2007 sometimes seems to be overwhelmed by Campaign 2008, but Republican candidate Mark DeSantis is -- slowly -- beginning to demonstrate some life in his steep uphill battle to unseat incumbent Democrat Luke Ravenstahl in the race for mayor of Pittsburgh. Of course, it's questionable how many people care about this race.

The best guess is that no more than 60,000 people will vote. Some pundits think 50,000 is closer to reality. And nobody really thinks Luke will lose this. Two years ago, Republican Joe Weinroth got 27 percent of the vote with about 6 percent splitting among some third party candidates. Democrat Bob O'Connor got the rest -- a whopping 67%.

But, hold on. Ravenstahl could actually do better than O'Connor. In 2005, O'Connor still had some negative residue from supporters of Democrats Michael Lamb and Bill Peduto (both of whom challenged him in the primary), although both Lamb and Peduto endorsed O'Connor in the fall. In 2007, among Democrats (and, let's face it, they're the ones who count in Pittsburgh) at least, Ravenstahl does NOT have 50 percent of his own party on record as voting AGAINST him in the spring primary. In my view, that gives him the potential to win more than 67 percent of the vote on November 6.

Now, it is true that Peduto has NOT endorsed Luke and is not likely to do so. But Peduto has not endorsed DeSantis either. In fact, no high profile Democrat has endorsed DeSantis as far as I know. And DeSantis can only make this close by attracting hundreds of Democrats to his cause.

That has not stopped the Republican candidate from stepping up his rhetoric against Ravenstahl in the last two weeks, accusing Ravenstahl of being the photo op candidate more interested in celebrities than city finances, a man with no accomplishments despite a year in office, and an old school politician who is more than a little ethically challenged.

The news media and the blogosphere, of course, will enjoy reporting a good old-fashioned slugfest between these two, but I'm not convinced that the vast majority of Pittsburgh residents are tuned in to any of this. I talk to a lot of folks on the streets -- many just come up to me -- and while some have doubsts about Luke, most know nothing about DeSantis and seem perfectly content to give the mayor another two years to demonstrate he has what it takes. Perhaps that will change once DeSantis hits the TV and radio airwaves, but even if DeSantis gets 20,000 votes, I'm still betting Ravensahl wins in a typical Democratic landslide.

Other races are on the ballot, but I'll hold for another post. In the meantime, I welcome your comments, and click on to some of my TV stories over on the right. It feels good to be back.