Politically Savvy Friends

Monday, April 7, 2008

Two Weeks to Go

Dear Politically Savvy Friends,

Two weeks from tomorrow, some 4 million+ Pennsylvania Democrats will have the chance to choose a nominee for president. The polls are showing an expected tightening of the race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. No surprise there. Nobody, including the Clinton campaign, ever believed that Pennsylvania would roll over easily for any candidate. We are too ornery, too diverse, too independent, too smart to be taken for granted.

In this edition of my PSF, I examine the current state of the presidential race, along with some other PA races that will be on the April 22 ballot. As always, I welcome your comments and off-the-record tips.

But, first, a personal comment. I have very good friends on both sides of this Democratic battle, and several of them have taken me to task for not adopting their view of political events. That’s fine. I can take it. One of my friends deeply involved with one of the campaigns jokingly opined the other day: “The problem with you, Jon Delano, is that you’re too fair and even-handed.” He meant it as a criticism, but I’ll take it as a compliment. I am scrupulously neutral in political races, but I’m not afraid to tell you exactly what I think. So now, sit back and read on, my politically savvy friends.


Obama Steps Up His Campaign:

In my last PSF email (March 23), I opined that, despite double digit leads in all the polls at the time for Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama could still win the state. (I think I was among the very few PA analysts at the time to say that). But I injected a very big IF – he could only win if he started to take the state seriously and campaign, full-time, on a retail level all across the commonwealth. A few days later, the Obama campaign announced their “Six Day” bus tour through Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvanians want their candidates to care about them, and the challenge is that this is a very big state with different politics depending on which valley, mountain top, or rolling plain you happen to visit. The Clintons know that, and the Clinton campaign has been going non-stop, back and forth, across Pennsylvania, picking up endorsements from countless local elected officials. On the ground, they are running a perfectly solid campaign.

But without the local political connections enjoyed by the Clintons, the Obama campaign seemed to struggle to get started, depending much more on volunteers and with some early campaign missteps, like “dissing” the state in a memorandum and a candidate who seemed to prefer being in other states. All that seems to have changed, and the poll numbers reflect it.

In polls conducted last week, SurveyUSA found the Clinton lead down to 12 points, Quinnipiac puts her lead at 9 points, and Rasmussen gives Clinton a 5 point lead. One poll, Public Policy Polling, calls it a dead heat with Obama ahead of Clinton by 2 points.

Now I’ve been through this polling nonsense for decades, and there are times when I would just toss all polls out the window. I usually suggest averaging all the polls for a better result, and then treating even that number with lots of grains of salt. In this case, the only conclusion is the obvious one: the race for Pennsylvania is not a done deal for anyone.

Clinton Fights Back:

The odds still favor Clinton for whom PA is a must-win state. As I noted in March, if Obama beats her in Pennsylvania, her campaign is over. Dead. Clinton knows that, and she is working this state hard, just like she won over skeptical New York state voters in 2000 when she ran for the U.S. Senate in her adopted state. She never stops. Hardly a day goes by that Hillary, Bill, or Chelsea aren’t stumping for votes here. With the political expertise of Gov. Ed Rendell and much of his political team, she doesn’t seem to miss a beat.

Her “economic summit” in Pittsburgh last Wednesday was classic, a mix of academia, labor, and business leaders exchanging views with her around a table, allowing Clinton to use her obvious intelligence to spin each comment into an observation about government failure in Washington and how her proposals would ameliorate the problem. The more you see Hillary in action, the more you appreciate how sharp this woman really is.

She does seem to have a cash problem, judging by the overwhelming Obama television ads now on the air. It’s not scientific, but I bet I see three or four of his ads to every one of hers. The Obama ads are very good, focusing on his bio, the American dream, and high gasoline prices. The latest Clinton ad is a take-off on her 3 am phone call ad, but this one focuses on the economy. All polls suggest the economy is the number one issue for Pennsylvanians, and it is a strong suit for her, as people think she is better qualified to turn the economy around, no doubt aided by memories of the good economic times presided over by her husband in the 1990s. But unless Clinton gets up on TV in some sort of visible way, she will be drowned out by the classy Obama commercials. That could make a difference.

Gender Gap Growing in PA:

What I have found striking thus far in the PA presidential primary is the growing gender gap between men and women. When Hillary was leading Barack by double-digits, she was winning both males and females. As the race tightens, it is largely because men are switching from Clinton to Obama. In the SurveyUSA poll, Clinton’s 5-point lead among men three weeks ago became a 7-point lead for Obama this week.

But what has kept the New York senator in the overall lead is women voters. The same poll showed a whopping 28-point lead for Clinton among women. Indeed, Clinton’s 62 percent of women voters was unchanged, while Obama just moved two points from 32 percent to 34 percent. In a state where women outvote men, Obama cannot win Pennsylvania unless he convinces more women to back his candidacy.

When I had the chance to interview Michelle Obama last week, I asked her about this gender problem. Her response was that it’s really just a question of women getting to know Barack better. She emphasized that Obama grew up among strong women, like his mother, his grandmother, and (of course) his wife and is comfortable among strong women and very cognizant of women’s needs. To be honest, I was impressed with Michelle and think the Obama campaign could make better use of her obvious talents to address the gender gap. So far, she has campaigned just once in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

In the end, identity politics may be hard to overcome. Just as African Americans have rallied to Obama, despite Clinton’s strong civil rights record, so also women may be inclined to support Clinton, the first woman with a real shot at the White House, no matter how good Obama’s record on women’s issues.

Casey Shows a Risky Side:

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is the last person one imagines to take a political risk, so his endorsement of Obama last Friday was a bit of a political shocker. In early March, Pennsylvania’s soft-spoken, laid-back, conservative Democratic senator was insistent in both private and public conversations with me that he would not endorse either candidate until after the April 22 primary. So what changed?

Bottom line is pretty simple. Shortly before Easter, while on a family vacation, Casey reached the personal conclusion that he would vote for Obama on April 22. He says he was very impressed by Obama’s race speech in Philadelphia, and he acknowledges that his three daughters are strong Obama fans. But the question of going public with his decision to vote for Obama was a deeply personal one, made without consulting his political supporters.

Casey made the decision on Easter Sunday, called Obama and Clinton, and went public last Friday in Pittsburgh, surprising many in the political community. Will it make a difference for Obama? Hard to tell. Clinton has strong family ties to Northeast PA where Casey lives, and it may not change a lot there. One interesting impact, however, could be among Pennsylvania’s many pro-life Democrats for whom the Casey name is iconic. Now there’s no difference at all between Clinton and Obama on the abortion issue – both are pro-choice – but Casey’s support for Obama could be enough to convince pro-lifers that, if forced to choose between the two, Obama is preferable.

The SurveyUSA poll may offer some substantiation of my theory. Four weeks ago, pro-life Democrats backed Clinton, 53 to 36 percent. After the Casey endorsement, Obama picked up eight points here with Clinton ahead only 50 to 44. Now abortion is hardly an issue in this Democratic primary, but in a close election pro-life Dems could make the difference. This is especially important because Catholic Dems are critical in PA, and the Clintons have always done well among this constituency.

After Pennsylvania, What Happens?

Assuming Clinton wins PA, unless the race is a total blow-out, she is unlikely to end up with more than a 10 to 20 vote delegate advantage over Obama. The proportionality rule guarantees that Obama will get his percentage share of the 158 delegates determined on April 22. The race then moves on to Guam on May 3, Indiana and North Carolina on May 6, West Virginia on May 13, Kentucky and Oregon on May 20, Puerto Rico on June 1, and Montana and South Dakota on June 3.

When it’s all over on June 3, neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton will have a majority of pledged delegates to get the nomination.

Now some Obama supporters and their media allies are spinning that it’s all over and Clinton should drop out now. That’s preposterous. Why should she drop out when he hasn’t won it yet? It’s not over until all the votes are counted, and besides the states listed above the Democratic Party has to resolve the Michigan and Florida issue, at least if they want every vote to count.

Right now, before PA and the nine others vote, Obama leads among the delegates chosen in primaries and caucuses, 1414 to 1252. Not counting Michigan and Florida, there are 793 super-delegates. Some 221 of them have “endorsed” Obama and 251 have “endorsed” Clinton, giving Obama 1635 to Clinton’s 1503, a lead of just 132 delegates. It now takes 2,024 delegates to win the nomination. More delegates will be chosen in the remaining contests, and there are 331 super-delegates still uncommitted, including most of the PA Democratic members of Congress. Everybody expects these super-delegates to make the final decision, unless Clinton or Obama drop out, and nobody expects that. With the race so close, the appropriate time to call for people to “drop out” is after we know who has won! In the end, neither Obama nor Clinton can become the party nominee without super-delegates!

Pennsylvania will not be the “decider” unless Obama goes all out and defeats Clinton here. Looks like he returns to the state on Thursday (Philadelphia), while Clinton is back here on Wednesday (Pittsburgh), but these schedules could change. And next week, John McCain is planning a PA trip, just to prove he’s not forgotten. (By the way, both Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee are still on the PA Republican primary ballot). Most polls suggest in November, this state is up for grabs with McCain a strong contender against either Clinton or Obama. In short, this presidential campaign is hardly over.


Does Anyone Care about PA Treasurer?

Three statewide offices are on the ballot this year, but two of them won’t really be the focus of this April 22 primary. Two incumbents, Attorney General Tom Corbett, a Republican, and Auditor General Jack Wagner, a Democrat, face no opposition until the fall when Northampton District Attorney John Morganelli takes on Corbett and Lancaster County businessman Chet Beiler takes on Wagner. Primary voters have no choices here.

But the Democratic race for state treasurer has prompted four Dems to compete for the job once held by Bob Casey. In ballot order, Dems choose among John Cordisco, Rob McCord, Dennis Morrison-Wesley, and Jennifer Mann. McCord, a wealthy venture capitalist from Montgomery County, is the most visible candidate so far, running TV ads with the help of $1 million he pumped into his own campaign. Cordisco is a former legislator from Bucks County and an attorney, while Mann is a state legislator from Lehigh County who is vice chair of the House Finance Committee. Morrison-Wesley is an investment advisor from Harrisburg who most recently worked for Comcast.

All four claim qualifications to manage the investment of the state’s $12 billion in revenues, and all four come from “back east” as far as western PA is concerned. Mann is the only woman on the ballot, while Morrison-Wesley is the only African-American. How much this will count, I suppose, depends on how much Clinton and Obama voters engage in identity politics. The Democratic winner will face bond attorney and former Montgomery County commissioner Tom Ellis, a Republican.

Congressional Battles Hard to Find this Spring:

Pennsylvania elects 19 members to the U.S. House of Representatives, but most of the real battles are on November 4. Indeed, two candidates are unopposed even then (U.S. Reps. Jack Murtha of Johnstown and Mike Doyle of Pittsburgh) unless a write-in surfaces on April 22.

Only four of the 19 congressional districts have primary battles and none are against an incumbent. In the 3rd District in northwestern PA (Erie south to Butler County), U.S. Rep. Phil English, a Republican, has no party opposition, but four Dems would like to have at him in November. They include Lake Erie Arboretum director Kathy Dahlkemper, Erie County councilman Kyle Foust, Erie attorney Tom Myers, and Erie lay minister Mike Waltner. Foust is the only candidate with an electoral base, but Dahlkemper has more money (largely her own). Dems have coveted this district for years, but English, who occasionally casts votes against his own party, is a visible and hard-working incumbent. He will be tough to defeat no matter who the Dems nominate.

In the state’s largest geographic congressional district in northwest and north central PA (the 5th District), three Dems and nine Republicans want to take the seat of retiring incumbent, U.S. Rep. John Peterson, a Republican. One candidate, 28-year old Matt Shaner has attracted media attention because he has spent more personal money on this race than any other candidate running for the House in America -- $1.22 million so far. Shaner heads up Shaner Investments in State College (Centre County). His opponents naturally accuse him of trying to “buy” the GOP nomination. Other Republicans include former Centre County commissioner Chris Exarchos, former Pine Creek Township (Clinton) supervisor John Krupa, Elk County coroner Lou Radkowski, Clarion Baptist pastor Keith Richardson, Woodward Township (Lycoming) supervisor Jeff Stroehman, Clarion mayor John Stroup, Centre County Republican chairman Glenn Thompson, and Bigler (Clearfield) financial consultant Derek Walker. Hard to figure out what’s going to happen in this race.

On the Democratic side, the candidates include Centre County native, Iraqi War veteran and former news correspondent Bill Cahir, Clearfield County commissioner Mark McCracken, and Lock Haven Mayor Rick Vilello. This district is solidly Republican, but the Dems think a blood bath on the GOP side gives them an opportunity, particularly if the state trends Democratic this fall.

Besides the 5th District, two Republicans are battling to take on U.S. Rep. Chris Carney, a Democrat, in the 10th District in north central and northeast PA, near Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Carney represents one of those districts nobody thought would go Democratic in 2006 but did, largely because of marital indiscretions of the GOP incumbent. Now the Republicans want it back, and Chris Hackett and Dan Meuser are battling for the privilege of beating Carney. Both are businessmen and both say they are conservatives. Hackett got some press when he had to fire an illegal immigrant who did housekeeping for his family, while the company Meuser owns is under attack for having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for such things as software piracy. In short, both candidates are bruising up each other, which could have benefits for Carney later this year.

The only other congressional primary battle is in the 18th District in suburban Pittsburgh, where U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, a Republican, is always thought to be vulnerable until he wins big. This year three Dems are vying to take him on: Steve O’Donnell of Monroeville, Beth Hafer of Mt. Lebanon, and Brien Wall of Upper St. Clair. For residents in the district (yes, I’m one of them), the contest has been largely invisible, although O’Donnell, the party endorsed Dem, has pumped out a mailing or two. Hafer, the daughter of former state treasurer Barbara Hafer, arguably has the greatest name recognition, while Wall says he has the best relationship with selected labor unions. At this stage, the race is probably a toss-up in the primary, although Murphy is clearly favored in the fall unless the ongoing FBI and Ethics Committee investigation into his use of staff for political purposes in 2006 turns up something before Nov. 4.

I’m going to stop here, reserving some comments about a few contested state Senate and state House races until later. As always, I welcome your comments. If you’re thinking ahead to the 2010 governor’s race, I recommend a piece I wrote for the April edition of Pittsburgh Magazine on Allegheny County executive Dan Onorato. It’s mostly biographical about the politician many think is the heir-apparent to Ed Rendell. Check it out. Spring seems to have finally hit western PA, so take a break from politics and enjoy the good weather!


Bram Reichbaum said...

Jon, you say near the top:

"The polls are showing an expected tightening of the race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton."

Yes, and this sets the table for what made the Pennsylvania situation exciting -- until now, this is about all the time he's had in many states to catch up. In Pennsylvania, he has TWO MORE WEEKS. Can he keep up the trajectory? A lot of it probably hinges on making inroads among women. Men, talk to your wives, mothers and daughters!

It's a shame, of all the ways Obama can say he genetically and socio-culturally represents everybody, the one thing he can never claim is to be a woman. Although as I've said elsewhere, he is arguably running the more feminine campaign, and has the more feminine approach to party politics.

Bram Reichbaum said...

Now, this from a P-G update this afternoon:

"In this latest survey, one of the biggest shifts is among women who went from 54 to 37 percent for Sen. Clinton April 2 to 54 to 41 percent for her today."


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Felix Dzerzhinsky said...

Mr. Delano -- In your discussion of "identity politics" and the presidential race, you write that: "Just as African Americans have rallied to Obama, despite Clinton's strong civil rights record, so also women may be inclined to support Clinton, the first woman with a real shot at the White House, no matter how good Obama's record on women's issues."

The way this is discussed unsettles me, and I do not mean to single you out, because most commentators do it. But the discussion of "women" as a voting block always leaves out a crucial qualification: it applies only to white women. There is no "gender gap" among black voters. The gender gap is in voting patterns is solely a white thing. The only unusual thing about this primary election is that the gender gap among whites is reversed: usually it is white women who vote more "black" than white men, not the reverse as it is currently. And I suspect that that pattern will reassert itself in the general election no matter who the Democratic nominee is!