Politically Savvy Friends

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Pennsylvania Delivers

Dear Politically Savvy Friend,

In the end, he made it seem so easy. Barack Hussein Obama -- yes, a man with an Arab or Muslim middle name -- won the presidency of the United States by more than 7.5 million popular votes and an Electoral College landslide, or what certainly looks like a landslide after President Bush's narrow wins in 2000 and 2004. President-elect Obama did it the old-fashioned way -- issues, shoe leather, volunteers, and, yes, lots of money!


Pennsylvania Summary:

Early Tuesday evening, it was clear to many of us that Obama’s coalition of supporters would put him over the top. Once the “must-win” state of Pennsylvania was denied to John McCain, it was difficult to envision an electoral scenario that could propel the Republican to the White House. McCain's political nail in the coffin occurred shortly thereafter when the neighboring state of Ohio cast its lot with Obama. From that moment on, it was only a matter of hours until enough electoral votes were declared to give the Democrat his victory at 11:01 pm ET. As McCain delivered his concession speech, Florida came through for Obama as well, giving him a trifecta -- three of the three must-win states.

Obama's win in this Pennsylvania was impressive. With 98% of the votes counted, Obama defeated McCain by 11 points: 3.16 million votes to 2.52 million or 55% to 44% [Ralph Nader and Bob Barr split one percent of the vote] -- or a margin of around 644,000 votes out of the 5,745,000 votes cast yesterday. The last time a presidential candidate won by that big a margin in Pennsylvania was 36 years ago when Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern in 1972 by 907,000 votes.

So how did Obama do this here? Simply put, he clobbered McCain in Philadelphia and its Republican suburbs -- and he racked up wins in the urban counties around the state like Allegheny (Pittsburgh), Cambria (Johnstown), Centre (State College),Dauphin (Harrisburg), Erie (Erie), Lackawanna (Scranton), Lehigh (Allentown), Luzerne (Wilkes-Barre), and Northampton (Bethlehem). In the end, it didn't matter that most of the rest of Pennsylvania voted Republican.

Still, in many ways, this PA election was the tale of two regions: southeastern PA and southwestern PA. Obama overwhelmed McCain in one – and performed worst than some expected in the other. His biggest win was the city of Philadelphia, where Obama did better than John Kerry, who had set the record with a 414,000-vote margin. Obama broke that record Tuesday, winning the city by a massive 458,784 votes (unofficially). While not the 500,000-vote margin the governor would have loved, it was mighty convincing! Equally important, in the four bedroom counties outside Philly, Obama swept it all, winning three suburban Republican counties. He won Bucks County by 28,000; he won Chester County by 22,000; he won Delaware County by 59,000; and he won Montgomery County by a whopping 86,000 votes.

Southwest PA Plays Hard to Get:

In southwestern PA, it was a different story. Allegheny County (Greater Pittsburgh) gave Obama his biggest victory, winning by 98,600 votes over McCain. [John Kerry won Allegheny County by 97,000 votes four years ago]. But the outlying counties were not so kind to Obama even though most are overwhelmingly Democratic. McCain actually did better than George W. Bush in 2004. McCain won Armstrong County by 7,000 votes; McCain won Beaver County by 2,500; McCain won Butler County by 23,000; McCain won Fayette County by 160 votes; McCain won Greene County by 86 votes; McCain won Indiana County by 2,500 votes; McCain won Lawrence County by 2,000 votes; McCain won Washington County by 4,400 votes; and McCain won Westmoreland County by 26,000 votes. Many of these counties have large Democratic majorities.

Was U.S. Rep. Jack Murtha right? Is it true that western PA (outside of Allegheny County and Cambria County) just couldn't vote for a bi-racial candidate for president? Well, pundits can debate that for years to come. Obviously, race plays some role. But I think a better explanation is the conservative nature of the Democratic voters in these outlying counties: pro-gun, pro-life, pro-religion, pro-small town America. Second, McCain and Palin practically lived here for the last two months with multiple visits designed to stress their identification with the concerns and lifestyle of this region.

The Obama campaign often gave the impression of ignoring southwestern PA while spreading love all over the southeast (Philadelphia). It may have been a smart strategy given limited time for their candidate. But, privately, local Democratic leaders in this region felt the Obama campaign was giving short shift to western PA. Nonetheless, the margin out of the five southeastern counties in the Philly area was an amazing 653,000 votes over McCain.

In the end, Obama did exactly what he had to do, even here in this region. When you subtract all those southwestern counties that voted against Obama from his big vote in Allegheny County, guess who's the winner? You got it. President-elect Obama still won this region, netting 30,000 votes from the 10-county area in this southwest corner of the commonwealth.

Pennsylvania Exit Polls:

So how did Obama do it, chalking up numbers unseen in 36 years of presidential politics in this state? Exit polls give some clues. On race, blacks voted for Obama 95% to 5%, but African Americans comprised only 13% of the PA electorate. What gave Obama his solid victory was a nearly even split among white voters, 48% for Obama to 51% for McCain. While Hispanics are not many in PA, Obama won 72% of them here, as well. In short, Obama did well in PA because he attracted voters of all races.

According to exit polls, Obama overwhelmingly won the young voters in Pennsylvania, winning 66% of those 18 to 24 years of age and 64% of those between 25 and 30. But the president-elect also attracted support of some of the older folks, winning 57% of those between 50 and 65. As for the coveted 65+ crowd, Obama split that group evenly, 49% to 50%
While some Catholic clerics tried to influence their parishioners to vote pro-life, Catholic voters – just like Protestants – split right down the middle between Obama and McCain.

Finally, on issues, it was pretty clear-cut: 58% of those who said the economy was the most important issue opted for Obama; 66% of those who said the war in Iraq was most important voted Obama; 53% who named energy as the top issue supported Obama; and 71% who put health care at the top voted Obama.


Corbett Survives the Tidal Wave:

Attorney General Tom Corbett solidified his credentials as the Republican's best hope to capture the governorship in 2010. Despite the Democratic tide, the suburban Pittsburgh Republican won a 365,000 vote margin over his Democratic opponent, Northampton district attorney John Morganelli. Corbett had double the cash and with the help of his superb media consultant, John Brabender (yes, the architect of Rick Santorum's emergence on the political scene beginning in 1990) had the best television ads. Corbett's high profile on the Bonusgate scandal, especially in this region, certainly helped. While Allegheny County was voting for Obama by nearly a hundred thousand votes, Corbett actually carried his home county by 34,000 votes -- not bad for a Republican. What also made a big difference was Corbett's wins in suburban Philadelphia, where he defied the presidential trend by winning Bucks, Chester, and Delaware Counties and only losing Montgomery County by 2,400 votes.

Wagner Positions Himself for the Future:

Auditor General Jack Wagner, a Democrat, swept to a second term, adding to his own bona fides as a potential candidate for either governor or U.S. senator in 2010. It was a landslide for Wagner who defeated Republican gazebo manufacturer Chet Beiler by 1.27 million votes. Wow! Wagner, a generally conservative Democrat, blitzed the state, winning 41 of the state's 67 counties, a remarkable achievement for a Democrat. In fact, it didn’t take Wagner’s press folks to rush out a press release touting his 3.2 million votes as the most received by any PA candidate on the ballot on Tuesday. But it’s not a record. Bob Casey got 3.3 million votes in 2004 when he was reelected state treasurer.

Enter Rob McCord:

The open seat for state Treasurer will be filled by Democrat Rob McCord who beat former Montgomery County commissioner Tom Ellis by 678,000 votes. McCord is a newcomer to the state political scene, but I suspect it won't be long before the well-spoken suburban Philadelphian makes his presence known. One sign that McCord may have some other elective desires is the fact he decided to spend election night in Pittsburgh rather than in his hometown.


Pennsylvania Democrats not only beat back the Republican attempt to defeat a couple of their incumbent congressmen, but they also added to their numbers from Pennsylvania. The state's 19 representatives in the 111th Congress will be 12 Democrats and 7 Republicans. There's some irony here because when the Republican-controlled state legislature and a Republican governor (Tom Ridge) gerrymandered PA's congressional districts after the 2000 census, they elected 12 Republicans from PA. Now the situation is reversed in the very same districts the Republicans created! Of course, the state now has many more Democrats than in did eight years ago.

Dahlkemper Makes History:

U.S. Rep. Phil English (3rd CD), the Erie Republican, was defeated by Erie Democrat Kathy Dahlkemper. Dahlkemper calls herself a conservative Democrat -- pro-life, pro-gun, pro-small business -- but that didn't stop House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) from pumping a lot of money into her race. In the end, she beat English by 8,300 votes. She kept it close in most of the counties, including Butler and Armstrong outside of Pittsburgh, and clinched victory with a 16,000-vote win in Erie County. Dahlkemper has told me that she wants to be more visible in the Pittsburgh media market than her predecessor. Her sister and son live in this area, and her first grandchild will soon be born in Pittsburgh, giving her plenty of "family" reasons to be around here. It will be interesting to see whether the new congresswoman is able to establish any kind of identity in the Pittsburgh media market.

Dalhkemper is only the second Democratic woman ever elected from western PA to the U.S. House of Representatives. Vera Buchanan of Pittsburgh was the first back in 1951 when she was elected in a special election to fill her husband's term. Buchanan went on to win two terms in her own right before dying in office of cancer in 1955 -- the first female Member of Congress to die in office. Dahlkemper will take office after a 54-year absence of a Democratic woman from this region in Congress.

Murtha Flexes His Political Muscle:

U.S. Rep. John Murtha (12th CD) was supposed to be in deep, deep trouble. But that was before he called in a lot of chits, raised a lot of money in two weeks, and overwhelmed his opponent, Republican William Russell, with both attack ads and a positive message of accomplishment for western PA. One month ago, Murtha took reelection in his district for granted. Then Russell, who raised a lot of money through a DC-based direct mail agency, exploited the congressman's own words about racism in western PA. A Republican-based poll suggested Russell was only four points behind Murtha, and all of sudden the nation's eyes were on this district.

In the end, Murtha beat Russell by 41,000 votes, winning a healthy 58% of the vote. Russell, who was upfront that he had moved to the district to run against Murtha, could not beat back the carpetbagger charge, especially when Murtha trumpeted all the millions of dollars his seniority has brought into the district. Murtha carried most of the nine counties through which his district stretches, including Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties which were relatively new to the 12th CD.

Altmire Wins Convincingly:

It was hard to find anyone who ever thought U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire (4th CD) was really vulnerable to the Republican he had defeated two years earlier, former U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart. Rematches are always tough in politics, and Hart just didn't have the resources or the issues to plant the seed of "buyer's remorse" among the voters in this suburban Pittsburgh district.

Altmire beat Hart by 39,000 votes, considerably more than the 8,800-vote win he had two years ago, giving the freshman a double-digit victory that probably takes him off the GOP list for some years to come. Altmire beat Hart by nearly 11,000 votes in Allegheny County, 23,000 in Beaver County, 9,000 votes in Lawrence County -- and that was all she wrote!

Murphy Defines a Republican Landslide:

Local Democrats would love to beat U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (18th CD), but they just can't find a candidate who can unseat this popular, well-funded, and politically savvy Republican. Monroeville businessman Steve O'Donnell thought he was the Democrat who could do the trick, but he ended up losing even worse than Chad Kluko, the Democrat who tried with much less resources in 2006. This time, Murphy -- who ran both positive TV ads on himself and negative attack ads on O'Donnell -- cruised to an impressive 90,000-vote win, 64% to 36%, over the Democrat. O'Donnell didn't come close in any of the four counties that make up the 18th CD, which means that thousands of Democrats (in a district with a 70,000 Democratic registration advantage) voted to give Murphy a fourth term in Congress.


Forget Bonusgate, Democrats Stay in Charge of State House:

It appears that Bonusgate had no impact on the legislative races. In this region, House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese faced a repeat challenger from Republican Greg Hopkins in his 50th legislative district. DeWeese knew what was coming and prepared well. Last February, he was out walking his district in the snow, knocking on doors, a practice he says he continued throughout the campaign. The end result was a larger win for DeWeese than two years ago, more than 2,000 votes this time. DeWeese’s return to Harrisburg does not guarantee him his top ranking spot in the Democratic Party, and concerns about his former chief of staff’s private conversations with the Attorney General about DeWeese’s role in Bonusgate trouble a lot of his colleagues. But DeWeese is nothing if not a survivor. Stay tuned.

The latest report is that the Democrats will not only retain control of the House but also add to their numbers. The current number, 102 Dems to 101 Republicans, could end up being 104 to 99. The Dems lost four seats on Tuesday, including Beaver County Rep. Vince Biancucci (15th LD) who was upset by Republican newcomer Jim Christiana and an open Westmoreland County seat (57th LD occupied by retiring Democrat Tom Tangretti) that Republican Tim Krieger won over Democrat John Boyle. The third Democratic loss was in Elk and Clearfield Counties where incumbent Rep. Dan Surra (75th LD) was upset by Republican Matt Gabler, and the fourth loss was in Bucks County where incumbent Rep. Chris King (142nd LD) was upset by Republican Frank Farry.

These four Democratic losses could have been fatal to state House control had they not picked up six seats in eastern Pennsylvania. Four Dems won open seats: Steve Santarsiero (31st LD in Bucks County), Richard Mirabito (83rd LD in Lycoming County), Paul Drucker (157th LD in Chester County), and Brendan Boyle (170th LD in Philadelphia). Two other Democrats defeated Republican incumbents on Tuesday: Democrat Tom Houghton beat Republican John Lawrence (13th LD in Chester County) and Matt Bradford defeated Jay Moyer (70th LD in Montgomery County).

The most interesting question now is whether the Democrats will be able to reach some consensus on a Democratic Speaker of the House. As the truly savvy know, two years ago the Dems picked Philadelphia Republican Dennis O’Brien to be their speaker because their top Democrat Bill DeWeese could not get the votes from his caucus. O’Brien would love to keep his job, and he’ll keep it as long as 102representatives cannot agree on someone else!

State Senate Goes Even More Republican:

You would think that with the Democratic landslide for Obama, a couple of Dems might have won some state Senate seats. Not so. The Republicans actually increased their control of the Senate, 30 to 20. In two nasty contests in western PA, Republicans managed to keep control of one seat and picked up another. In the 39th SD (Westmoreland County), county commissioner Kim Ward defeated Democratic chiropractor Tony Bompiani by 8,000 votes. Ward replaces retiring state Sen. Bob Regola, a fellow Republican. In the 47th SD (Beaver & Lawrence Counties), Republican Elder Vogel defeated Democrat Jason Petrella by 14,000 votes to replace Democratic state Sen. Gerry LaValle. The stories behind these defeats take too much time to digest, but at the beginning of this campaign year the Dems were favored to win both and managed to blow the opportunity. They were out out-foxed, out-hustled, out-negatived (yes, that too), and out-spent by the GOP, so two senate districts with more Ds than Rs now join the Republican column for four more years.

That’s a quick run-down 24 hours after the election results have come in. I welcome your insights and comments. Now it’s time for all of us to take a break, get some sleep, and start to think about Campaign 2010! Yeehaw!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Just One Day to Go

Dear Politically Savvy Friends,

Happy Election Day! One day to go – can you imagine? This interminable, never-ending campaign for president is just about over. Millions have already cast their ballots in the 31 states that allow “early voting,” but most of us will go to the polls on Tuesday – and later that night we shall know who the 44th president of the United States will be. No, I do not believe the vote-counting will drag on to December, and, no, this will not be another 1888 or 2000 where the winner of the popular vote loses the electoral college. Thankfully, this election will produce a clear-cut winner, one way or the other.

So, in these last minutes of Campaign ’08, let me offer some final thoughts to my politically savvy friends along with some observations of sorts. Since my last PSF a week ago, I had the chance to do one-on-one interviews with Barack Obama and Sarah Palin and a satellite interview with Joe Biden. John McCain is back in Pittsburgh this morning (Monday), but so far no word on whether he will chat with me. (I’ve talked to him twice this fall). While I am aggressive in seeking out these interviews – and scrupulously fair to all candidates – I know the reason they talk to me has very little to do with me and a great deal to do with the importance of western Pennsylvania in this campaign. Never has a region been so eagerly sought by candidates enroute to the White House! Read on for more.


Why Pennsylvania is So Important:

With the magic number of electoral votes being 270, RealClearPolitics now puts 238“solid” electoral votes in Obama’s column with 118 solid votes for McCain. Four states are leaning to Obama: Colorado (9 electoral votes), Nevada (5), New Mexico (5), and Pennsylvania (21). If he wins the first three, but not Pennsylvania, he does not hit the magic 270. Could it really all come down to Pennsylvania? John McCain & Sarah Palin seem to think so. They have invested an incredible amount of time and resources throughout this state, and the latest SurveyUSA poll out on Sunday shows they have made some inroads: a 12-point lead for Obama last week is down to 7 points this week.

But Obama does have other options. He could become the first Democratic president since Harry Truman in 1948 to win the White House without PA. You see, RealClearPolitics now has an unbelievable 128 electoral votes still up for grabs, including Florida (27 electoral votes), Ohio (20), North Carolina (15), Georgia (15), Virginia (13), Missouri (11), Indiana (11), Arizona (10), Montana (3), and North Dakota (3). Obama can clinch the presidency with a win in Florida and Ohio without Pennsylvania.

The numbers are much more difficult for McCain. He must win all the toss-up states and then take Pennsylvania. Since Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican to carry PA back in 1860, only two Republicans have made it to the White House without the Keystone State: Richard Nixon in 1968 and George W. Bush in 2000 & 2004. If McCain loses Pennsylvania, it’s hard to see how he wins the presidency.

The Battle for Pennsylvania:

McCain and his strategists know the history lesson, which explains why he and Palin have been campaigning non-stop in this commonwealth. Since the end of the GOP Convention, McCain has made 17 campaign stops throughout the commonwealth, including one today (Monday) in Pittsburgh. For her part, Palin has made 23 campaign visits, including last Friday’s stops in Latrobe and York. That’s a lot of love from two Republicans for a state that has a million more Democrats than Republicans!

While the McCain-Palin events are smaller in crowd size than Obama-Biden, the supporters can be just as enthusiastic. This past week, it was all about Joe the Plumber, spreading the wealth, socialism, higher taxes – familiar messages on the GOP trail. And both candidates insisted that Pennsylvania was going to surprise a lot of folks on Tuesday. As I’ve opined before in earlier PSFs, PA is winnable for the Republicans if – and it’s a big if – things break for them. What are those things? First, a low turn-out in Philadelphia and a margin of victory for Obama that is under 400,000 votes in the city. Second, a break-even in the Philly suburbs, where both John Kerry & Al Gore beat George W. Bush. Third, a win or break-even in Northeast PA. Fourth, a solid victory over Obama in the center part of the state, including Democratic areas that stretch from Johnstown to York to Lancaster to Reading. Fifth, a loss in Allegheny County (Greater Pittsburgh) of under 80,000 votes – Kerry won here by 97,000. And, finally, a big GOP win in Westmoreland County (by more than 30,000 votes) and consistent wins in all the conservative-voting Democratic counties that surround Pittsburgh and swing north to Erie. Under this scenario, McCain could eke out a victory in PA.

Palin Hits Latrobe:

Dressed in jeans, a Republican “cloth” coat (anyone remember Nixon’s speech?), and a orange Halloween scarf, Sarah Palin hit the make-shift stage (festooned with pumpkins on bales of hay) at a hangar at the small Arnold Palmer Airport in Latrobe (Westmoreland County) on Friday. About 2,500 supporters welcomed her on a frigid cold morning. She was accompanied by former Gov. Tom Ridge and another western PA football Hall of Famer – Coach Mike Ditka. Ditka who told the audience he was both a Republican and a conservative, introduced Palin. Pittsburgh football fans know that Ditka, born in Carnegie and raised in Aliquippa, was a local high school player before joining the University of Pittsburgh Panthers. The rest is history. Palin’s speech was not much different than the one she delivered in Beaver County a week earlier. It didn’t have to be – her supporters love her and she gets cheers just for showing up. Anybody think “Palin in 2012”?

This was my first chance to meet the Alaskan governor in person, and I admit I like her. She’s warm, down-to-earth, and (yes, guys) easy to look at! She answered my questions without hesitation – which, admittedly, were not tough ones – and was friendly and funny. And, yes, she talks just like Tina Fey, dropping her “g’s” as in fishin’ and huntin’ and the like. Is she qualified to be Vice President or President? Well, that’s a question for you to answer. I talked to her about Ditka’s endorsement, whether she thought western PA was like Alaska, and her iconic political role. She thought it was bizarre that people were dressing up as her for Halloween, but cracked that she was going out as Tina Fey. In her speech, she called on “Casey Democrats” to vote for McCain, so I asked her who those Casey Democrats were. I also gave her the chance to tell me how she would have run the campaign differently if she was in charged. No surprise, she ducked the question. You can watch the full uncut interview here: http://kdka.com/video/?id=48238@kdka.dayport.com.

In my view, the McCain campaign did a disservice to Palin when they hid her from the local media in the early fall. She does just fine, and by refusing to let her talk, they only created the impression that she was too dumb to answer questions and needed to be protected in some way. Moreover, I tend to think that local media are more fair than the national media, or at least less likely to have an axe to grind. Palin has been a great asset to McCain in exciting the Christian evangelical base, but it’s also true that she has hurt McCain among plenty of other voters, particularly some suburban women. We’ll know Tuesday night whether Palin helped more than she hurt.

Obama Hits the ‘Burgh:

Pittsburgh supporters of Barack Obama are nothing if not passionate about their candidate. At 7 am on a very cold day last Monday (Oct. 27), they started to line up to get into the Mellon Arena – home of the Pittsburgh Penguins – when the doors were not going to open until 3 pm and the candidate wouldn’t speak until 5:30 pm. This was Obama’s last visit to western PA, and at least 16,000 (a near capacity crowd) showed up to hear his “closing speech.” He brought out the typical political entourage: Gov. Ed Rendell, Sen. Bob Casey, U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, Allegheny County executive Dan Onorato, and Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl. But the introduction was reserved for a man whose popularity exceeds all the politicians combined: Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rooney is one of the nicest guys around, and his early endorsement of Obama last spring has had an impact. [A couple weeks ago, when Michelle Obama was in Pittsburgh, she stopped by the Rooney home on the Northside for a private fundraiser]. The crowd clearly loved it all, and I saw more than a few terrible towels being swirled around, albeit this came the day after the beloved Steelers fell to the Giants.

Before the end of Obama’s remarks, I had the chance to go back stage where I would interview Obama right after his speech. While I always enjoy interviewing the candidates, it’s a special treat to chat with some of the campaign operatives. I have talked to David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political strategist, on several occasions, and this time we had a bit more time together as Obama worked the rope line before exiting the Arena. I consider these conversations very much off-the-record, although I doubt Axelrod told me anything he hasn’t told others publicly. I like Axelrod, not only because he is a former political reporter (so he understands what it likes to be on this side of the camera), but because he is a soft-spoken, intelligent man who does not rant or rage or spin his words. In this business, that’s often rare.

Following his rousing reception, Obama was obviously revved up, if understandably a little bit tired. When I interviewed him behind a barn in Ohio in September, we had more time for chit-chat before the interview. This time it was pretty much all business. As the first reporter to talk to him since the story broke shortly before his Pittsburgh speech about those Nazi skinheads in Tennessee plotting an assassination, I had to ask him about that news item – but my general rule is to keep things Pennsylvania-focused and that’s what I did. I asked Obama about his reception in Pittsburgh, the state of the contest, the impact of racism, the skinheads, and his own safety – all in the mere two minutes I was allotted! You can check it out here: http://kdka.com/video/?id=48006@kdka.dayport.com.

While this was the Obama’s last visit to the region, both President Clinton and Senator Clinton were dispatched here for the late campaign hours. President Clinton spoke at Washington & Jefferson College on Thursday, while Senator Clinton is returning here today (Monday) after being here just a week ago Friday. Given the support the Clintons have always received in this region, it’s probably smart politics.


Did you miss Saturday Night Live this weekend? Check out John McCain’s great performance with Tina Fey right here: http://www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live/video/clips/mccain-qvc-open/805381/

For you “Irish rednecks” in Pennsylvania, check out this tune that acclaims Obama’s Irish ancestry: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EADUQWKoVek

And for those who (like me) love the musical Les Miserables, enjoy this parody of the Obama’s campaign last day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3ijYVyhnn0


Statewide Battles Unchanged:

Last week, I reviewed the three major statewide contests on the ballot tomorrow. For attorney general: incumbent Republican Tom Corbett versus Democrat John Morganelli; for state auditor general, incumbent Democrat Jack Wagner versus Republican Chet Beiler; for state treasurer, Republican Tom Ellis versus Democrat Rob McCord. The odds favor Corbett, Wagner, and McCord, but clearly Corbett is worried that a Democratic tide in PA could sink his Republican ship. He has assailed Morganelli on television and in direct mailers, although the Northampton district attorney has fought back. Voters in this state often “split” their tickets on Election Day, and my gut still gives it to Corbett. The appearance of a partisan, one-sided attack on House Democrats over “Bonusgate” – wherein both parties allegedly paid out legislative bonuses with taxpayer dollars for political campaign work done by legislative aides in the House and Senate – has hurt Corbett. But whether it’s enough to sink the political fortunes of this visible attorney general seems doubtful. I think it would take a Democratic tsunami for Morganelli to win.

PA Congressional Races Reviewed:

Most pundits think the four Democratic freshmen elected in 2006 will be returned to Congress tomorrow: U.S. Reps. Jason Altmire (4th CD), Joe Sestak (7th CD), Patrick Murphy (8th CD), and Chris Carney (10th CD). The most interesting contest of the four is former U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart’s comeback try against Altmire, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is so confident of Altmire’s victory that it has pulled out of the race. Nonetheless, Hart has a creative television ad (blowing up a house) that seek to blame Altmire and Nancy Pelosi for failing to take action in the current economic crisis. It’s a dramatic ad, but probably comes too late to affect the outcome. The Dems think Altmire could win by double digits.

If any Democratic incumbents are to fall tomorrow, the most likely is U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski of Nanticoke (11th CD). My impression from afar is that Hazelton mayor Lou Barletta, the Republican, has the 24-year incumbent Democrat on the ropes over a variety of issues, and that Kanjorski could be one of the few Democratic House incumbents to lose this year. Still, the district is Democratic and that could count for a lot in a Democratic year. And in a last-minute effort to help, President Bill Clinton will campaign for Kanjorski tonight (Monday) at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre. Kanjorski can still win this, but Barletta could pull an upset.

Most of the attention over the last week has been on U.S. Rep. John Murtha of Johnstown (12th CD). Murtha’s opponent is William Russell, a retired lieutenant colonel who recently moved to Pennsylvania from Virginia to take on Murtha. Nobody thought Murtha was in trouble a month ago – then Murtha put his foot in his mouth with comments about racism in western PA. Although he has apologized, Russell has hammered Murtha in TV ads on the “insult.” This week, Murtha responded with a blitzkrieg of his own, attacking Russell by name as a carpetbagger and highlighting his own success at bringing millions of dollars to western PA. And the DCCC has rushed in to help Murtha. Later today, President Clinton will campaign for Murtha. Both Russell and Murtha are social conservatives – Murtha is pro-life and has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association – but Russell has attacked Murtha for being the king of earmarks, something Murtha is proud of. The question for voters in the 12th CD is whether they are so unhappy over Murtha’s mouth that they are willing to toss him out with all his seniority and the money it brings this region. It may be close, but I think Murtha can pull this out.

The DCCC is salivating over the 3rd CD where incumbent U.S. Rep. Phil English, an Erie Republican, may lose to Kathy Dahlkemper, an Erie Democrat. English is a reasonably moderate Republican – he touts a support record of 50% for George W. Bush last year – but Dahlkemper has gone after English on trade, tax, and economic issues. The 3rd CD stretches from Erie south into some outlying counties just north of Pittsburgh: Armstrong, Butler, and Venango Counties. Both English and Dahlkemper think it may come down to these Pittsburgh-oriented counties, so the Pittsburgh media market has been flooded with television ads, mostly DCCC ads attacking English. The last time English had a close race, it was the Republican-voting Butler County that bailed him out. If it’s really close, that could happen again.

Steve O’Donnell, a Monroeville Democrat, has been attacked relentlessly by U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (18th CD), an Upper St. Clair Republican, in television ads this past week. Citing articles from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Murphy says O’Donnell essentially ran a non-profit mental health group into bankruptcy, rewarding himself and his family in the process. O’Donnell denies the charges, but does not have the resources to defend himself on TV. In an interview with me this week, O’Donnell said one shot in the TV ad where O’Donnell raises his hand up in front of a camera – just like most criminal defendants do when confronted by TV news cameras – is a fake. He was never the subject of a TV news story, but rather raised his hand to protect himself when one of Murphy’s people shoved a camera in his face. Murphy’s campaign has released some raw video tape, suggesting O’Donnell actually approached the camera. Whatever the truth really is, the real question is why is an incumbent congressman engaged in what some think is political overkill when he ought to be a safe bet for reelection? Two years ago, Murphy won over an unknown Democrat by 16 points. Sure, the 18th CD has 70,000 more Dems than Republicans, but the hard-working Murphy has attracted Democratic, and labor, support over the years. So is 2008 different? Well, again, unless Dems do something this year they haven’t done before, Murphy should win another double-digit victory.

A Pet Peeve – It’s Democratic Party, not Democrat Party:

A number of years ago, I was assailed by both pro-life and pro-choice folks because I refused to accept their characterization of their opponents. Pro-lifers want me to call their opponents pro-abortion, while pro-choice people want me to call their opponents anti-choice. My rule is fairly simple: I will call you whatever you want, but you can’t impose a name on others. The official names of our two major parties are the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. Over the last decade or so, some narrow-minded Republicans and their allies in the media have tried, unilaterally, to change the name of the Democratic Party to the Democrat Party. They have no right to do that, any more than Democrats can rename their opponents as the Repub Party. When you hear someone do that, it tells you a lot about their political idealogy.

Congrats to Luke & Erin:

Finally, I’m sure all my politically savvy friends join me in congratulating Pittsburgh’s 28-year old mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, and his wife Erin on the birth of their first child, son Cooper, on Friday. It’s a great reminder that amidst all the politics some things are more important – our families are really the reason that we need to elect quality individuals to public office. Little Cooper Ravenstahl cannot cast a vote until 2026, but his parents can – and you can – and it will never hurt us to think about which of the many candidates on the ballot can advance the interests of all our families in this state and nation.

This is obviously my last PSF before America votes on Tuesday. Over the next few days, I welcome your accounts of what is happening – and your own post-election analysis. I’ll share my thoughts on what happened at the end of the week. In the meantime, enjoy this most important aspect of American democracy – the right to vote in and vote out our government leaders. Good luck!