Friday, September 29, 2006

Why Is This Man Smiling?

Two surprises from Keystone Polls taken in the Philadelphia suburbs. In a poll of Delaware/Chester Counties' 7th District, the poll shows Joe Sestak in a dead heat with incumbent U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon. Among likely voters, it is Sestak 45% to Weldon's 44%, though keep in mind that the plus/minus in this poll is 4% or so.
Frankly, I would have thought that Weldon would be ahead in this race by 8 points or more at this stage in the campaign, given his 20 years as the incumbent in this district -- where 58% of the voters identify themselves as Republicans. However, only 37% of the voters say Weldon deserves re-election, while 49% believe it is time for a change.

The poll was done by Dr. Terry Madonna's crew at Franklin & Marshall College. Here is a link to the F&M web page that links to the polls, though I must warn you I was unable to call up the .pdf for the 7th.

Another surprise in this poll: Bob Casey's 17-point lead over incumbent Rick Santorum in the 7th. It was Casey 49%-Santorum 32%. Carl Romanelli (who was booted off the ballot this week) got 3%, while 16% DNK. In 2000, Santorum won Delco, which comprises most of this district, by a margin of 54%-44% over Ron Klink.

In the Bucks/Montco 6th District, incumbent Jim Gerlach had a 7-point lead over challenger Lois Murphy. It was Gerlach 45%-Murphy 38%-DNK 17%. Again, there is a margin of error in excess of 4 points. This is the race that most folks thought was competitive for the D's because Murphy came so close two years ago. There is room for the challenger to grow, though, because 30% of the voters said they were still making their mind, even if they did go for one candidate or the other in the initial questioning.

The contest is much closer in the U.S. Senate race in this congressional district. It was Casey 42%-Santorum 40%-Romanelli 2%-DNK 16%

The Benjamin Factor

Culled from the latest campaign finance reports (filed Tuesday), I have compiled lists of the top contributors to the Rendell and the Swann campaigns.

Pennsylvania Political Pundit Podcast

I am doing a brief podcast every week between now and the election. The latest went up yesterday.

It generally will consist of two brief interviews about the various races, trends, etc. plus a free commercial produced by the Committee to Make Merry At Election Times.

This week, I talk with Inquirer political reporter Tom Fitzgerald about the Temple-Inquirer poll and Terry Madonna about the Lynn Swann candidacy.

You can access the podcast here.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Romanelli Factor

In retrospect, Monday, Sept. 25th may be seen as the day Bob Casey Jr. won the race for the U.S. Senate.
That was day a state judge all-but knocked Green Party candidate Carl Romanelli off the ballot. See Jim O'Toole's piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for particulars.
The way I add it up, that will throw close to 200,000 votes in Casey's direction.
That's how many votes I estimate Romanelli would get statewide on Nov. 7th if he remained as a candidate.
My estimate is based on the total vote for U.S. Senate cast six years ago -- the last Rick Santorum ran -- and on share of the vote Romanelli was getting in the latest public polls. The Quinnipiac poll of Tuesday is the latest. It showed him with a 4% share.
There were 4.7 million votes cast in the Santorum-Ron Klink race in 2000.
I assume a slight bump up in turnout this year -- let's make it 5 million votes cast.
5,000,000 x 4% = 200,000 votes.
Of course, it is possible that some of those Romanelli votes will go to Santorum on Nov. 7th, but it would only be a handful. At most.
Everyone knew that a Romanelli candidacy would hurt Casey. That's why Santorum allies gave the Green's cash to help their effort at collecting voter signatures. That's why the state Democratic party spent thousands on its legal effort to get him removed from the ballot.
The Romanelli factor would have hurt Casey the most where he could afford it the least -- in Philadelphia and its suburbs, among liberals who could not bring themselves to vote for either major party candidate. Last week's Keystone poll showed Romanelli getting 8% of the vote in Philly, and totals ranging from 4% to 6% in the burbs.

Romanelli has one card left in his hand, an appeal to the state Supreme Court asking it to consider making the judicial retention race of 2005 the one it counts when it comes to determining the number of voter signatures required to get on the ballot. My bet is the Supremes will reject that appeal. (See my earlier post on this below)

Speaking of Quinnipiac, the poll showed Casey up by 12 points over Santorum, even with Romanelli in the race. It was Casey 51% to Santorum's 39% with 4% for Romanelli & 5% undecided.

The Quinnipiac release on the poll also contained this pithy quote but depressing quote (if you are a Santorum fan) from Clay F. Richards, the poll's assistant director:
“Sen. Rick Santorum’s comeback momentum has been stopped dead in the water. Santorum’s attack ads against Casey have failed to spark voters’ support, and 50 percent of voters say the Senator does not deserve re-election. Casey, just like his father, is attracting a significant number of Republican votes – perhaps enough to make it hard for Santorum to make it back to Washington."

PostScript: As several commenters have noted, 200 was a Presidential year with super-heated turnout. They rightly state that it is likely that turnout will match a gubernatorial year, with closer to 4 million votes being cast. That would put Romanelli closer to 140,000-150,000 if he got 4% statewide. The point remains: most of that 4% would have come off Casey. If Romanelli stays off, it makes Santorum's climb steeper. TF

Get Out The Bugle

It's time to play Taps for the Lynn Swann campaign.
The final tally is $13,700,000 vs. $3,600,000.
That's not votes. That's the cash Ed Rendell had on hand vs. the cash the Swann campaign had on hand in the campaign finance reports filed yesterday. Here is The Inquirer's piece on the disclosures. As astonishing as Rendell's figure is, the most revealing is Swann's.
In modern politics, the sad fact is that money buys media and media buys visibility. Without money and media you are invisible.
With six weeks left to Election Day, Swann is already is trailing by double digits in the most recent public polls. Now, we learn that he now lacks the money needed to maintain a strong media presence statewide, which can cost $800,000-to-$1 million a week.
You add it up and what does it spell? A fade out of the Swann campaign.
Oddly (cruelly?), it comes at a time when Swann the candidate seems to be doing better. He always had poise and star-power, now he seems more comfortable with the substance side of the equation. In a recent face-to-face with Rendell, he was judged the winner by most folks who saw it. See John Baer's take on Monday's debate before the state Chamber of Business and Industry.
There will plenty of time to pick over why a candidacy that began with such promise in February never really took off.
There is also plenty of time to ponder the implications (pundits love to ponder implications). Here's one question for this morning? Will the Swann fade-out help other Republican candidates? The reasoning is this: Without a vigorous contested race, Rendell voters in the Philadelphia media market have no reason to rouse themselves for their guy. This results in a drop in turnout in places like Philadelphia and the burbs'. A drop in turnout aids Republicans, who otherwise might be swamped my the presence of so many independent/moderate/Democratic Rendell voters. Think Rick Santorum. Think Jim Gerlach & Curt Weldon.
It's called the Law of Unintended Consequences.

P.S. I was in Harrisburg yesterday for the anti-violence rally and the special House session on crime. Here is my piece on those events.

PostScript added at 4:40 p.m. As if on cue, a new Quinnipiac poll was released showing Rendell with a 16-point lead. Here is the AP's take on it.

Monday, September 25, 2006

New & Recommended

A piece in today's New York Times on the Santorum-Casey race aptly summarizes the Santorum strategy headed into the home stretch: keep the race as close as possible, then win with field on Election Day.

In Forbes, a look at a phenomenon 25 years in the making: the switch of the Philadelphia burbs from redder-than-red Republican to pale-blue Democrat, especially in statewide and federal races. Can anyone name the guy who began it all? Answer here.

A profile of Lynn Swann in Sunday's Post-Gazette by Tracie Mauriello. It reads like an advance obituary of the Swann campaign, beginning with the headline: Swann has trouble catching on.

Death rattle of the Carl Romanelli campaign for U.S. Senate? It sure sounds like it in this piece from the Allentown Call.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Bush Factor

I've said it before and darned if I won't say it again: In his quest for re-election to the U.S. Senate, Rick Santorum faces two obstacles. One is Rick Santorum, the other is George Bush.

One is the love-him-hate-him dichotomy among Pennsylvania voters towards the Republican incumbent. I think he can overcome this -- with about $15 million in TV commercials, either by lowering his negatives or raising the negatives of his opponent, Bob Casey Jr. As Carrie Budoff notes in a piece yesterday (Saturday), the Santorum campaign is working hard at going after Casey.

But what about the Bush factor? By that I mean the general discontent among voters -- particularly moderate and swing voters -- over the President's performance that is reflected in his high unfavorable rating. Will the downard pull of the Bush factor prove too strong for Santorum and other Republican candidates? There is evidence that it will. The latest is the new Inquirer-Temple University poll released today (Sunday). The poll shows Casey with a 10-point lead (confirming the trend of most recent public polls). Tom Fitzgerald analyzes the BUsh factor in his piece on the poll.

Here is what these numbers say to me. If this election is seen by voters as a referendum on the Bush administration, a lot of Republican incumbents will be going down. If the Republicans can turn the election into a referendum on the quality and fitness of their opponents, they may survive. We have just over 6 weeks to see which way it turns.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Sometimes Life Just Sucks

It's time to announce my new award. It will be given weekly to the politician who has the worst run of luck in the previous seven days. Straight up, I'll tell you I stole the name for my award from the title of Judith Viorst's wonderful children's book about a boy called Alexander.
So, allow me to unveil my new:

Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week Award
I haven't decided what the winner will get. I was thinking of an emergency shipment of cookies and milk to soothe the wounds to their psyche, but I'm open to suggestions. I had a lot of good candidates for this new award, but one stood out from the crowd. So, the envelope please. Now, the drum roll. My winner is:
U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon
I am not a big fan of Weldon's -- a feeling that is reciprocated by the Delaware County Republican -- but you have to feel sorry for the guy. Here he is in the midst of a tough re-election campaign and he spends the week getting hit left and right. Let me count the ways:
Terrible: In comes Time columnist Joe Klein to do a profile on Weldon's race against Democratic Joe Sestak. It ends up being a Valentine to Sestak, who's portrayed as a Jimmy Stewart-type, filled with earnestness and savvy (a rare combination.) As to Curt, the Klein piece includes these gems. There's this quote. "Curt can be absolutely brilliant," says a House colleague. "But there's also a slightly unhinged quality to him." And this one: "He's like an out-of-shape boxer," says one of Weldon's friends. "His timing is off. I know he deeply regrets that comment about Sestak's daughter." Yikes! And that's a friend talking?
Horrible: A liberal Washington-based goo-goo group comes out with a list of the Hill's "Most Corrupt" electied officials and guess who's on it? Curt Weldon. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) blasted Weldom and others for "egregious, unethical and possibly illegal activities." This is not the first run-in Weldon has had with CREW. In 2004, CREW wrote the Justice Departmeet seeking an investigation into Weldon after the Los Angeles Times ran a piece about his daughter's work as a lobbyist. While the allegations are not new, the CREW "Most Currupt" tag comes at a bad time. Like in the midde of Weldon's re-election campaign. Here is Bill Bender's piece on the flap that ran in the Delco Daily Times.
No Good: A couple of year's ago, Weldon got a ton of ink on his "Able Danger" allegations -- his assertion that American intelligence officials bobbled the ball before 9/11 because they had knowledge of some of the organizers of that terrorist attack and did nothing to stop them.
On Thursday, the Pentagon's Inspector General's office released a report debunking the "Able Danger" allegations. His fellow Able Dangerites lambasted the report, as did Weldon, who told the Delco Daily Times that the Pentagon was out to get him by releasing the report right before the election. But, the headline on the story must have made Weldon wince. "Report: Curt wrong about Able Danger"
Very Bad: Finally, this morning, the Inquirer runs a piece about a certain pol coming to help Sestak. Guess who? Bill Clinton. Outside of Ed Rendell, Clinton is arguably the most popular Democrat in the Philly burbs. He won Delco both times he ran for President. While in the Navy, Sestak worked in the Clinton White House as a military staffer. Clinton's appearance on Oct. 5th will be a free media bonanza for the Democratic challenger. He is the last person you want around if you are a Republican in a district that has been trending Democratic in recent years.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Surrogates' War

Two ads have started running in some TV markets across the state paid for by PAC's and 527's, -- the so-called "soft money" PACs that can raise and spend money on behalf of candidates. ( has a good primer on them.)

One is anti-Santorum. The other pro-Santorum.

One of the ads, called "Body Armor" beats the hell out of Rick Santorum for failing to support bill that would have provided up-to-date body armor for troops in Iraq and Afganistan. The vote in question was over a $1 billion bill, offered by a Senate Democrat, that went down along party lines. Identical ads -- run by the same group in Virgnia -- have raised hackles, certainly among their targets, who are Republican incumbents.
The ad are paid for by a group called, an organization of Iraq and Afganistan veterans that includes Gen. Wesley Clark & former Sen. Bob Kerrey -- both Democrats -- on its board of advisers. Here is their web page.

PostScript Friday, Sept. 22: There is a piece in today's Allentown Morning-Call about the vets ad. It reports that it is running only in western Pa.

The other ad, called "Who I Am Today," praises Santorum for his support of welfare reform and criticizes Bob Casey for opposing it. It features a former welfare recipient who tells of her experience on welfare and post-welfare. It is a much softer piece than the Vets ad. And it was done by Softervoices, a 527 founded and supported by conservative women. The board includes Midge Decter and Heather Higgins. Here is the group's web page.

Rick Santorum's YouTube Moment

Temper, temper, Sen. Santorum.
YouTube. com has posted a video of Santorum doing a major rant at a street fair on Camp Hill, Pa. The object of his ire: a woman who comes up while he is wading through the crowd, and takes him to task for have the Penn Hills School District pay for the cyberschooling of his home-school kids, who live in Virginia.
Santorum razzes her for her criticism -- and keeps after her even after the woman tries to walk away with a "have a nice day."
His basic argument: "It's my tax dollars going to work for me." He tells her he pays Pennsylvania taxes -- even though he lives in Virginia -- and that it was appropriate for the Penn Hills District to pay for the cyberschooling of five of his six children.
What he pays in taxes to Pennsylvania, "is far in excess of the money the state paid for that (cyberschooling)" Santorum tells the woman, identified only as a teacher. The YouTube excerpt is taken from PCN.
Santorum then launches into a rap against the "curious bias of the media around here," after a photographer for the Harrisburg Patriot-News goes to talk to the woman. Keep in mind: This is in Camp Hill, Pa., not in Philly or Pittsburgh.

I don't buy Santorum's assertion that he pays "far in excess" in local and Pa. taxes than the cyberschooling cost.
As near as I can tell, Santorum pays somewhere in the range of $7,000 and $9,000 a year in state and local taxes (the bulk of it to the state in the form of state income taxes).
Paying for the cyberschools cost the Penn Hills District about $33,000 a year, according to the district. Santorum disputes that number, saying it was closer to $17,000 a year. Recently, the state reimbursed the district the equivalent of $27,500 a year for the two years the Santorum children were enrolled in the cyberschool. Any number you take, though, is in excess of what he pays in Pa. and Penn Hills taxes.

Casey Holds His Lead

The latest Keystone Poll, conducted by Terry Madonna and his crew at Franklin and Marshall College is out today. It shows Bob Casey Jr. holding his lead over Rick Santorum in the race for U.S. Senate. The poll shows Casey up by 7 points (45%-38%), with Carl Romanelli, the Green Party candidate getting 5%. Twelve percent of the voters say they are undecided.
Casey has held the lead in all of Madonna's Keystone polls. In fact,
this poll, which was in the field last week, shows a slight improvement
for the Democratic challenger over the August poll: he is up one point,
Santorum is down one point.
Don't pay too much attention to the small change in numbers. It is well within the margin of error, which is plus/minus 4%. The telephone survey included 604 voters, with Madonna & Co. trying to screen for "likely voters."
For Casey, here is the good news: He maintains a lead he has held since the first public polling was done. He is running ahead of Santorum in every area of the state, except Central Pa. Santorum's favorability rating among voters is at 36%, his lowest so far this year in this poll.
FYI: The President's favorability rating also remains below 40%. In this poll, it was 38%, a slight uptick from the August poll, when it was 36%.
For Santorum, here is the good news: his head-to-head numbers have improved since early this year (when the same poll showed him trailing Casey by 11 points). Among voters who identified a favorite, 37% were "soft" -- they told Madonna's people they could change their minds. So, it is possible for Santorum to shake some votes from the Democrat. Also, it is clear that Romanelli's presence on the ballot is hurting Casey.
If I were Rick Santorum, I would worry about two things: My low standing in my home base of western Pennsylvania, where Casey still holds the lead; and the court challenges seeking to remove Romanelli from the ballot, which appear likely to succeed. (See my earlier posting in this Carl Romanelli R.I.P?) If he can't improve those numbers in the west and if Romanelli is ordered off the ballot, he will be in deep doo-doo, to quote George the Elder.

On another front, the Keystone Poll shows Gov. Ed Rendell holding a substantial 18-point lead over Republican Lynn Swann, It is 52% for Rendell, 35% Swann with 14% undecided. This is virtually unchanged since August.

Here are details of the latest Keystone Poll.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Watch Your Back!

Is Rick Santorum in trouble with his Republican base?
Personally, I think not. In the August Quinnipiac poll, Santorum got a
66% favorable rating among Republicans, with only 20% listing their opinion of his performance as unfavorable. Other polls I have seen show the incumbent getting 75% of the vote of Republicans.
Yet, there is a school of thought advanced that Santorum has let down the conservative wing of his party and no longer deserves their vote. The root of the problem? Santorum's support of Arlen Specter's re-election in 2004 when Specter faced conservative/libertarian Pat Toomey.
Now, someone has come along to outline conservative doubts about the incumbent.
This piece, by Jim Panyard, appeared in the Evening Bulletin.
It's an interesting primer on the whys and wherefors of unhappiness among Republicans, at least among a slice of GOP voters.
Conflict of interest note: I worked with Jim years ago in Harrisburg when he was a reporter for the old Philadelphia Bulletin. After that, he became an exec. with the Pennsylvania Manufaturers Association and briefly flirted with the idea of running for governor this year. He is a conservative/libertarian.

Carl Romanelli R.I.P?

For all of you who sit up at nights worrying about whether Carl Romanelli will remain on the November ballot as the Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate, I bring you an update.
The Romanelli case is running on two tracks in the judiciary.
One. He is seeking a hearing before the state Supreme Court on his petition to change the method by which the state determines how many voter signatures are needed for an independent candidate (read: Carl Romanelli) to get on the ballot.
The law states that such candidates must get a total equal to 2% of the votes cast for the candidate who got the highest number of votes in the most recent statewide election. The state Election Bureau hath interpreted that as 2% of the vote total Bob Casey Jr. got in the 2004 election for state Treasurer: 2% = 67,000 signatures.
Romanelli's forces have argued that the requirement should be based on the Supreme Court retention vote in 2005. That, they have said, is the the most recent statewide election. The top vote getter was Justice Sandra Newman, who got a total of about 1.4 million votes (yes & no). That would greatly reduce the number of signatures required: 2% = 29,000 signatures.
On Monday, the Supreme agreed to hold a hearing to consider Romanelli's suit on the signature threshold.
So, score one for the Green candidate (and his Republican backers. Santorum forces want Romanelli on the ballot to siphon votes from Bob Casey.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Romanelli is fighting a Democratic attempt to get him off the ballot on the basis of having invalid signatures. This one is in Commonwealth Court. The jist of it is: even though Romanelli's forces collected 94,000 signatures -- far more than the 67,000 required -- the Dems say they have found 29,000 invalid ones -- wrong address, signatures from non-voters, etc. This would bring his total of valid signatures to about 65,000 and result in Romanelli being tossed off the ballot.
The Dems presented their case last week. Romanelli will get a chance to rebut next week (Sept. 25th).
Then the judge will rule.
Any bets on the fate of Carl Romanelli?

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Brett Lieberman Fund

Anyone seen signs lately that all is not going well in the Santorum re-election campaign?
I'm thinking of the incident Saturday at a meeting of Republican State Committee, held as sort of a pre-election pep rally for GOP stalwarts. Enter Sen. Rick Santorum.
According to Editor & Publisher, a newspaper trade magazine, here is what happened next:

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), in a bruising race for re-election, slammed a Pennsylvania newspaper -- literally -- this weekend.
The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa., reports that Santorum, who trails Democrat Robert Casey in most polls, referred to his "rocky relations with the press" as he moved from room to room to attend regional caucuses earlier at a GOP state committee meeting in a hotel in East Pennsboro.
Later he refused to talk when a Patriot-News reporter, Brett Lieberman, approached with a question about Iran -- and again complained about what he called biased coverage.
"I have to raise tens of millions of dollars because of the junk you feed the people of Pennsylvania," he said, according to the paper. It added that he "then used an expletive to describe the coverage and slammed down a newspaper."

What was the expletive? The E&P does not say. I'm guessing it rhymes with fit.
Santorum apparently was unhappy with Lieberman's coverage of the first Santorum-Casey debate, which -- the reporter opined -- Casey won. Lieberman is the Patriot's Washington reporter.
I think it is fundamentally unfair for Santorum to blame Lieberman for the "junk" that has forced him to go out and raise $10 million to counter.
I think we are all to blame.
Who among us had not written something that has put the senator in a bad light? His guts-and-glory support of the Iraq War. His keep-them-barefoot-and-pregnant views on the gentler sex. His famous "man on dog" comment. His K Street Days. His residency problems. The whole cyber-school brouhaha.
We've been there. We've done that.
I myself have had numerous transgressions, writing about the Santorum "wacko factor" and calling him "one of the finest minds of the 13th Century."
I could go on. No wonder he is furious at us media jackals.
The thing is, I don't think Brett Lieberman should bear the brunt of the Santorum ire.
We should all chip in.
My suggestion is simple: If every reporter in Pennsylvania contributed $300 each, we could raise close to $10 million. This would go a long way to reimbursing the senator for all the grief we have given him.
So, I am calling on all reporters -- at radio & TV stations, the wires and newspapers large and small (except the Greensburg Tribune-Review) to make a $300 contribution to the Santorum campaign.
In the memo field of your check simply write:
I'm sorry, Senator. I couldn't help myself.
It would go a long way to easing his pain.
Please, write that check today.

P.S. It's been suggested that you can save up your blank taxi slips and expense the contribution as cab rides over the next couple months. Also, try "lunch with source," for some of it. Plus a few bucks here and there for "Parking & Tolls."

Lost in Philadelphia

The stealth campaign of Lynn Swann pulled into Philadelphia today (Monday, 9-18) for a news conference.
You folks in the rest of the state may have seen a lot of the Republican candidate for governor. In the east, he's been the invisible man.
And why not? Better for Swann to spend his time elsewhere. This is Rendell country. It's daunting to go on the home turf of an opponent who left the Philadelphia media market four years ago with a 550,000-votes in his pocket.
That's not total votes. That's the Rendell margin over Mike Fisher.
Still, I wish Swann would give an encouraging sign that he gets it.
As a public figure, he is everything you could ask for -- sleek, handsome and articulate (up to a point -- that point being when he must answer in specifics. )
As a candidate, though, why does he seem so hapless?
Then again, maybe it isn't him. Maybe it's his campaign.
Case in point: The Swann TV ad up in some markets. The topic? Welfare reform.
Not, let me ask you, is welfare reform on the top of your agenda? Is that what keeps you up at nights with worry -- Oh, my gosh, I wonder how welfare reform is going! It is a Clinton era program and Swann's principal criticism is that the Rendell administration hasn't gone fast enough in implementing some of its provisions. Will that makes his numbers move? I doubt it.
Case in point 2: In this race, Swann is supposed to be the fiscal conservative and Rendell the big spender. So, what's he come to Philadelphia to do? To unveil an anti-crime program, a centerpiece of which is to have the state help pay for 5,000 additional police officers across the state.
(Swann is a week late on this. House Speaker John Perzel has trotted out a similar idea, though Perzel wants the state to pay for 10,000 officers.)
Swann mentioned something about paying for this program by "increasing (court) fees and fines" Apparently, he means hiking the fines and fees people who commit crimes must pay. When questioned about the cost, he replied: "I don't want to get locked into particulars."
On the other hand, I have no problem with particulars.
It costs between $60,000 and $80,000 to put a cop on the streets in Pennsylvania (including salary, fringe benefits and OT). Using the lower figure, it would cost $300 million to add 5,000 officers statewide. Even if the state picks up half the cost, it still will cost $150 million a year.
That's a lot of fines and fees.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Megaphone Man

Another in a series of posting I do on
letters and emails I get in response to
columns and blog posts. This one is
about gun control. I've done a number of
columns in support of a proposal to ban
handgun sales in Pennsylvania to one-a-month.
The idea is that by limiting sales, we can
also pinch the secondary (illegal) market
in handguns that make their way into the
streets and are often used in crimes.
When I write such a piece, I usually get
a passel of emails & voice mails from
pro-gun folks. This email, from Gregory
Niblock of Philadelphia, is an example.
Niblock is more vociferous than others, but the points he makes are very much the same.
One. Outrage that anyone who would propose such a limit, which they find (though the courts do not) violative of Second Amendment rights.
Two. Disdain at the person who advances the idea (in Niblock's case the fury is directed at me, John Grogan and Tony Auth), along with an assertion that we are dangerously liberal and astonishingly stupid.
Three. An assertion that gun violence is not a national problem, but a black problem, and therefore not solvable by broad legislation.
Niblock's missive is long, but my policy is not to cut these. Posted by Picasa

P.S. Please also note the comment that criticizes me for posting the letter. If I don't post, I get accused of stifling an opposing point of view. If I do post, I get accused of ...well, you get the point. I've emailed the poster and offered him space to air his point of view.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Questions & Answers

Some questions & answers ripped from today's headlines.

Question: Was Hooter's closed? Answer

Question: What's more bloated that the state bureaucracy? Answer

Question: Who is getting a leg up in the state's first "I'm more Catholic that you" competition? Answer

Question: Can you find the line that will come back to haunt the Santorum campaign? Hint: It's at the end of the story. Answer

Question: Gee, do you think the Supreme Court ruling on the pay grab will at last quiet the antis? Answer

Question: Do they have more time to volunteer because they're stay-at-home moms? Answer

Question: No matter what the problem, what's the answer? Answer

Thursday, September 14, 2006

This Just In....

The Supreme Court rules on the pay grab.
The court said that it was legal for the legislature to repeal the pay increase it passed, except for one provision. It violated the constitutional separation of powers by repealing it for....guess who? You got it.
For judges.
Ergo, the court rules, all judges must get the pay increase originally granted them in the law.
Here is a link to the 100-page opinion by Justice Ron Castille.
Castille said repealing the pay raise law was "clearly, palpably and plainly unconstitutional to the extent that it diminished judicial compensation."
Whatever you say, Ron.
Supreme Court associate justices' salaries will increase from $155,783 to about $171,000 as a result of the ruling. Pay of common pleas judges will increase from $135,293 to about $149,000..
Question: Is there anyone in the political establishment in Pennsylvania surprised that he Supremes ruled that judges get to keep the payraise, while all other elected and appointed officials included in the bill did not? Please raise you hands.
Here is an AP summary of the ruling.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels For Casey

The Santorum campaign is up with a new ad that seeks to link Bob Casey, ah, a bunch of bad guys.
My colleague Larry Eichel reports that it is a statewide buy, so I guess this signals the beginning of the negative ad portion of the U.S. Senate race. Casey began airing his own negative earlier in the week, an ad called "Debbie." Here is a link to the latest Santorum ad.
See below for a link to the "Debbie" ad.
As Eichel points out, the ad mentions no names. Instead, it has actors portray shady pols and businessmen who later got into trouble with the law.
He also points out that none of the shady guys has any role in Casey's U.S. Senate campaign and their support for previous campaigns came at a time when they were neither under investigation nor being prosecuted.
The interesting thing about the ad -- and this is obviously intentional -- is it's lack of specificity. It's purely atmospheric. To put it another way, it is pure innuendo.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Stevens Lane Redux

The residency issue is the tar pit of the Rick Santorum's re-election campaign. He just can't seem to free himself of it.
He was asked about it on Meet the Press in his debate with Bob Casey. The papers back home keep hammering him on it. It is hurting him bad with voters, particularly in western Pennsylvania.
I have no polling data to support that assertion, but if you want evidence, just turn on your TV. There you are likely to see a Santorum campaign commercial called "Important Job."
It's a very effective piece (or a shameless one, depending on your point of view) that features his children vouching for Dad.
The ad is designed to change the conversation from Santorum's residency (negative) to being a good Dad (positive). It also is intended to innoculate Santorum against a likely flight of Casey ads on the residency issue. Finally, from a tactical standpoint, it opens the door to allowing Santorum to claim that Casey is attacking his children by raising the issue.
(May I suggest that the Casey ad feature his children, saying: "We know where our Dad lives and he's never lied about it.")

On Meet the Press, host Tim Russert went after Santorum with hammer and tongs on the issue. ( Here is a transcript of the exchange) Russert got Santorum to admit that he probably, maybe spends about 30 days a year in the house on Stevens Lane.
In turn, that admission prompted Allegheny County Democrats to make merry with the issue this week. They wondered out loud why Santorum claimed a Homestead Exemption -- thus lowering his tax bill by $70 a year -- when such as exemption is supposed to be given only on a primary residence. A copy editor at the Post-Gazette wrote a clever headline for the piece:

County Democrats trying to hit
Santorum where he doesn't live
But, wait there's more. Santorum got a total of $73,000 from the Penn Hills School District so his five of his six children could attend a cyber-charter school from the family home in Leesburg, Va. (Not a bad deal. Santorum pays about $2,000 a year in property taxes on the house on Stevens Lane, but got $38,000 a year from the district for the cyber charter.) Discovery of the payments led to a brouhaha over whether it was right or wrong for Santorum to take the money. He pulled his kids out of the school when the issue was first raised, but it won't go away.
Recently, the state decided to pay the Penn Hills District $55,000 to settle the issue after Penn Hills sued the state over what the district said were foggy and contradictory rules and regs on cyber charters. On Tuesday, the district decided to accept the state's offer, but that gave Santorum's bete noire, Erin Vecchio -- Penn Hills Democratic party chair and school board member -- a chance to slap him around again over the whole mess. It also gave the PG an opportunity to do the same in an editorial , which suggested that if Santorum was a good and decent fellow, he would repay the district the entire $73,000.
See what I mean? A tar pit.
A postcript: I've blogged before about this issue, You can find earlier posts here and here.

Data & Miscellany

More information about House Speaker John Perzel's proposal to have the state help pay for thousands of new police in Pennsylvania.

Here are some numbers on the police complement in Philadelphia in recent years that I gleaned (with a little help from my friends) from city budget documents.

Here is a .pdf on how the Perzel plan could break down by county. Take this with a grain of salt. It probably overstates the number of police that can be hired. But, it is based on the formula of the state putting up $22,500 per officer.

Here is a link to the House Republican Caucus web page, with more info on the plan.

As I mentioned below, Rendell says he is cool to the plan because it will cost too much money. Here is a link to that story. It gives him the rare opportunity to look like a fiscal conservative.

I did a column on the Perzel plan today. It struck me later that Perzel is not simply positioning himself on the issue for this election. This very well may be the first step in his campaign for governor -- for 2010.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

This Just In....

Amtrak announces it will start high speed service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg.
It will cut the travel time from 2 hours to 90 minutes.
This means regular folks will be able to travel between the two cities nearly as fast as the governor.
But they'll have to take the train.

Here are the details.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Thinking Big About Blue

A major state politican recommends spending $225 million a year in state money to enable local governments across Pennsylvania to hire up to 10,000 police over the next five years.
Guess who?
No, not that notorious big spender Ed Rendel. It is state Rep. John Perzel, the Republican House speaker.
Perzel floated the idea Sunday in a sit-down with my colleague Mario Cattabiani.
Perzel's idea seemed to take his Republican colleagues aback. And no wonder. They are the party that is supposed to oppose costly new programs, not propose them.
The idea is not without strings. Perzel wants the state to pick up half the cost of new officers and have local governments pick up the rest. And, as he articulated it, the program is not designed to subsidize officers already on the payroll, but only for expansion of departments.

Still, the Perzel proposal is an example of big thinking. The state and federal government give nearly zero for local law enforcement, which places a burden on communities small and large. Some of the smallest have had to abandon having local police. Some of the largest had attritted down in recent years.
Let me use Philly as an example. Nearly 45 cents out of every dollar spent by the city of Philadelphia is on public safety -- by that I mean the police, the courts, the DA's office, probation and parole, the prisons, the sheriff's office and the public defenders. (I am using 2005 figures here) Six out of 10 city employees are involved in public safety. The largest, obviously, is the police department. The city has about 6,400+ uniformed officers.
Perzel said his proposal would let Philly put another 1,300 police on the streets over the next few years. Horray for that, but it would cost the city a big chunk of change. It costs about $80,000 to add one police officer to the Philly force -- including base salary, OT and fringe benefits. To add 1,300, as proposed by the House Speaker, would cost the city $100 million a year more in city money, on top of the $100 million in state aid. (see below for correction.)

Posted Tuesday, Sept. 12: I made a mistake in the above calculations and overstated the costs to the city. The Perzel plan would have the state pay 50% of the cost of the salary of a new officer, which the plan places at $45,000 a year (using the statewide average). That means the state will pay a max of $22,500 per officer. The Perzel plan does not directly subsidize fringe benefits. However, Al Bowman, a spokesman for Perzel said the plan is designed for maximum flexibility. For instance, in Philly, where it costs $80,000 a year in salary, fringes and OT to put a rookie officer in the street, the city could choose simply to hire fewer officers. Under the plan, the max the state would give to Philly is $32 million. If Philly added another $32 million to the pot, it could afford to hire 775 new officers -- not the 1,300 Perzel mentioned, but still a substantial number. Ditto for other counties and localities.

Posted Wednesday, Sept. 13: Gov. Rendell says he is against the Perzel plan because it is too expensive. Perzel's office says it is puzzled by the governor's reaction. So now we have a Republican proposing a New Deal-like plan, and a big spending Democrat against it.

New & Recommended

For Monday, Sept. 10th:

The Boy Mayor
The Post-Gazette offers a day in the life of Pittsburgh's new mayor, Luke Ravenstahl.
The 26-year-old former City Council President is (wisely) still keeping a low profile.

Up & Running
The Pat-news notes that Lynn Swann is up with his first TV ads in several markets, though not in central Pa. Why? When you don't have much money you must target your buys.

Hot sauce vs. Mayo
Jim O'Toole of the The Post-Gazette weighs in with a Bob Casey profile and Carrie Budoff and Tom Fitzgerald do a piece in The Inquirer on Casey's personality, or lack thereof. Both pieces wonder outloud if Casey can win solely by being the anti-Santorum.

Friday, September 08, 2006

This Just In...

The latest Santorum & Casey ads.

The Santorum ad , tagged "Important Job" by the campaign, seeks to tackle the residency issue, using the senator's children to vouch for him. Very effective and nicely done. But, it shows that the residency issue is hurting Santorum and he feels he needs to address it head on. I don't know where it is airing. My guess is that play it tilted to the Pittsburgh Media Market, where the residency issue has caused the Republican the most damage.

The Casey ad, called "Debbie" is a soft negative, taking Santorum to task for remarks in his book "It Takes A Family" about how women should stay at home. Also effective. Again, I don't have info on where it is airing. By the time this campaign is over, my bet is that Santorum will have wished he delayed publication of "It Takes A Family" until after the election. It has given his opponents and enemies a silo-full of fodder.

Adlai, Eleanor & Rick: Perfect Together

While on vacation, I missed the debut ot Rick Santorum's summer TV ads, but caught up with them when I got back. I call these the Marzipan Rick ads -- designed to soften the incumbent's hard image among voters and lower those negatives a bit. Have you ever eaten marzipan? It's the super-sweet confection made out of almond paste. An acquired taste, just like Santorum.

The ad that struck me was the one the Santorum campaign labeled "The Daily Bugle." It features Santorum, wearing an electric blue shirt and sitting at a desk cluttered with newspapers. Here's the lead-in to the ad:

Santorum: "I just love reading the newspapers. This one calls me too conversative. They probably didn't like my efforts to reform welfare. And this paper, they say: 'The real problem with Rick Santorum is that he’s too liberal. They didnt like my legislation to increase the minimum wage..." If you have the right media player, you can also see the ad here.
In all my years, I have never ever heard Santorum called liberal, let alone "too liberal."
I asked the Santorum campaign for the source of the quote. They replied that it was the Dick Scaife-owned Pittsburgh (nee Greensburg) Tribune-Review.

The Santorum campaign sent me this excerpt from a May 15, 2005 Tribune column by Colin McNickle: “And then there's his collaboration with Democrats. Not just any Democrats but Teddy Kennedy and Chuck Schumer. There's a proposal to raise the minimum wage. There's another plan to throw $500 or $1,000 cash at every kid born in the United States after Dec. 31, 2006. Even if there's an eventual "offset" down the road on the latter proposal, it's still taxpayer money and we're still talking about the creation of yet another government entitlement. Santorum, "too extreme"? Pshaw! Try too liberal, at least on matters economic. That's the real Santorum story being missed by the out-of-towners.”

For the record, McNickle -- whom no one would accuse of being a liberal -- is no fan of Santorum's, whom he considers an "unprincipled pandering opportunist," who went into the job as a pure-of-heart conservative, but lost his way to the blandishments of power and politics inside the Beltway.

Other than McNickle does anyone out there think that Santorum is a liberal? And, if so, what would that make Bob Casey Jr. or Arlen Specter? I know one thing, it would make Teddy Kennedy a Maoist.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Last Hurrah

A piece still causing buzz among the pols is the story done by my colleague, Angela Couloumbis, wherein Ed Rendell pronounces this campaign his last one.
"This is my 14th election - enough is enough," the governor told Couloumbis while campaigning in Lancaster the other week. Here is a transcript of their exchange.
Most pols thought it was a crock and that Rendell will be tempted to run a 15th time, maybe for President or Vice President.
But I take Rendell at his word. Read the story and you'll see that he thinks President is out of the question. (He would have had to have started campaigning months ago if he was interested.) As to Vice President, he confesses, it is not a job he wants. Besides, he adds, he's not exactly on the "A" list of any of the potential presidentials, nor does he expect to be. Rendell's reputation in Washington as a shoot-from-the-lip candidate assures that.
I don't think Rendell is without ambition. He simply realizes the reality of the situation.

The piece served a second purpose. It allowed Rendell to state that if re-elected as governor he will serve his entire four-year term. This clearly is designed to quell Knollophobia in political circles -- the nagging fear that Rendell will depart for Washington in mid-term and that Catherine Baker Knoll will become governor of Pennsylvania.

Rendell will be 66 in 2010, the last year of his second term if he is re-elected. He is among the state's most enduring political figures, with a career of public service spanning five decades, beginning when he joined the District Attorney's office in 1968, just out of Villanova Law School. He was 24 at the time. The guy who hired him was DA Arlen Specter. Later, Rendell went on to head the office's high-profile homicide unit.

Smart politicians know how to seize an opportunity and Rendell did that in his maiden election in 1977, when he opposed incumbent DA F. Emmett Fitzpatrick in the Democratic primary. Fitz had ousted Specter four years earlier in an upset. Rendell departed the office shortly thereafter.
This was in the midst of the Rizzo era of Philly politics. Fitzpatrick had the backing of the mayor and the party apparatus. Rendell ran an outsider's campaign -- as he's done often ever since. He was anathema to the party regulars. He was seen as representing the anti-Rizzo liberals. But he beat the machine. It had more to do with the incumbent than with the challenger. Fitzpatrick, a well-known defense attorney, had champagne tastes in an office with a beer budget. He got himself a Lincoln towncar as his official city vehicle. He loved to travel to conventions in lovely locations. And he was caught, by my former colleague Mike Leary, expensing a safari jacket he picked up on one of those trips. (He listed it as a "meal" at Aquascutum.) Rendell cleaned his clock, winning with 67% of the vote.

If that was a highlight of Rendell's career, two low points came in 1986, when he lost the Democratic primary for governor to Bob Casey Sr. and in 1987, when he lost the Democratic primary for mayor to incumbent Wilson Goode. "I may never seek office again," Rendell said after losing to Goode. Four years later, he was back running for mayor.

Rendell has had years where he was in private practice, but that was just where he hung his hat while waiting for the next election to come along. He was and is and always will be a politician -- and a good one at that. Like Al Smith, he's a Happy Warrior, who loves the game. He's popular because of his performance and his regular-guy persona. But I think the trait that seals the deal with most voters is his optimism.

I've posted a a list of Rendell's contested elections -- and their results -- on my Letters Blog.
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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bombs Away!

The most alarming story of the week is my colleague, Larry Eichel's , discovery that the national Republican and Democratic campaign committees have reserved $16.1 million worth of advertising time on Philadelphia TV stations in the month leading up to the Nov. 7th election.
The National Republican Campaign Committee has set aside $8.4 million to defend three of its vulnerable congressional incumbents in the area: U.S. Reps. Jim Gerlach, Curt Weldon and Mike Fitzpatrick.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has set aside $7.7 million on behalf of the challengers: Lois Murphy, Joe Sestak and Patrick Murphy.
If all the money is actually spent -- and that depends on how hot these races remain -- do you know what that translates into? About 7,400 commercials.
And this total doesn't include the commercials that will be booked by the candidates themselves or by other advocacy groups.
So, here's my piece of advice to residents of the Philadelphia Media Market. Duck!
This is the political equivalent of saturation bombing. And you are the target.
Some of the TV minutes -- excuse me, make that hours -- will be devoted to pumping up the candidates. But, if the past is a guide, most of the money will be spent on attack ads, designed to either (a) turn you against an opposing candidate or (b) make you so sick of the pols and their ways that you stay home on Election Day.
Either way, we are in for a vicious, nasty October on television.
Thank God, I've got TIVO.
Actually, this may be worth a study by social scientists.
It's axiomatic that all political advertising is essentially alike. It uses the same format, graphics and language. Ditto for negative ads. I wonder, given the volume of advertising, if it will all just melt in our minds into an oozing, odiferous, indistinguishable black mass?

I think it's also time to remind you of my Sleazy Award, given each election season to the slimiest, dirtiest, low-down, kick-below-the-belt ads aired on TV or sent via the mails.
For some reason, the Republicans have dominated the Sleazies in recent years, but I'm sure they'll get some competition from the Dems this year. By the way, here is my definition of what qualifies as sleazy from an earlier column I did on the topic:

The Sleazy is reserved for the media campaigns that engage in the lowest, dirtiest tactics in the election season.The prize - a lovely statuette of a snake with a forked-tongue, rising from a swamp - isn't easy to win. Routine bad-mouthing of your opponent won't do it. Heck, that happens all the time. Calling him or her a radical won't do it. That's a love tap. Mere negative ads won't win one. You have to be ready to go over the top. I'm talking gross distortions. I'm talking outright lies. I'm talking bona fide Grade A sleaze.

Keep an eye out for candidates for Sleazy awards and email me details at Better yet, send me links to the stuff and I'll post them here.

The Boy Mayor of Pittsburgh

Funeral services are scheduled to be held tomorrow (Thursday, Sept. 7) for Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O'Connor, who died Friday of a rare and ravenous form of brain cancer. The Post-Gazette offers an elegaic piece about the late mayor that tells the tale of O'Connor's rise and his sudden and sad fall to disease. KDKA has a piece that sums up O'Connor's career. Again, at the PG, an oncologist, who was also a friend of the mayor's, tells of O'Connor's fight against his disease, saying that once it was discovered the mayor had T-cell lymphoma of the brain his physicians knew he could not survive.

The new mayor of Pittsburgh is Luke Ravenstahl, who was serving as city council president at the time of O'Connor's death. Ravenstahl is 26 years old. The city solicitor has ruled that he can serve in the job until 2009, though there is some dispute over that. The PG offers up a short profile of Ravenstahl and his quick rise. I've also included Ravenstahl's official biog as posted on his City Council web site.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Casey vs. Santorum

In case you missed the Meet the Press face-off between Rick Santorum and Bob Casey (and who didn't? It aired at 10 a.m. on the Sunday on Labor Day weekend), I can point you to a transcript of the the debate, plus two stories -- one by my colleague Carrie Budoff in the Inquirer, another by Charlie Babington in the Washington Post.
The winner? Easy. It was Tim Russert.
The Meet the Press host was terse, aggressive and brooked no nonsense. It resulted in the kind of give-and-take you don't see on most debates. Russert and his staff did their homework. They had obviously unearthed every extant anti-Casey and anti-Santorum clip and were determined to ask the candidates about them. Special targets: the Santorum residency issue and Casey's stand on the morning-after pill.
The winner in terms of debate skills: Santorum. Hands down. After years in the media spotlight, the junior senator has his act down. He knows you don't give speeches on TV. You keep it short. You keep it snappy. And attack, attack, attack. He always went for Casey's throat, when he wasn't fending off Russert. He was masterful.

And yet, if I were Bob Casey, I would immediately take up Santorum's challenge to 10 debates, instead of the three others they are skedded to have. Why?
Because the debate underscores Santorum's difficulties in this re-election year.
This was not the Rick Santorum of his TV ads -- the Marzipan Rick, who dances the polka, hugs the babies, and does his darndest to appear benign. This was the Red Meat Rick, the conservative warrior for God and country.
He is pro-pro-Bush in a Blue State where about two-thirds of the voters think the president is doing a lousy job. He is pro-war in a state where nearly three-fourths of the voters hate the war. Not only is he pro-Iraq War, there were times in Sunday's debate where Santorum gave the impression he'd be happy to see that war expanded into Iran.
And this talk of Islamic Facism, while it may sound Churchillian to his supporters, is going to spook regular folks, who may not be as enthusiastic about waging a Holy Crusade against the Infidels. It may have worked for Pope Urban II, but times have changed since 1095.
It's hard to sound more hawkish than Dick Cheney, but Santorum managed to do that on Sunday.
As to the President, Santorum told Russert he is "doing a terrific job." This was after Russert flashed a graphic that showed Santorum's support for Bush in the 97% to 100% range in recent years. Which gave Casey a chance to utter his take-away line of the debate: "When you have two politicians that agree 98% of the time, one of them's not really necessary."

In a nutshell, Santorum has two problems: One is Rick Santorum and his standing among moderate and swing voters. The other is George Bush.
About $15 million in advertising may solve problem No. 1. But what the heck is he going to do about problem No. 2?