Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pennsylvania Downballot, III: State-Level Races

Attorney General (R/D)

            Strangely, for a swing state like Pennsylvania, the Republicans controlled the attorney general’s office for thirty-two straight years, from the time it became an elected position in 1980 to Kathleen Kane’s election in 2012.  The party’s choice to take back the office is John Rafferty, a state senator from suburban Philadelphia; challenging him is Joe Peters, a former federal prosecutor and assistant to the federal drug czar from Scranton.  There’s a Tea Party-versus-establishment angle to this primary.  In addition to the state committee, several elected officials have endorsed Rafferty, who has a record as one of the General Assembly’s more moderate Republicans.  Peters, meanwhile, touts his support from pro-life and gun rights groups. 
            On the Democratic side, the three candidates are Josh Shapiro, the previously mentioned Montgomery County commissioner; Stephen Zappala, a district attorney from Allegheny County (Pittsburgh and its immediate suburbs); and John Morganelli, a district attorney from Northampton County, in the Lehigh Valley, who was the party’s nominee in 2008.  Since Montgomery is the most populous of Philadelphia’s suburban counties, this will likely turn into a regional battle, putting Morganelli at a distinct disadvantage.  The Lehigh Valley (Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, and their surrounding rural areas and suburbs) is in many ways a microcosm of the state, with liberal cities, conservative rural areas, declining industrial areas, growing suburbs, and a burgeoning Hispanic population, but it tends to have an insular, provincial mentality (to be honest, that’s another way it resembles the state as a whole) that limits the interaction between its politicians and the rest of the state and tends to make it a poor springboard for statewide office.*
Zappala has some endorsements from Philadelphia: the mayor, several state legislators, and Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, who used to represent part of Philadelphia in the State Senate.  (He doesn’t have any major endorsements from the suburban counties, though.)  Shapiro, running as a crusading progressive, has the endorsement of Gov. Wolf, President Obama, environmental groups, and the state teachers’ and nurses’ unions.
The general election is probably a tossup.  The Republicans have their long track record in the office and Kathleen Kane’s scandals working in their favor; the Democrats have a voter registration edge and the chaos going on in the Republican presidential race.
            The fall matchups for the other two row offices are already set: Reading businessman Otto Voit (R) against former ambassador Joe Torsella (D) for state treasurer and Northampton County executive John Brown (R) against incumbent Eugene DePasquale (D) for auditor general.  The Democrats are probably slight favorites in these races.

General Assembly

            All 203 of Pennsylvania’s state House districts and twenty-five of its fifty state Senate seats are up for election this year, but I won’t bore you with the details of all of them.  There’s also a special election in the ninth Senate district, located along the Delaware border southwest of Philadelphia.  The vote is to replace former state Sen. Dominic PIleggi, a moderate Republican who conservatives ousted as majority leader after the 2014 election.  PIleggi ran for a county judicial post the next year, won, and resigned his Senate seat.  (Interestingly, since Pileggi was mayor of Chester before being elected to the state Senate, he has served in all three branches of government.)  The candidates to replace him are Democrat Marty Malloy, a former nonprofit executive, and Republican State Rep. Tom Killion. 
The area has been trending Democratic, but still tends to elect Republicans at the local level, making the election a tossup. Whichever party wins will claim momentum heading into November, and the results will be taken as a gauge of Gov. Tom Wolf’s popularity after a long budget crisis (particularly since Malloy is running as a Wolf ally). 
Two primaries in the Philadelphia area bear watching.  One is in the fifth Senate district in northeast Philadelphia, where state Rep. Kevin Boyle is challenging state Sen. John Sabatina, a fellow Democrat.  This is the latest chapter in an ongoing feud between U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, Kevin’s brother, and Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, who used to hold the seat.  If the primary splits Democrats enough, it could be an opening for Republican Ross Feinberg in the general election.   Northeast Philadelphia is the only part of the city with a viable Republican party, and as a predominantly white, working-class, socially moderate area, it’s an place where Donald Trump could actually do better than a typical Republican if he ends up as the nominee. 
The other is in the 164th House district, just outside Philadelphia in Delaware County.  The incumbent, Democrat Margo Davidson, is a fairly standard liberal except for stances favoring school choice and opposing abortion, which was influenced by her cousin dying at the hands of infamous abortion provider Kermit Gosnell.  These stances earned her a primary challenge in 2014 and again this year, now from Upper Darby Township councilwoman Sekela Coles.  The teachers’ union and Planned Parenthood have thrown their weight behind Coles, and the party committee is staying neutral (in 2014, they backed Davidson).
Republicans hold a 30-19 majority in the state Senate and a 119-84 majority in the state House.  They will definitely hold on to the Senate: there simply aren’t six seats that could plausibly swing from Republican to Democratic, even if Hillary Clinton carries the state handily, and Democrats have a few vulnerable seats in the central and western parts of the state.  House elections are harder to predict, but Democrats would need the largest net gain for any party since 1978 to take over the chamber. 

In conclusion, I’ll leave you with this traditional Pennsylvanian blessing:

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine gently on your face,
The rain fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,

May none of the assistant coaches at your favorite college football team turn out to be a pervert. 

Pennsylvania Downballot, II: U.S. House

            Despite the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, and the general anti-establishment mood of the voters, no incumbent member of Congress has lost his or her primary so far this year.  That may change once Pennsylvania’s votes are counted; two incumbent Congressmen are facing serious challenges, in addition to two open seats with competitive primaries.

2nd Congressional District (D)

            Philadelphia can often seem like Chicago: the weather’s lousy but the Italian food is great, it might be 100 years before the Phillies win another World Series, and it seems like Democratic politicians can get away with anything.  However, Rep. Chaka Fattah (tied with Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Allegheny County, as the most senior Pennsylvanian in Congress) is in serious trouble after being indicted in a money laundering scandal related to his unsuccessful run for mayor of Philadelphia in 2007.  Fattah has landed three challengers: State Rep. Dwight Evans, Lower Merion Township commissioner Brian Gordon, and attorney Dan Muroff.  Evans leads the only public poll conducted of the race and has the endorsement of Gov. Wolf, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, and former Gov. Ed Rendell; he has to be considered the frontrunner.  Fattah still has the support of Rep. Bob Brady of the neighboring First District (Brady also chairs the Philadelphia Democratic Party) and most unions that have endorsed.  Muroff has shown some life, getting the endorsement of Daylin Leach, an influential liberal state senator, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
            The district is diverse, in the sense that it contains many different types of Democrat.  It takes in predominantly black areas of North and West Philadelphia (about 60% of the district’s residents, as well as Evans and Fattah, are black), many of the city’s universities (including Temple and the University of Pennsylvania), and Lower Merion Township, an affluent liberal suburb.  Whoever wins the Democratic primary is almost certain to win the general election.

8th Congressional District (R/D)

            U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick is one of the rarest breed among American politicians: the kind who take a term limit pledge and actually mean it.  He was first elected in 2004, lost his seat in the Democratic wave of 2006, and regained it in the Republican wave of 2010, pledging to serve only three terms.  Those three terms are up, leading to a scramble in both parties to replace him.  On the Republican side, state Rep. Scott Petri seemed to be the frontrunner until Brian Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent and the current Congressman’s brother, threw his hat into the ring.  Petri dropped out, leaving Fitzpatrick 2.0 to face Andy Warren, a former Republican Bucks County commissioner who ran for the seat in 2006 as a Democrat and switched back to the GOP, and Marc Duome, a businessman and psychiatrist.
            The two Democratic candidates are Shaughnessy Naughton, a businesswoman who unsuccessfully ran for the nomination in 2014, and state Rep. Steve Santarsiero.  The primary has become heated, with Naughton accusing Santarsiero of exaggerating his record in the General Assembly and Santarsiero accusing Naughton of illegally coordinating with a super PAC.
            This district covers all of Bucks County and a slice of neighboring Montgomery County, in the Philadelphia suburbs. Mitt Romney carried it by a 49.4-49.3% margin in 2012, making it the most evenly split district in an otherwise heavily gerrymandered state (Pennsylvania has Congressional districts resembling a dog with its head tilted backward barking at an angel, a bodybuilder’s arm reaching down to pinch the city of Harrisburg, an anorexic hammerhead shark, and a decapitated French maid.)  The Republicans have a slight advantage here, unless their Presidential candidate becomes too much of a drag on the rest of the ticket.

9th Congressional District (R)

            Rep. Bill Shuster is following in the footsteps of his father Bud, both as congressman from this area and as chairman of the House Transportation Committee.  Bud’s pork barreling ways were legendary; to pick one example, he not only had an expressway built linking his hometown of Altoona to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, State College, and Interstate 80, but he also designated it a major interstate highway.  Despite (because of?) this legacy, the younger Shuster has never been terribly popular here.  He barely beat Democrat Scott Conklin in the 2001 special election to replace his father (in a heavily Republican district), he almost lost the primary in 2004, and he received barely more than half the vote in the 2014 primary against two candidates.  One of them, former Coast Guard officer Art Halvorson, is running again this year.
            Shuster has survived difficult primaries before, but this time he’s under the cloud of a romantic relationship with Shelly Rubino, the vice president of government affairs for the airline industry’s lobbying organization, a relationship Halvorson has brought up in the only debate of the primary campaign.  The district, which runs from the Monongahela Valley south of Pittsburgh to Franklin County in the south central part of the state and heads north to include Altoona and Indiana (home of Jimmy Stewart and the confusingly named Indiana University of Pennsylvania), is the most Republican in the state.  Despite the rancorous primary, whoever wins this month will almost certainly prevail in November.

16th Congressional District (R)

            In 1976, Bob Walker was elected from this Lancaster-area seat and rose to become one of Newt Gingrich’s key allies before retiring in 1996.  Joe Pitts, who is retiring this year, replaced him.  In other words, this district’s Republicans should choose well, because they may be stuck with their nominee for the next twenty years.  The two Republicans running to replace Pitts are Lloyd Smucker, who represents the southern half of Lancaster County, including the city of Lancaster, in the state Senate, and Chet Beiler, a businessman seeking to claim the mantle of the Tea Party.  The race has already gotten negative, with Beiler criticizing Smucker’s support of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants  (a sop to Lancaster City’s large Hispanic population) and Smucker pointing out Beiler’s past conviction for illegally paying bonuses to election workers.  The distinction between career politician and businessman may not be as clear as the Beiler campaign portrays it; Smucker owned a construction company before being elected to the state Senate in 2008 and Beiler unsuccessfully ran for state Senate, auditor general, and lieutenant governor before this year.

            Whoever wins the primary will face Democrat Christina Hartman, a consultant, in the fall.  The district contains most of heavily Republican Lancaster County, the city of Reading, and a swath of southern Chester County, in a shape that resembles Mary Poppins and a bird fleeing a nuclear explosion.  Although Democrats have a base in the cities of Lancaster and Reading and are doing better in the suburban areas of Lancaster County, this seat probably will not be in play in the general election unless there’s a complete Republican meltdown.

Pennsylvania Downballot, I: Why Kane Isn't Able, and the Senate

            Any analysis of the 2016 election in Pennsylvania must begin the way Charles Dickens began A Christmas Carol: “Kathleen Kane was (politically) dead to begin with.  There is no doubt whatever about that.”
            Kane was elected state Attorney General in 2012 as part of a Democratic sweep of all five statewide offices up that year (President, U.S. Senate, and the three “row offices”: auditor general, attorney general, and treasurer).  Riding a wave of discontent with then-Governor Tom Corbett (a former attorney general), she got more votes than anyone else on the ballot in her first bid for elected office, including President Obama and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.  After disavowing any interest in running against Corbett in 2014, Kane seemed headed to a Clash of the Titans* with U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey in 2016, probably riding Hillary Clinton’s coattails.  
            She had to serve in office first, though, and quickly ran into trouble.   First, in March 2014, she shut down a corruption investigation into several Philadelphia Democratic politicians, which made her appear partisan (especially after the investigation ended in several successful prosecutions).  Then, in January 2015, it came out that a grand jury had recommended perjury charges against Kane in a scandal involving leaking memos to embarrass a subordinate.  By August, she was charged and Gov. Tom Wolf, a fellow Democrat, called for her resignation, and by September, her law license was suspended.   Seeing the writing on the wall, Kane declined to run for a second term as attorney general, let alone for higher office.

*Considering the Irish heritage of the politicians involved, I should probably use a Celtic mythology reference here instead of a Greek one.

U.S. Senate (D)

Pat Toomey disclaimer: I am trying to be as objective as I can in evaluating these races.  In the interests of full disclosure, though, I must admit that I worked on Pat Toomey’s official staff from 2011 to 2013, so I have a natural tendency to wish him success.  In fact, that was my first full-time job out of college- with a liberal arts degree- at the depth of the recession- so my finding any job not involving asking if you want fries with that was a freakin’ miracle and I’d be tempted to give Pat Toomey the benefit of the doubt if I woke up tomorrow morning and found a dead hooker in my living room and Pat Toomey standing over the body with a bloody knife. 

I will not apologize for putting that image in your head.

            You’d think a two-term Congressman and former Admiral who came close to winning as a Democrat in a landslide Republican year would be an obvious favorite in the primary if he decided to seek the office again.
            You’d think.
            Still, when Joe Sestak, who lost to Pat Toomey in 2010 by only 80,000 votes out of almost four million cast, announced he’d be seeking a rematch in 2016, the Democratic establishment’s reaction was less than enthusiastic.  After Kathleen Kane’s implosion, they attempted to recruit former state treasurer Rob McCord (who had to resign due to his own scandal), former U.S. Reps. Chris Carney and Allyson Schwartz, Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, state Sen. Vincent Hughes, and Philadelphia D.A. Seth Williams without success.  They did get Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski as a candidate, but he dropped out due to a scandal, leaving them with Katie McGinty, a former secretary of environmental protection who came in fourth in the 2014 primary for governor and later served as Gov. Tom Wolf’s chief of staff. 
            What makes Democratic politicians’ reluctance to run against Toomey all the more surprising is that it will be the last chance for a Democrat to run for a major statewide office for some time.  A Democrat wishing to become a U.S. Senator or governor will have to (a) hope Gov. Tom Wolf or Sen. Bob Casey announces a surprise retirement when they’re up for re-election in 2018; (b) challenge Wolf or Casey in the primary; or (c) wait until 2022, when Sen. Toomey’s seat is open again and either Wolf will be term-limited or a Republican who defeats him in 2018 will be up for re-election.
            The origins of the Democratic party’s feud with Joe Sestak are mysterious: it might be because he didn’t go with the party’s choice for his campaign manager; it might date all the way back to 2010, when he refused to leave the primary after former Sen. Arlen Specter switched parties; or, as Sestak claims, it might be because of his independence in choosing how to vote (which usually takes the form of hemming and hawing before voting like a conventional Democrat anyway).  Regardless, despite the endorsements of everyone from former Gov. Ed Rendell (her campaign chairman) to President Obama and Vice President Biden, Katie McGinty trails Joe Sestak in the polls.  There are two other candidates: John Fetterman, a former AmeriCorps volunteer who became mayor of Braddock, a hardscrabble, majority-black town outside Pittsburgh (you might remember him from this Levi’s commercial), and Joe Vodvarka, a perennial candidate from the Pittsburgh area who managed to get on the ballot by winning a court case this week.  Fetterman’s campaign is underfunded and trailing badly in the polls, but he’ll have a base of support as the only candidate from western Pennsylvania (both Sestak and McGinty are from suburban Philadelphia) and among liberal voters (he has endorsed Bernie Sanders).  His presence on the ballot probably helps McGinty by splitting the anti-establishment vote.
            Going into the general election, Pat Toomey’s odds of re-election are probably more than fifty percent.  He leads in the polls, he has a distinct fundraising advantage, and the Democrats will likely have a candidate the party establishment can’t stand or someone the party establishment had to drag across the finish line.  Still, Pennsylvania is never a state Republicans can take for granted, and the fact that this race could decide control of the Senate gives Democrats all the motivation they need. 


Sunday, April 24, 2016

You Have Two Cows: 2016 Edition

You’ve probably seen the meme that explains different political systems by saying what each would do to you if you had two cows. Here’s how the Presidential candidates stack up by that standard:
Hillary Clinton: You have two cows. Banks and corporations pay you $200,000 in speaking fees to hear them moo.
Ted Cruz: You have two cows. You bstock-photo-two-black-cows-grazing-in-australia-new-south-wales-184690811uy two bulls from Cuba and send them to Canada to have calves.
John Kasich: You have two cows. You exhibit them at the county fair and come in third. You claim this gives you momentum. 
Bernie Sanders: You have two cows. The government promises you free milk, but gives you artisanal Greek yogurt made by hipsters. You think about slaughtering the cows, but the government has broken up Burger King and McDonald’s, so there’s no market for beef.
Donald Trump: You have two cows. You hear that the Chinese have three cows, which makes you upset, so you try to force the Mexicans to buy you a bull.
For third party/dark horse options:
Gary Johnson: You have two cows. You smoke legal weed and get the munchies, so you buy a gun without a background check to slaughter them. 
James Mattis: I come in peace. I didn't bring ketchup and mustard.  But I am pleading with you with tears in my eyes: if you **** with me, I’ll grind you into a hamburger.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Willie Nelson Moves to Ohio

CLEVELAND- Famed country musician Willie Nelson purchased a house in Cleveland on the day of the funeral of his friend and partner, Merle Haggard, according to a well-placed source in the country music business.  The source elaborated that Nelson would be living in an inexpensive hotel in the area until the deal was finalized, but that nobody knew where Nelson acquired the money to make the purchase.  The source then asked for prayers for both Haggard and Nelson, noting that Nelson “only did what he had to do, and now, he’s growing old”.

The Mexican Federal Police were unavailable for comment.