Monday, March 31, 2008

Same-Sex, Different Day

Posted By on Mon, Mar 31, 2008 at 3:49 PM

Spring! The time of year when a Republican legislator's thoughts turn to love.

Sinful, filthy, homosexual love.

Yes, once again, Harrisburg Republicans are trying to enact a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Pennsylvania. It's an old election-season ritual -- like a dance around the Maypole, except with a more rigorous attempt to sublimate the sexual tension. This blog, like many others in the area, is marking the occasion with a special online post, witness the seal below:

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State law already bars same-sex couples from receiving the legal protections and privileges married couples enjoy. You'd think that would be enough, but the GOP insists a gay-marriage ban must be enshrined in the state's Constitution. That way, they reason, it will prevent the law from being easily changed in the future. (Plus, enshrining bigotry in your Constitution gives it some class: Just ask the slaveowners.) 

So earlier this month, the Senate's judiciary committee voted in favor of an anti-gay-marriage amendment. If history is any guide, the measure will pass the full Senate as well; that august body is controlled by Republicans. But that's the easy part: The amendment also must pass the state House and a referendum by voters. And even the Republicans have to know that won't be easy.

If you check out the Senate GOP's web site, in fact, you'll find nary a word about the committee's amazing legislative achievement. No press release, nothing. Even another committee's decision to "examine deer managment issues" got more attention than the gay-marriage ban.

Could it be that state Republicans would rather talk about deers than queers? Could it be that voters see more need to regulate the sexual activity of wildlife -- which after all can ruin the shrubbery -- than to police consenting adults acting in the privacy of their own homes?

Perhaps. Compare the GOP's silence now to 2006, the last time a version of this measure sailed through a Senate committee. Back then, State Senator Bob Regola, a Hampton Republican who has consponsored this year's amendment as well, issued a statement praising the committee. And himself: "I made a committment to the people of the 39th Senatorial District to uphold the sanctity of marriage in Pennsylvania," he boasted. 

(If only Regola had committed to upholding the sanctity of gun safety, one of his constituents might not have lost a son. A 14-year-old boy who lived next door to Regola used a handgun taken from the senator's home to kill himself. This was in July 2006 -- one month after Regola issued his stirring defense of marriage. No matter what happens in the gay-marriage debate, thanks to Bob Regola, there's at least one Pennsylvania family whose child will never be able to marry another man!)

Back in 2006, the anti-gay-marriage ban died in the House, even though it was GOP-controlled at the time, and even though it had previously supported the measure. Democrats control the House today, so the bill seems at least as likely to flounder time around. But even when the bill seemed likely to pass, it felt like ther GOP's heart wasn't in it. As I wrote in a column at the time, many Republicans were defending the bill "by claiming it won't take away things like domestic-partner benefits -- benefits that were unthinkable a few years ago."

Many in the LGBT community suspected the GOP was lying about what the bill would do, of course. But if GOP actually NEEDED to be duplicitous about the measure, that seemed like a good sign to me.

I don't want to underestimate the threat, which other blogs will speak to. I don't want to counsel complacence in the face of Republican homophobia, which seems to crop up periodically like an especially dangerous flu virus. But let's take heart that each time the virus appears, our resistance to it seems to increase. Each time the measure comes up, GOP support seems more desultory, as if it's a habit they can't quit but no longer take pleasure from. 

When you think of it, the fact that the GOP has to try amending the constitution is a victory in itself. Amendment supporters say openly that they are trying to head off FUTURE trends -- municipalities allowing gay marriage, for example, or judges deciding the law governing same-sex couples is patently unfair. In other words, Republicans are assuming that a serious challenge to their bigotry, one with the force of law behind it, is on the way. 

This prospect is what motivates them; it should motivate us as well ... to act not in fear but in hope. Which in the long run is the much more powerful force.  

Friday, March 28, 2008

Obamania

Posted By on Fri, Mar 28, 2008 at 12:12 PM

I don't want to blame Barack Obama for the fact that his appearance at Soldiers and Sailors today was a SLIGHT letdown for me. The expectations have been raised so high that  it's unfair to judge a Presidential candidate by them. A certain disappointment would have been inevitable for me unless he'd reattached a Roman soldier's ear, or raised Lazarus from the tomb.

Besides, the crowd was FAR more enthusiastic than it had been for a Clinton appearance at Soldiers & Sailors two weeks before. 

On one level, that's kind of strange. While Obama is a gifted speaker, his appearance wasn't THAT much better than Clinton's. And as almost everyone knows, there isn't much difference between Obama and Clinton on a policy level. Early on, Obama joked that the campaign has gone on so long that he and Clinton could take each other's debate lines and not miss a beat. The truth is they could do it without changing their platforms much, either. 

The rest of his speech reflected that: Like Clinton, Obama promised to give us a healthcare plan similar to the one they have in Congress, and decried the treatment of veterans returning from Iraq. There wasn't a hell of a lot of substance in his speech, but then there wasn't much in Clinton's either. (You can see footage of Obama's speech -- in two parts -- by clicking here.) 

No, the real diference between Obama and Clinton was in the crowd itself. It wasn't just that it was more diverse in terms of age and ethnicity, or that the room was somewhat more crowded. It wasn't just that there were more reporters there. (Even local colleges sent TV crews -- something they didn't do for Clinton. Some of the more veteran local camera guys were grousing over how crowded the risers were getting, thanks to the arrival of minor media players. Like, um, City Paper.) The real difference was in the enthusiasm of the crowd: There were rousing cheers even for some of Obama's more cliched lines, and a give-and-take with the crowd that was totally absent from Clinton's appearance. And after the event, the atmosphere was much more festive than Clinton's more sedate following. There wasa lot more merchandising, for one thing.

Every politician does what Obama does -- pledge to change the Beltway culture and remake the country from the ground up. And it's not that I saw Obama do anything special to make people believe it. From what I could see, the people in that room were believers already. The measure of Obama's success is not the energy he brought to the room, but the energy the crowd carried with it ... energy which has now reached the level where it sustains itself. 

I'm not saying Obama is an empty suit or a cipher. I'm saying that ALL candidates -- or at least all the successful ones -- get where they are by virtue of the emotional associations that get attached to them. At some point, the old politician's cliche becomes true: The race really ISN'T about them. It's about an excitement they spark, but that soon begins to feed on itself. And if their appearances in Oakland are any indication, Obama has a decided advantage on that score.

In fact, the big news from today's rally will be that Obama receieved the endorsement of Sen. Robert Casey. This is not EXACTLY a surprise; the Casey family's antipathy for the Clintons is well known. (You may recall that Casey's father was not given a chance to speak at the 1992 convention, when Bill Clinton became the nominee.) But Hillary Clinton's campaign is counting on winning big in Pennsylvania, on the strength of the state's "Casey Democrats" -- union-friendly, economically liberal but socially conservative voters. Now the biggest Casey Democrat of all is throwing his support behind Obama.

Ironically, later in his speech, Obama derided those doubters who once  thought he needed  the support of party insiders in order to win. More than a few Obama supporters, I'll wager, thought Bob Casey was just such an insider as recently as 24 hours ago. (And they would STILL have thought so had Casey backed Clinton.) But Obama has reached that heady point where he can have it both ways -- scooping up the support of party insiders, while at the same time pledging to take those insiders on. You can't even call that hypocrisy at a certain point: It's the inevitable result of what happens when a campaign becomes large enough to be self-sustaining, large enough to win.

Most polls still suggest a Clinton whomping in Pennsyvlania -- she's up by 15 or 20 points.  But I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest a much tighter margin. I'm guessing Clinton by a margin of half the expected size ... partly because of the recent surge in voter registration across the state, partly because of the Casey backing, partly because of the contrasting levels of enthusiasm at the two Oakland rallies.

Clinton too, suffers from high expectations about her performance here. But if SHE fails to live up to those hopes, the cost will be much higher. 

Sunday, March 23, 2008

MSMbarrassing

Posted By on Sun, Mar 23, 2008 at 6:38 PM

It seems crazy now, but as recently as a few months ago, local bloggers I knew would sometimes mutter darkly about the all-powerful MSM -- those consent-manufacturing media gatekeepers who, the bloggers worried, were hell-bent on suppressing the voice of the digitized masses.

Hasn't quite worked out that way, has it?

This morning, for example, I opened up my Post-Gazette to the Forum section's "Cutting Edge" feature. Cutting Edge offers a weekly wrap-up of the posts from the wonderfully diverse world of Pittsburgh blogging. But I wasn't exactly surprised to see, yet again, an excerpt from a post by the Burgh Blog's ubiquitious "PittGirl" -- who's been mentioned in the weekly column three times the last month, and who has been the subject of a P-G profile.

PittGirl is a fun read, and while we here at CP prefer our prose to be jingoistic and shrill -- it's an old lefty tradition -- I certainly don't begrudge her success. If anything, I hope she's billing the P-G for providing them with so much copy. Maybe there's a PG/KDKA-style "media partnership" in the offing. The paper's Bill Toland was just featured on her site ... proving yet again that the "Burghosphere" is just like the Burgh itself: Everybody seems to know everybody else.

Even if PittGirl doesn't get paid, I can't complain. City Paper has been running a "best of the blogs" feature for awhile, as has the Tribune-Review. So while I might question just how cutting-edge "Cutting Edge" really is, I certainly couldn't fault its treatment of contributors.

But the P-G has now taken this whole open-source journalism thing a step further. The paper recently announced a new feature called "Voxpop." When last I checked, that was the name of a City Paper column, but apparently it is NOW a paradigm-shifting technology that will allow you, the citizen, to furnish election coverage this year!

Voxpop, we're told, is a cellphone-based effort "to enlist large numbers of citizens in providing news, observations and opinions about the important Pennsylvania presidential primary." You can provide audio of campaign events or text-message your thoughts about the campaign, and the P-G will put post 'em online! At no expense to its publishers! Thanks, Post-Gazette! Back in the old days, if I had observations I wanted to share with a newspaper, I'd just ... write a letter to the editor. But this is much better because it's, um, on the Web! Where no one will see it!

Do I sound cynical about what the P-G calls "a bold step in providing a forum for our readers and Web visitors"? I guess, but since "voxpop" appears to have recruited a whopping eight contributors in its first couple weeks, perhaps I'm not the only one. And some of the Mr.-Smith-buys-an-iPhone rhetoric sounds a little shopworn when you read the fine print. The Voxpop guidelines note that "[a]ny content you provide becomes the property of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which has sole discretion over its use, which could include use in advertisements for the newspaper [or] Web site." Nothing there about getting paid, so I guess your reward is that of any good citizen: knowing your democratic participation has enriched your community … and maybe sold a few newspaper subscriptions.

Some time ago, the Pittsburgh Women's Blogging Society asked whether bloggers were being exploited by the commercial media. I took part in that debate at the time, and I won't reprise it here except to say I think the answer is different for different bloggers. And anyway, half the time a print publication tries to reach out to online readers, I end up feeling sorry not for exploited bloggers, but for the newspaper itself.

I probably don't have much right to make fun of the P-G's online strategy. They have resources superior to CP's, and they've used them much more aggressively online. Your CP may be the last paper in the free world (and probably much of the not-so-free world) to add blogs to its Web site. But still, the daily's embrace of new media has been awkward at best. Until recently, it broadcast a wince-inducing online-video version of the day's headlines, and when Myron Cope died, its site offered a musical homage set to the tune of U2's "Pride." ("In the na-a-a-a-a-a-a-me of Cope / One more in the name of Cope.")

More tellingly, the paper can't seem to let go of its need to be in control. The P-G site has blogs, sure, but you can't post comments on them -- let alone on the stories themselves. The paper will let citizens furnish content, but they must abandon their rights to it. And yet one still detects an almost plaintive desire to be loved in their shout-outs to the Burghosphere. The P-G's obsessive attention to PittGirl, for example, comes across not as an effort to introduce newspaper readers to her blog … but as an attempt to introduce her blog's readers to the newspaper.

And hey, I sympathize -- almost enough to hope this blog post helps sign up more voxpoppers than the P-G's print ads have done. (Note to P-G: The people who are going to file reports by cell phone probably ain't reading your print edition.) Anyone in the fishwrap business can't help but worry about where the next generation of readers are coming from, and the long-term economic trends of the business. How are we going to pay our writers a decent wage as the 21st century rolls on?

So in the name of economic justice, I'm happy to announce that, effective today, if you capture an election-year scoop on your cell phone, City Paper will be happy to publish it on our Web site instead. And if we use it, we'll pay you TWICE what the P-G is offering.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Who will endorse Hillary tomorrow? Take a wild guess.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 13, 2008 at 4:12 PM

When Hillary Clinton visits Pittsburgh tomorrow, "We're going to have a terrific rally at which we're going to announce some very important endorsements -- some local leaders' endorsements," Gov. Ed Rendell promises.

Accompanied on a conference call earlier today by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Clinton campaign strategist Mark Penn, Rendell made much of the Obama campaign's efforts to downplay the significance of a Clinton victory in Pennsylvania's April 22 primary.

Rendell and the other speakers hammered reporters with the contention that as Pennsylvania goes, so goes the nation. Pennsylvania, Rendell said, is "not a solid-blue state; this is a purple state." And Rendell suggested that it would be almost impossible for a Democrat to win in November without taking Pennsylvania. 

By a happy coincidence, Clinton just happens to be leading in the state according to numerous polls. (Including a Strategic Vision poll released just today, which shows her leading Obama by 18 points.) And in order to win Pennsyvlania in a general election, Rendell contended, "We have to do well in the Philadelphia suburbs, and of course the city. But we also have to do well among conservative, moderate, blue-collar Democrats in the west. And I believe only Senator Clinton can do that in the fall."

She should get some help on that score tomorrow. Rendell did not reveal who the endorsements would be, but the smart money says that you'll be hearing from County Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. 

What makes me say so? In part Rendell's own remarks (a portion of which you can hear by clicking here).

"I've talked to a lot of political leaders … and I think I've been helpful in getting them to sign on board for the Clinton campaign," said Rendell.  And while he downplayed both his own influence -- "I don't believe there's any magic to having a governor endorse," he says -- he added that "to the extent that there are party organizations that have power to at least turn out the vote -- not tell people how to vote -- most of those are going to be wielded on behalf of Senator Clinton." 

UPDATE: Indeed, Boston.com is reporting Ravenstahl and Onorato plan to make public their support tomorrow. (H/T Burgh Report

And with that, in some people's minds, Rendell just gave his champion the label of "Machine Candidate." Whether she wanted it or not.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Pennsylvania a battleground ... or not

Posted By on Wed, Mar 12, 2008 at 10:13 AM

Much as I hate to burst anyone's bubble, including my own, I'm starting to wonder if the world cares about Pennsylvania's presidential primary contest after all.

Earlier today, Barack Obama campaign manager David Plouffe did a conference call with reporters. As you might expect, part of it was a victory lap after Obama's big win in Mississippi yesterday. By most reckonings this victory, along with some other smaller-state wins, essentially wipes out Hillary Clinton's much-touted gains in Ohio and Texas on Mar. 4. 

But although Pennsylvania is the only game in town for the next several weeks, our state barely came up during the nearly half-hour long phone conversation. As he did last week, Plouffe downplayed expectations for the race. Clinton was a "prohibitive favorite" in Pennsylvania, he said, and "should win by a healthy margin." While promising to campaign hard -- "we don't cherrypick states," he said, in one of several swipes at Clinton tactics -- Plouffe noted a recent KDKA poll that showed Clinton up by 19 points.

(Click here to listen to Plouffe talking about the prospects for Obama in Pennsylvania.)

It seems pretty clear that Obama will be playing defense in this race -- trying to avoid a blowout by the Clinton campaign, and writing off the significance of any other result.

What's worse -- if you were hoping to be a person-on-the-street interviewee, sharing your homespun wisdom with a national TV audience -- is that reporters don't seem very interested in Pennsylvania either. The press call was dominated by questions over how to seat delegates in Florida and Michigan, which held states their primaries earlier this year ... so much earlier, in fact, that the Democratic Party has threatened not to include their delegates at the national convention. 

The party's move was supposed to punish those states by depriving them of the influence they tried to usurp. But somehow, Florida and Michigan are dominating the political discussion anyway. 

Doesn't seem fair, does it?  

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hillary Clinton's Hometown Advantage

Posted By on Tue, Mar 11, 2008 at 9:15 AM

Got an interesting e-mail from the Clinton campaign yesterday, one which probably will set the tone for much of the campaign rhetoric we'll be hearing for the next month.  

"For Hillary Clinton, Pennsylvania is as much a homecoming as a stop on the presidential campaign trail," the statement explains. "Hillary has deep family roots in Pennsylvania -- and lifelong memories of her time spent there as a child."

The e-mail lets us know that the Senator's grandparents settled in Scranton "more than a century ago." And her father "went on to play football for the Penn State Nittany Lions" in the 1930s.

When your family's Penn State football legacy predates that of the Paterno clan, it's fair to say you have some Keystone roots. Still, there's something a wee bit cloying about the way the campaign tells us (for example) that Senator's Clinton family "remained connected to Pennsylvania even after her father had to jump a railroad car and leave the state to find work in Chicago."

There's no word on whether he played a harmonica during that time, or whether he conversed with colorful but down-on-their-luck hobos who shared with him their melancholy wisdom while crouched over a campfire. But we do learn that "every summer of her childhood, Hillary, her parents, and her brothers loaded up the family car and drove east to ... the family cabin on Lake Winola [near Scranton], which they still own today."

Interestingly, the statement leaves out a part of the story where young Hillary learned to shoot a rifle on vacation, a bit of biography she's noted in her book, Living History. I can only assume that Senator Clinton will not forget to bring up this portion of her background during campaign stops.

In any case, the same day Clinton issued her statement, the New York Times ran a profile of her family's eastern Pennsylvania connections. And for the most part, the locals are happy to claim her.

"She's tough," explains Scranton's mayor, who then invokes the area's coal-mining past: "That's a real Scranton trait. That's an anthracite trait." You know, unlike those wussies in western Pennsylvania where they mine bituminous coal.

It's no surprise that a candidate would tout such connections, both to an important state and to an important demographic -- blue-collar folks trying to sort out their place in a deindustrializing America. As the Times itself observes, Clinton's "supporters here hope that her local roots will help her do something she rarely does on the stump: connect the dots between [her] policies and her life." And as this space has noted previously, class issues do go a long way toward explaining Clinton's edge in Pennsylvania.

The result of such coverage, though, usually makes me feel like the reporters are listening for banjos playing in the distance. Sure enough, the Times also quotes a Scranton radio personality observing that the locals "are bound by 'tribalism'." And the mayor says that in anthracite country, "we take it day to day. We watch our pocketbook. We care about small-town things." Whereas in larger cities, presumably, no one cares how much they spend.

I guess this is the inevitable result of being in a state whose primary actually matters. For years, we've been hearing about the small-town pocketbook-watching habits of Iowans and New Hampshirelings. We've been told how folks there like to meet their presidential candidates all up-close and personal-like. As if anyone else in the United States wouldn't like to have a future president in the living room, so we could yell at him.

For better and worse, over the next couple weeks things that are basic human nature -- caring for your family and community, for example -- will be treated as some sort of quaint local folkway. And out here in "KD Country," we'll eat it right up. It flatters our own nativist prejudicies, after all ... our belief that our ordinariness is somehow extraordinary. The same rhetoric applies whether you live in DuBois or Des Moines, of course, but that's all the more reason for a politician to embrace it.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Dowd: LED sign bound for court

Posted By on Mon, Mar 10, 2008 at 8:07 AM

City Councilor Patrick Dowd says that a much-contested electronic sign slated for Grant Street should -- and will -- be resolved in court. He also left open the possibility that he himself would be the person to file the lawsuit.

(March 11 UPDATE: You read it here first -- This morning Dowd did file a complaint.)

"The question of the legality of the permit cannot be resolved by the legislative branch, and it cannot be resolved by the executive branch. It can only be resolved by the judicial branch," Dowd said in a Mar. 8 interview with City Paper

The sign, which is slated for a Greyhound station/parking garage on Grant Street, has been a subject of controversy for the past month. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration approved the sign without seeking formal approval by the city's zoning board, planning commission, or city council. That has led to calls that the approval violates city law. 

Any lawsuit would almost certainly be filed within the next couple days, Dowd said. Dowd warned that there is a 30-day clock for appealing zoning decisions made by the city. Since Dowd, like other members of council and the rest of the city, learned of the sign in the middle of February, time is growing short. 

The city solicitor, George Specter, has promised to furnish a legal opinion about the sign, but Dowd says the clock is ticking: "It will absolutely not happen that George Specter and the city will run out the clock on this. It will be engaged in this third [judicial] branch."

Asked whether Dowd himself would file suit, Dowd said, "I won't comment on that at this point."

During the City Paper interview, Dowd also took issue with critics who felt he has been too slow to criticize the administration. "Just becuase I haven't come out and stood in front of a camera and said,'I, Patrick Dowd, bash the administration in the following ways,' that doesn't mean I don't have my own little projects at work."

As an example, he cited a "deep, deep, deep concern for the way the URA is being operated at this point." Dowd says that he has requested budgets for each of the city's authorities, and that the Urban Redevelopment Authority has not handed one over "in part becuase they were considering significant organizational changes to fulfill the vision of [Executive Director] Pat Ford for the URA." Dowd promised to raise questions about URA governance at every opportunity. 

Dowd also said he opposes removing the city from Act 47 financial oversight, something the administration is seeking to do. And he said that some of his critics -- who have faulted him for not being more critical of the administration alongside councilor Bill Peduto and others -- should show a little patience.

"I've been there for less than 8 weeks now," Dowd said. "Give me some time. I'm sure there will be other opportunities for me to be critical, and for people to be critical to me."

Video of Dowd's interview with City Paper will be posted as soon as we figure out how to work the editing software ... hopefully sometime in the middle of the week. 

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Obama Strikes Back

Posted By on Fri, Mar 7, 2008 at 2:28 PM

Remarkably, and despite some heartfelt appeals from Team Clinton earlier this week, Barack Obama's campaign did NOT forswear any further attacks during a conference call with reporters this afternoon. Instead, campaign manager David Plouffe reiterated demands that Clinton furnish her prior year tax information immediately. Clinton, he charges was "one of the most secretive politicians" in office today. And "anything short of a full accounting [of tax information] would raise huge red flags." (Clinton has pledged to release that information around tax time, and before Pennsylvania's April 22 primary.)

At the same time, the Obama camp took pains to address lingering questions about where the candidate stood on the NAFTA free trade agreement. In Ohio and Pennsylvania, the US/Mexico/Canada trade pact has been blamed for job losses. Clinton's recent win in Ohio has been attributed to questions about whether Obama, who has publicly criticized the trade agreement signed by Clinton's husband, was telegraphing to Canadian officials that he didn't really mean it. Plouffe reiterated Obama's position on the deal (you can hear Plouffe reiterating Obama's stance on NAFA here .) At the same time, Plouffe noted an AP story suggesting Clinton herself may have been winking at the Canadians about her own trade opposition.

Finally, Plouffe seemed to try to diminish expectations for his candidate in Pennsylvania, all but conceding the state to Clinton. A Clinton advisor was quoted by the Washington Post saying Clinton should be "unbeatable" in the state, and Plouffe conceded that she "should be expected to win." But Obama, he pledged, would camapign hard in the state. (Click here to hear Plouffe speaking about Obama's plans to campaign in Pennsylvania. For purposes of conserving time and bandwidth, this clip has been edited.)

Call for Cynics

Posted By on Fri, Mar 7, 2008 at 10:20 AM

Within the next few days, we'll be experimenting with a new video player on the site. I thought I'd use this opportunity to revisit a project I participated in a few months back, called "The Third Round." For those unfamiliar with the format -- i.e. for those who had better things to do than watch me guzzle beer and talk about zoning online -- the idea was to get local movers and shakers into a bar, ply them with alcohol, and then post video of their responding to the impertinent questions asked by me and other co-hosts. (I will be drinking as well, of course, but then I do that for most of my interviews.)  

I'm going to try to re-establish that feature here, in a shorter format that will be more friendly to bandwidth limitations and human attention spans. The launch date is a bit hazy, but the first guest will be none other than .... Swingin' Pat Dowd, city councilor and bete noir for many a local blogger.

So taking a page from Bram Reichbaum, Pittsburgh Comet author and my own personal "Dale Carnegie of the Internet," I'm putting out an RFQ -- a request for queries. Got a question you'd like Councilor Dowd to answer? Add it to the comments section below, or e-mail me and I'll pose it to him. Depending on how he answers, I'll post video of his response so you can watch him squirm/deftly respond to your concerns/denounce me as a hack. 

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Dialing into the Clinton campaign

Posted By on Thu, Mar 6, 2008 at 11:30 AM

Sat in on a campaign conference call this morning, hosted by senior campaign advisor Ann Lewis and communications director Howard Wolfson. It was pretty much what you'd expect these things to be like.

The festivities began with Lewis blasting away at Obama's attacks on Clinton ... while faulting him for not addressing Clinton's attacks on Obama, and not speaking to economic issues that matter in Pennsylvania and other states. (Click here to hear Ann Lewis just going to town for like a solid two minutes.)

Repeatedly during the ensuing half-hour discussion, Lewis and Wolfson argued that Obama's attacks were taken from "Republican talking points" ... something they contended was inconsistent with Obama's "version of new politics." 

"I for one do not believe that imitating Ken Starr [the independent prosecutor/Clinton scourge] is the way to win" the Democratic nomination, Wolfson said.

What were these attacks? Since the March 4 primary, Obama's campaign has faulted Clinton for not releasing tax returns sooner, and also raised questions about Clinton's old business dealings ... thus the shades of Whitewater. (Wolfson pledged that more tax information would be forthcoming closer to tax time, and at any rate prior to Pennsylvania's April 22 primary.)

Reporters pointed out that some of Clinton's own ads -- suggesting that Obama wouldn't be ready for the 3 a.m. phone call about a global crisis -- seemed to dovetail with Republican tactics of campaign on national-security fears. But Team Clinton was having none of it. Lewis contended that the "3 a.m. phone call" ads were "positive," because they stressed Democrats' ability to address national security issues that Republicans have previously used against them.

(ADDED: Obama responded by attacking Clinton's attacks on Obama's ... um ... attacks. "We don't believe that expecting candidates for the presidency to disclose their tax returns somehow constitutes Ken Starr-tactics," the Obama campaign says in an e-mail rebuttal. "And if Sen. Clinton doesn't think that the Republicans will ask these very same questions, then she's not as ready to go toe-to-toe with John McCain as she claims.")

The rest of the discussion centered almost exclusively on campaign tactics, as these things do. One interesting wrinkle was Lewis's response to a question about how Clinton won in Ohio. Lewis noted a Cleveland Plain Dealer story that emphasized Clinton's strength in the rural part of the state. Both Wolfson and Lewis argued that Clinton's strong performance in rural and upstate parts of New York helped her secure her Senate seat, and he predicted that she'd also be running hard in rural areas of Pennsylvania. (Hear Lewis discussing Clinton's strength in rural areas here.) 

Which means, of course, that Clinton plans to visit parts of the state that her chief Pennsylvania advocate, Governor Ed Rendell, probably had in mind when he notoriously suggested that in Pennsylvania, "some whites ... are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate." But if Hillary can explain to those voters why she DOESN'T think they are bigots if they vote for her, those votes could make the difference. In last year's municipal elections, Democrats seized control of a handful of county courthouses in rural parts of the state. If Clinton can figure out how to connect with working-class rural Dems -- and that's a big "if," given their frequently conservative bent on social issues  -- she could do well, and not just in the primary. 

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