Somewhat surprising news today from the pollsters at Rasmussen: If Senator Arlen Specter were facing a challenge from MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews, Specter would be lucky to squeak by with a win. According to the poll, Specter leads Matthews, a Democrat, in a hypothetical match-up only 46-43.
Arguably, the most surprising thing about this poll is that anybody bothered to take it. We just finished the 2008 election, and Specter doesn't face re-election until 2010. Almost as strange: an earlier poll, conducted by Quinnipiac University just about a week ago, showed Specter with a commanding 45-33 lead. Said Quinnipiac pollster Clay Richards:
"Who says the Republicans are dead? Sen. Arlen Specter has the highest job approval rating of any major Pennsylvania pol and would knock off Chris Matthews by 12 points if the Hardball host decides to run against him. Matthews has been on MSNBC wall to wall during the election season, but is a question mark for 60 percent of the voters."
Indeed, 60 percent of voters told Quinnipiac that they hadn't heard enough about Matthews to have an opinion. And I'm guessing many of those who do have an opinion are misinformed. I know people who think Matthews is a Republican, perhaps because that's how most sexist on-air gasbags roll.
In other findings, Rasmussen says 40 percent of Americans wish the time between Election Day and the Inauguration was shorter. 45 percent disagreed. There is no word, meanwhile, on whether Americans wanted to shorten the time between Election Day and the next election cycle. I guess the pollsters have already asked that one for themselves.
Here at City Paper, December marks a very special time of year -- a time for counting our blessings, and celebrating all that is most sacred.
I'm talking, of course, about our annual "Best of" issue, due out next week. I'll bet you're all a-tingle with curiosity about the winners, but I ain't saying a word. After all, I wouldn't have gotten this far in journalism if I went around telling people stuff I know. So here's a couple dispatches from elsewhere instead.
-- Pittsburgh's own Primanti Brothers got a shout out in the New York Times yesterday. Detroit's executives are so desperate for a Washington bailout that they are actually willing to drive their own cars to ask for it, and the Times suggests a rest stop on the way.
The prospect of the executives motoring along more than 500 miles of highway to Washington -- a trip of about nine hours, not counting a possible stop in Pittsburgh for a sandwich at Primanti Brothers -- introduces an element of ritualistic public relations gamesmanship.
Great idea. And while they're at it, maybe they could learn something about biodiesel by inspecting the Primanti's grease traps?
-- Pittsburgh's US Attorney, Mary Beth Buchanan, announces she'd like to stay on in her post, if Barack Obama will have her. This comes as little surprise: If Buchanan knew when to give up, we wouldn't be contemplating another Cyril Wecht trial.
-- Bram Reichbaum over at the Pittsburgh Comet gets to his computer before anyone else, and is first to post news that Chelsa Wagner has e-mailed backers telling them she won't be running for mayor after all. No word yet on how this guy is taking it.
Once again, Pennsylvania's own Ed Rendell makes headlines for stepping in it. On Tuesday night, Rendell was over heard saying the following about Janet Napolitano, the Arizona governor who is Barack Obama's pick to head up the office of Homeland Security:
Janet's perfect for that job. Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day to it.
CNN's Campbell Brown raises the inevitable question:
If a man had been Obama's choice for the job, would having a family or not having a family ever even have been an issue? Would it have ever prompted a comment?
If 2008 political coverage runs true to form, within the next 20 seconds, the Post-Gazette will dispatch a reporter to furnish a thumb-sucking piece about identity politics, similar to the treatment it gave John Murtha's characterization of western Pennsylvania as a haven for redneck racists. (As it turned out, of course, western Pennsylvania was one of the very few parts of the United States-- along with part of Appalachia and the South -- that went more strongly for the Republican in 2008 than they did in 2004. All of which recalls Michael Kinsley's observation that a gaffe is what happens when a politician tells the truth.)
How about we just skip the whole debate this time around? Let's just acknowledge that, yes, people still do associate female politicians with family obligations to a greater extent than they do male politicians. And yes, that's unfair.
But let's respect Napolitano enough to do what Rendell's chance remark didn't do. Let's actually discuss her not in terms of her role in the gender wars, but in terms of her actual experience.
Fair warning, though: We may not like everything we find out.
Courtesy of Daily Kos, we have this not-very-surprising report that arch-conservative Pat Toomey is thinking of making another run at U.S. Senator Arlen Specter in 2010.
Toomey gave Specter a good run back in the 2004 Republican primary, so it's not surprising he'd think of running again. As the Hill puts it:
[Toomey] argued that Specter’s core constituency in the GOP, which he called "liberal and moderate Republicans," have since left the party and will be unable to vote in Pennsylvania’s closed Republican primary. That will make it more difficult for Specter to prevail against a conservative opponent, Toomey said ...
Toomey also said Specter’s age and health will be factors this time around.
Two things Toomey might want to consider. First, people can change their registrations back to Republican if they want. Second, half of Pennsylvania's voters -- and two-thirds of its Republicans -- are old and infirm. They can identitify with Specter.
I'm hard-pressed to argue against Toomey's point that Pennsylvania's GOP is turning harder to the right. I've argued much the same thing myself. But what's great is that Toomey's argument for why he'll win the primary -- all the liberals and moderates have left the party! -- are exactly the argument for why he'll lose the general election.
I mean, does Toomey think that all those liberal and moderate Republicans ... the ones who have banished themselves from the chance to vote in the Republican primary ... are going to line up and vote for a hardline conservative in November?
Good luck with that, pal.
We've all had that experience of hearing our voices on a tape recorder for the first time. Usually it's painful to hear yourself the way others hear you -- that strange distortion when your voice is no longer distorted, no longer resonating inside your own head.
But thanks to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Pittsburgh recently had the equally strange -- but far more pleasant -- experience of sounding better to others than we sound to ourselves.
This story, which Cleveland's daily ran about Pittsburgh last week, is the fulfillment of every regional booster's wet dream. They must have been dancing in the aisles over at VisitPittsburgh the day this sucker dropped. Here's a sample:
Places Rated Almanac named Pittsburgh America's most livable city. Forbes magazine included it among the world's 10 cleanest cities. Kiplinger's Personal Finance rated Pittsburgh among the 10 smartest cities to live and work in. An affiliate of the Financial Times called it one of North America's top three cities of the future.
Heady stuff indeed. Although some of the shine comes off when you read such mystifying assertions as:
"Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue anchor a growing downtown shopping corridor."
Meanwhile, the story says nothing about such problems as the city's massive pension debt. (Shouldn't all our clout with Harrisburg have taken care of that?)
Such oversights have been noted -- with customary restraint -- by the Tribune-Review's Colin McNickle. But it's almost cruel to point these things out. Stories like this are endemic to journalism. The reporter gets parachuted into a new city with little time to figure out the intricacies of the local political scene. So guess who he ends up talking to? The people who get paid to talk to him.
Sure enough, the PD quotes: the mayor; the head of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership; two sources from the Allegheny Conference; a real-estate developer (who tells us how great the real estate market is) and the new head of Iron City beer (who tells us how great Iron City beer is). A rich and varied group of experts indeed.
But the irony of all this is that in the late 1990s, the process used to work in reverse. Back then, we used to send our reporters there instead. And in the Post-Gazette especially we'd hear all about the wonderful things Cleveland had. There was ... Jacob's Field! The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! A shopping district and movie theater downtown! A new arena for the Cavaliers!
The message was clear: IF THEY CAN DO IT, WHY CAN'T WE? And the agenda was always just below the surface. The local stories emphasized the very amenities Pittsburgh's corporate elite was pushing for -- namely, destination-retail and entertainment complexes. If you had those things, well, you had it made.
Or did you? Obviously if a new ballfield or a Downtown mall could turn around a city, Plain Dealer readers wouldn't be envying us today. The truth is that Cleveland's school district was flirting with bankruptcy, and their crime rates were considerably higher than our own. But back then, the coverage had little to say about Cleveland's problems -- about as little as the Plain Dealer had to say about our pension issues today.
I'm no expert on Cleveland's politics, but I'm guessing the stuff the story praises us for having is the same stuff Cleveland's civic leaders are pushing for. (Check out the PD's sidebar on "The Pittsburgh Plan," and see if you don't agree) There's probably a bit of projection taking place here. Cleveland wasn't that great then, and maybe we're not that great now.
In the end, really, the biggest difference between Pittsburgh and Cleveland might be simple: It's their turn to be sold a bill of goods. But 10 years from now, we'll probably be envying them all over again.