Democrats are claiming that Dan DeMarco, their write-in candidate to challenge embattled state Sen. Jane Orie, has the signatures he needs to face her in November. As Early Returns previously reported, Orie tried to outflank the Democratic effort with a write-in ballot of her own, but if the Dems can be believed, she was unsuccessful.
From the release:
Dan DeMarco, candidate for the State Senate, announced today that he has received enough write-in votes in Tuesday’s Primary Election to win the Democratic nomination and to face indicted Senator Jane Orie in the November general election.
At a press conference today at Evergreen Community Park in Ross Township, DeMarco released unofficial election data collected by his campaign from polling places around Pennsylvania's 40th District. The data represented 50 percent of the district’s precincts and 51 percent of the total write-in votes cast on election day. According to the results, DeMarco leads Senator Orie by almost a 4 to 1 margin.
"Our campaign put forward an amazing election day effort, and almost 6,000 write-in votes were cast for this Senate race. Although we are still awaiting official results from the Allegheny and Butler County elections bureaus, it would be statistically impossible for Jane Orie to overcome this deficit with the remaining votes left to be counted," said DeMarco. "We have a 99 percent confidence level in our data and expect this trend to continue throughout the rest of the precincts."
DeMarco added, "This write-in victory suggests that voters are fed up with 'business-as-usual' in Harrisburg and that they want to have an open discussion of the issues facing Pennsylvania. In this election, the voters are sending a message loud and clear that they don’t want to give an incumbent a free ride back to Harrisburg, especially an indicted one."
In recent years, there's been a lot of talk about how statewide races are decided in Philadelphia. This year may be an exception. Both gubernatorial candidates are from Pittsburgh, after all ... and the next head of the Democratic State Committee could be a Pittsburgher as well.
Jim Burn, who currently presides over the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, hopes to be named as the statewide organization's next chair when it meets next month.
"I've spoken to [current chair] T.J. Rooney, who said he was ready to step down," Burn says. If he is elected by committee members, he says he plans to "work with [Democratic gubernatorial candidate] Dan Onorato to really get the party's message out there."
I've got a call in to the state committee to verify Rooney's desire to vacate the position. I'll post any reply here.
But Burn says that as far as he knows, no one else is interested in the post. To me, of course, that's reason to wonder about the job's desirability. ("I guess I must have been a goaltender in another life," he says: "I just miss having everyone take shots at me.") But then again, I sometimes wonder why Burn ever sought the county spot.
During his tenure here, after all, Burn has had to remove the city committee's chair, Tonya Payne, from her post. (You'll recall that during her city council reelection bid in 2009, Payne lost the Democratic primary but waged an unsuccessful write-in campaign against the party's nominee.) He's also wrestled with whether to allow "open primaries" in which party endorsements would be non-binding on committee members: That hotly-debated reform proposal failed when the committee couldn't muster a quorum to vote on it. And he's had to contend with some shenanigans in a city council endorsement last year. (Fans of South Hills politics take note: There's more about what's going on in the 19th Ward later in this post.)
Still, Burn has had some fun with the post as well -- most recently by having Tommy Chong host a party fundraiser.
So ... what would he do if he is chosen to head the state commitee?
"I really like [former DNC chair Howard*] Dean's '50-state strategy'" -- in which Democrats try to drum up candidates even in heavily Republican areas. "I truly believe Pennsylvania has the possibility to do that."
Step 1 would be a series of "regional rallies" this summer, paired with meetings with officials all over the state. And while Burn acknowledges that "some counties will never vote Democratic," he holds out hope that "if you take time to listen to Democrats in those areas -- and even Republicans -- you can start to close the margins in rural parts of the state."
In other committee-related news ...
-- The battle for control of Pittsburgh's 19th Ward, a battle which has pitched longtime ward chair Pete Wagner against former ally Anthony Coghill, could be getting ugly soon.
At last report, Coghill and Wagner seem to have split the ballot, with each man having a more-or-less equal number of committeepeople supporting him for ward chair. And there are rumblings that at least one of the elected committeepeople -- one of those numbered in Wagner's column -- may have their residency challenged by Coghill's side. Word is the committeeperson has a home outside the city -- a domicile that has a "homstead exemption" attached to it. Such tax breaks are limited to properties that serve as the owner's primary residence. And of course, committeefolk are supposed to actually live in the districts they represent.
Burn says he has heard such rumors too, though he won't act unless somebody formally lodges a complaint. "It's like a courtroom," he says: "If it isn't brought before me, I can't act. Unless somebody writes me a letter, I'm not doing anything." But he says that if such a complaint is brought forward, "I will not allow the 19th Ward committee to meet [and choose a ward chair] until the residency issue is resolved."
Ideally, the 19th Ward would clear up this matter and select a ward chair by mid-June, when the county committee convenes and picks a new ward chair. But "some wards won't be done with their restructuring by then," Burn acknowledges.
-- Finally, there has already been some head-scratching over the fact that Daniel Jimenez failed to win a spot on the state committee, despite having campaigned more aggressively for the spot than anyone else in recent memory. Rest assured that Burn is just as confused as you are.
"Daniel did everything right," Burn says. "He had the party endorsement. He raised $5,000 for this race, and knocked on 6,000 doors. He's young, he's energetic, he's brilliant. I cannot underestand this for the life of me."
Jimenez was one of six candidates running for five committee spots in the 38th Senatorial district. (In large counties, spots are divvied up among Senate districts in the county.) Jimenez is a University of Pittsburgh grad student who studies all kinds of sophisticated medical stuff I could barely follow when he explained it to me. He was also a highly visible figure in the fight against Luke Ravenstahl's unpopular tuition tax last year. And yet on Tuesday, Jimenez finished sixth, just 30 votes behind Matthew Arena.
Arena is old-school: Ironically, he's previously run against the top vote-getter in the district, Brenda Frazier, in a 2007 county-council campaign where he acknowledged being "not familiar with [the terminology" of phrases like "sexual orientation."
Some theorize that Jimenez's last name -- which sounds, you know, kind of Mexican -- might have damaged his prospects. Burn isn't buying that: "There are places in southwestern Pennsylvania where I couldn't dismiss that," he says. "But Daniel is coming from a very progressive district, so I just can't accept that." Burn figures it had more to do with Jimenez's middle-of-the-pack position on the ballot, and the fact that Arena's name was more familiar with previous runs.
Jimenez himself has posted a map of election results, which shows he underperformed in the Lawrenceville area, and some of the suburban communities.
In any case, Burn says, "We've got to get him elected to something. Without question, this guy is a rising star -- somebody leadership needs to embrace."
There is, in fact, at least some hope that Jimenez will end up on the state committee. The state committee bylaws require that the committee be gender-balanced. Right now, Allegheny County seems poised to have two more women than men representing it. If the net result of elections in all 67 counties has a similarly disproportionate representation of women, committee bylaws allows for the selection of "at large" members to rectify any imbalance. Jimenez could get a spot that way.
But Burn says he doesn't yet know the final results of committee races statewide. And it's not entirely clear -- at least to him -- what the process is for choosing the at-large members will be. "Sometimes the bylaws read like quantum physics," he says. We should have more answers in the next couple weeks.
And just think: Burn is volunteering to take on these headaches from all over the state.
*Ed note. I originally typed in "John Dean" there, due to a mental glitch on my part. Apologies to Mr. Burn for creating the impression that he was a closet Nixonian.
So yeah, Joe Sestak's win over Arlen Specter is pretty exciting. But it wasn't all good news for progressives this election season. Some of us Joe Hoeffel supporters, for example, are smarting over the epic fail of his gubernatorial campaign.
I mean, I think we all knew Joe wasn't going to win, but fourth place? It hurts.
So by way of a consolation prize, here's the wit and wisdom of Bill Peduto on why the Hoeffel campaign wasn't a total waste of time -- a recording made Tuesday night, just a few minutes before Hoeffel formally threw in the towel.
Hoeffel, Peduto argues, helped bring Dan Onorato and Jack Wagner towards the center on social issues. And for progressives in far-flung outposts like Erie and Scranton, he's a reminder that they aren't alone. (They just don't have enough friends yet to do better than fourth place in a statewide race.)
Oh, and as a bonus, listen to the last few seconds, where Peduto -- who's taking some grad school courses these days -- discusses how hard he'll work for Dan Onorato's election this year.
Still not feeling upbeat enough? Let's consider the bright side of the outcome in state House district 20, where mayoral brother Adam Ravenstahl beat a splintered field of challengers, and blogger fave Tim Tuinstra finished last.
The upside here? Down the road, this outcome may allow the House of Costa to avenge itself on Clan Ravenstahl.
Remember that after the 2010 Census is compiled, population shifts are likely to cost Allegheny County one or two seats in the General Assembly. As Chris Briem pointed out some time ago, district 20 is on the short list of districts that could end up on the chopping block. If that happens, the district would be merged with its neighbors, with their representatives potentially fighting over the newly consolidated territory. And guess who might end up pitted against Ravenstahl?
None other than ... Dom Costa, the former city police chief whose 21st district borders Ravenstahl's.
Costa, of course, is a distant cousin to Guy Costa, the former city Public Works head who had a major falling-out with his former boss -- Adam Ravenstahl's brother, mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Not surprisingly, Guy's been keeping somewhat different company since then.
As for Dom Costa, he resigned as police chief in 2006, citing health concerns. But it later came to light that Costa felt pressured to promote a politically connected cop by Dennis Regan -- a powerful figure in the early days of the Ravenstahl administration. I'm guessing he wouldn't object too strongly to a chance at putting some pressure on the mayor's brother next time around.
Did I mention Regan lost his own election battle this week? Oh, I did. Something else for progressives to celebrate!
And if you still don't feel better, take a cue from the Tea Party folks: Just declare victory and depart the field.
The emerging consensus is that Tuesday wasn't great for Tea Partiers. Democrats won a highly watched special election in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District, and Tea Party faves like gubernatorial candidate Sam Rohrer didn't impress voters.
But the Tea Party sees the silver living. (These folks are big on precious metals, after all.) A Philly branch of the movement, the Independence Hall Tea Party PAC, has sent out a press release announcing that it "has claimed victory in Tuesday's Pennsylvania Primary for its endorsements of Pat Toomey and eight other winning Congressional candidates."
Uh, okay. Given that Toomey was up against only token opposition -- anti-choice extremist Peg Luksik -- claiming that the PAC's support helped him secure victory is like claiming that your prayer to the Sun God helped usher in the dawn. What's more, Tea Party head Sean Carpenter asserts that Toomey "should also be given credit for Arlen Specter's defeat" becuase he "literally chased Specter out of the US Senate" by compelling Specter's party switch.
Uh, guys? Joe Sestak might deserve a BIT of credit for Specter's loss, doncha think?
Similarly, the PAC boasts that of the 11 Congressional candidates it backed, nine (including Toomey) won. But most of those races weren't competive. Four Tea Party-backed candidates -- including two incumbents -- were facing no primary opponent at all. Another two Tea Party choices were incumbents who, like Toomey, were facing only token opposition at best.
That leaves four races which at least look competitive on paper ... and the Tea Party got only half of those. To me, that's a draw rather than a victory. But whatever. The larger question is: Why are Tea Partiers -- the ultimate throw-the-bums-out voters -- supporting incumbents in the first place? Hell, the Indpendence folks backed Charlie Dent over another Tea Party challenger, Mat Benol.
"If we really mean what we say, we have to endorse candidates who can win in November, candidates of principle," Independence Tea Party President Don Adams has explained.
I hate to be the one to say this, but ... this is the first step in the process by which RINOs are made, friends. Such thinking almost made Arlen Specter the Democratic nominee in November.
Though I guess somehow, it's all thanks to Pat Toomey that he isn't.
More details are out today about a story noted here yesterday: state Attorney General Tom Corbett's attempt to force Twitter to disclose information about two anonymous online critics.
Today's Post-Gazette account includes an interesting disclosure, made deep into the story:
[I]n a sentencing memorandum filed against former legislative aide Brett Cott in Dauphin County Common Pleas Court on Wednesday, Senior Deputy Attorney Generals Frank Fina and Patrick Blessington attributed the blog [Corbett is investigating] to Mr. Cott.
"Defendant has extensively and anonymously utilized a blog titled 'Casablanca PA: Exposing the hypocrisy of Tom Corbett' to defect blame and deny responsibility for his criminal conduct and to attack and malign the investigative and prosecutorial process, which resulted in his conviction," they wrote.
So obviously, the suspicion here is that at least one of these Twitterers is a Bonusgate defendant. And prosecutors want to use these Tweets to show a lack of remorse, in hopes of getting a stiffer sentence.
In one sense, it's no surprise that Corbett would be interested in documenting whether Cott made these statements. (Notably, Cott's attorney declined to respond to the allegation.) Prosecutors often use out-of-court statements by the convicted at the sentencing phase of a trial. What's a bit more interesting, though, is that Corbett's office is trying to ferret out the identity of a blogger ... even while prosecutors are telling a judge they already know who he is.
"This is a really good question," says John Burkoff, a Pitt law professor whose expertise is criminal law. "I imagine what they'd say is that they already have reason to believe [Cott is the blog's author], but they just want additional evidence to help prove it."
It's a little odd, he says, for a grand jury to still be looking into a case once a verdict has already been handed down: Usually grand juries are involved in a case at the outset, not at the end. But as Burkoff points out, Corbett has long maintained that there may be future proseuctions in the Bonusgate scandal as well. And as I suggested yesterday, you can imagine various scenarios in which in which a grand jury might issue a subpoena for this information. "You may actually get additional prosecutions from investigating this," Burkoff observes.
If it sounds like grand juries give prosecutors a hell of a lot of leeway, well ... they do. And while the ACLU is making a First Amendment stink about this, Burkoff thinks that ultimately, Corbett's office has a good chance of prevailing.
"All the social-network providers are reluctant to respond to these subpoenas and warrants," he says, "and they're likely to respond by trying to quash the subpoena." But if a prosecutor can tie the information to a criminal investigation, he adds, "The attempt to quash will probably not be successful."
This is some seriously creepy shit here. State Attorney General Tom Corbett, who of course is now the GOP's gubernatorial nominee, has apparently subpoeaned Twitter seeking identifying information about two online critics.
I've written a couple times now about attempts to "out" anonymous bloggers, commenters, and others who make potentially damaging allegations online. And truth to tell, I have limited sympathy for folks who hide behind anonymity to shit on other people's reputations. But what is happening here is much MUCH different.
Those previous efforts were handled within the context of a civil suit -- one party suing another for damages. But Corbett's subpoena is part of a criminal proceeding -- a grand jury investigation -- which means that unlike those plaintiffs, he's can bring to bear the might of the law-enforcement appartus.
Corbett says he's not trying to silence criticism: The subpoena is part of an ongoing investigation, he says -- and since that investigation is before a grand jury, he can't speak about it. In any case, "I don't care about Twitter," Corbett told reporters earlier today. (And a look at his own Twitter account suggests he might be telling the truth here.)
Naturally, though, the twitterers in question see this as a case of "intimidating critics."
"you don't play fair," one tweet reads, and "your subpoena to twitter proves it."
I've spent some time looking over the Twitter accounts (and a related blog). I see allegations of political hypocrisy, accusations that Corbett may himself have violated the very laws he is prosecuting others for. If these accusations are false -- and belay your subpoenas; I'm not taking a position either way -- then sure, some statements could well be libelous. But I don't see anything criminal.
Even so, let's give Corbett the benefit of the doubt. Bloggers and Twitter-users can commit crimes, just like anyone else. And it's possible that these posts reflect some criminal activity my cursory examination didn't catch.
Here's one not-so-far-fetched possibility: What if Corbett wants to see if these tweets are being authored by, say, Democratic staffers in Harrisburg? Using state computers? Then he maybe has yet more allegations of doing politics on the public's time.
Even assuming the best of intentions, though, there is something deeply spooky about all this
Corbett's critics -- including the anonymous Twitterers -- accuse him of doing the same thing he's prosecuted other politicians for: mixing government work with politics. Democrats and liberal activists have already been urging Corbett to step down as AG. If he touts those prosecutions during his own political campaign, they say, couldn't he be using his office for personal advancement?
Those questions just got a lot more pressing now that bloggers, as well as politicians, are apparently in the crosshairs.
OK, so maybe there's such convincing evidence of criminal activity that he's GOT to pursue this. But if so, maybe he should step aside as AG. Not only for the good of the office -- to put an end to the shitstorm that is about to descend on it -- but for the good of his own campaign. He's got to know how this looks, right? In fact, that's one reason I'm tempted to think it can't possibly be what it looks like. Corbett HAS to know he wouldn't be silencing his critics -- he'd be proving them right.
But wow. Earlier this year, state Sen. Jane Orie was indicted for allegedly using taxpayer resources to get her sister elected to the state Supreme Court. In light of those allegations, Governor Ed Rendell has suggested that maybe we should be appointing judges rather than electing them. High-profile allegations and big-money donations, he said, had "totally eroded public confidence in the judicial system."
By that logic, maybe it's time to think about appointing prosecutors too.
ADDED: Confidential to the AG -- I know you won yesterday's primary pretty handily. But you might want to look at the rest of the returns. When voters think that a prosecutor has gone off the reservation in order to serve a political agenda, well ... the results aren't always pretty.
It's no secret that state Auditor Jack Wagner lost his gubernatorial bid yesterday, but there were some other setbacks for the Wagner family as well -- and these hit closer to home.
As I reported two months ago, the Wagner's stomping grounds in the city's 19th Ward has been the site of an easily-overlooked uprising this year. Anthony Coghill, a former Wagner ally who was jilted by the family during a failed run for city council last year, drafted a slate of candidates to run for spots on the Allegheny County Democratic Committee. There are a total of 76 committee slots in Ward -- 38 men and 38 women -- and nearly two-thirds were competitive.
So ... who won the battle?
For starters, Coghill's own bid to represnt district 22 was successful. "It's the first race I've won!" he says, wryly. His former campaign manager, Lisa Orlando, also won, beating Erin Molchany, the head of the civic-engagement group PUMP, in district 6.
But Coghill's sights are set on Pete Wagner, brother of Jack and longtime chair of the 19th ward. It's not clear Coghill has toppled his nemesis -- he'd need the votes of more than half of the committee people to supplant Wagner as ward chair. But there's no question Coghill has drawn blood.
On the one hand, Pete Wagner's son, also named Pete, lost in district 12. Pete the Elder's wife, Judy, also lost her post representing the female post in that district. Not every challenger was successful: Jack Wagner's wife, Nancy, barely held onto her spot in district 21 -- winning by just 4 votes. And in any case, not every committeeperson has declared an allegience to any ward chair. But in all, Coghill says, "I only need a couple loose votes, and the momentum is going our way."
I'll have more on this as things develop.
Keep it tuned here; I'll have some posts a little later in the day about the Sestak win, and some reasons why supporting Joe Hoeffel wasn't a total waste of time. (The election is over: Let the healing begin!)
In the meantime, a couple quick notes.
First, the organizers of the Dok Harris "write-in" campaign I reported on last night say they've counted nearly 1,900 write-in ballots cast in Jason Altmire's Democratic primary. Of those, 1,100 were cast in Allegheny County, with lesser amounts in Beaver, Lawrence, Butler and Mercer counties. As Chris Briem points out, the write-in turnout in Allegheny is 4.5 percent -- a high percentage, really.
That's not to say the Harris write-in effort can be credited for all those. Since it takes a few days for eletions officials to tabulate write-in votes, it's not clear how many of those votes were for Harris. But in any case, the number of write-ins -- no matter who they were cast for -- suggests some disenchantment with Altmire. And that's really the message these folks wanted to get out anyway. We'll see if Altmire receives it.
Another update: Earlier this year, I noted that the controversial Denny Regan -- formerly a muckety-muck in the O'Connor and Ravenstahl administrations -- was facing a Democratic committee challenge from a Pitt medical school professor, Saleem Khan. Khan trounced Regan yesterday, by a vote of 145 to 20.
Yes, Joe Sestak's victory speech -- which celebrated his win over Arlen Specter -- touted it as a triumph "over Washington" as much as anything else. (More about Sestak's win later today. Suffice it to say that in a way, it's still hard for me to believe: The Sestak election party in Pittsburgh was only slightly better attended than the one thrown for last-place gubernatorial candidate Joe Hoeffel.) And truth to tell, Sestak has probably confounded the Democratic establishment -- from the White House on down -- more thoroughly than his GOP rival Pat Toomey EVER has. So there.
But overall, it's hard to see where Pennsylvania's election results showed an anti-incumbent mood. It's just Arlen Specter we were sick of.
Sure, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato characterized himself as a "Harrisburg outsider" when he won the part's gubernatorial nod. But that's a pretty dubious claim: Onorato had the support of Governor Ed Rendell in everything but name, and had access to all the campaign contributors and political insiders the lame-duck governor could muster.
Not that Onorato's win is a bad thing, necessarily. He won Allegheny County with 52 percent of the vote, which ain't too bad considering voters here had another local option to go with -- the genial state Auditor General Jack Wagner. In any case, the Pittsburgh Comet strikes what seems to be the right note about Onorato. We really could do a lot worse.
Joe Hoeffel, the favorite of balding progressives, got shellacked, finishing last in the state and in the county. It was so sad that his own supporters didn't seem saddened: Hoeffel's election-night gathering at Shadyside's Walnut Grill wasn't even funereal ... because the body had been buried so long before.
Some have faulted Hoeffel for not running more aggressively against Dan Onorato, but I can't see it making a difference. Anthony Hardy Williams ran a slew of ads blasting Onorato for promulgating a drink tax, and a host of other sins. But in Allegheny County -- where you'd expect such charges to have the most impact -- Williams was in the single digits. Had Hoeffel taken up that theme, would it have helped him? Doubt it: Williams had a LOT more money to buy ads with.
In any case, to a surprising extent this was a GOOD election to be a party insider. State Rep. Bill DeWeese, who in many minds symbolizes a Harrisburg culture gone wrong, won his primary challenge, though with a miniscule margin of victory. (Philly Republican rep. John Perzel, who like DeWeese is facing charges of using state resources for poiltical work, trounced his primary challenger.)
Closer to home, incumbent state Rep Jake Wheatley dispatched rivals Tonya Payne and Mark Brentley with 60 percent of the vote.
And then there's the 20th legislative district, where Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's brother, Adam, managed to win with a scant 40.5 percent of the vote. Because as most of us saw coming, his three rivals split the anti-Ravenstahl vote. (The progressive favorite in this race, Tim Tuinstra, pulled a Hoeffel and finished last.) Given Ravenstahl's advantages -- the party endorsement, the famous nam, etc. -- not winning a majority seems like a pretty paltry victory.
In some ways, the GOP had a similar problem in the closely-watched special election in the 12th Congressional District. There you had Republican Tim Burns trying to beat Democrat Mark Critz in the special election, while fighting a bitter primary battle with fellow Republican Bill Russell. Burns won the primary, but lost the special election. Would things have been different if the GOP wasn't fighting its own internal battle, and concentrated on turning out independents and others in the special? Maybe. But as it was, Critz -- who campaigned as successor to the late John Murtha -- ran a winning campaign that enshrined the memory of the Ultimate Incumbent.
But the lesson in these down-ticket races, I think, is that even if there IS an anti-incumbent mood, incumbents do pretty well when their opponents don't have their shit together.
And as for the Republican primary in Congressional District 4? Hard to make much of Mary Beth Buchanan's defeat to Keith Rothfus (although you could almost hear Cyril Wecht rubbing his hands with glee on KQV last night, as he congratulated Rothfus on air). On the one hand, Buchanan should have benefited from an anti-incumbent mood -- she's prosecuted some incumbents, including Wecht. But Buchanan's campaign was so stunningly inept that it's hard to draw any lessons from it except, "Don't be a shitty candidate."
I mean, say what you want about Hoeffel: At least the guy kept his dignity.
Out and about the city, I noticed this distinctive yard sign in the 19th Ward, on Wenzell Avenue:
In case you can't read it, that's a yard sign for somebody running for Allegheny County Democratic Committee.
I'm hard-pressed to think of any other time I've seen somebody put out a sign for a Committee race ... though maybe I'm just noticing the signs because:
a) the 19th ward figures to be an interesting battleground involving a grudge match between Anthony Coghill and Ward chair Pete Wagner, and
b) It's not like there's been a ton of campaign signs out for any of the other races taking place.
Either way, it's a sign of how weird this primary season has been.
2 Political Junkies might suggest this is the sort of thing that only happens in Bizarro World, but there really is a write-in campaign going on for former mayoral candidate Franco "Dok" Harris in the 4th Congressional District. A group of progressive Democrats -- who have been increasingly disenchanted with incumbent Jason Altmire -- launched an 11th-hour campaign to write in Harris' name as a contender on the Democratic ballot.
Initiated by the Quaker Valley Democrats, the effort literally got off the ground yesterday, and has been carried out largely through e-mail. Those supporting it are under no illusions that Harris, son of football great Franco Harris, will best Altmire. The more realistic goal is to encourage Harris -- or somebody on the left -- to challenge Altmire in 2012.
Stephanie Dangel, a member of Quaker Valley Dems, acknowledges, "I don't think Harris had any plans to run." In fact, to the best of my knowledge, Harris doesn't even live in the district. You may recall that last November, Harris was one of two independents campaign challenging Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl. And it turned out that for years before that run, he'd been been registered to vote in Sewickley -- where his parents live -- despite having lived in the city for several years. (It may be worth noting that Dangel supported Harris' mayoral run.)
So what's going on?
"We've been looking for someone to run against Jason for awhile" as an independent, Dangel says. "But no one was willing to do it, because they think they'll undermine Altmire and help the Republicans win." Local AFL-CIO Jack Shea mulled a challenge after Altmire voted against health-care reform, and Dangel says progressives reached out to New Castle businesswoman Georgia Berner as well. Berner lost to Altmire in the 2006 Democratic primary, when he first campained for the office. But while she and Harris were rumored as potential challengers earlier this year, neither of them jumped into the race.
Putting Harris on the ballot anyway is a protest gesture, Dangel says. The hope is that a bunch of write-in votes for Harris "could get somebody to run against Altmire in the future" -- whether Harris or someone else.
In the short term, Dangel adds, it's a way to send a message to Altmire. Dangel says she understands the "difficult position" Altmire was in when he voted against health-care reform: What "put a lot of us over the edge" was Altmire's support for an anti-terrorism bill that could strip suspected terrorist symapthizers of their U.S. citizenship. Dangel calls the measure "gratuitous and stupid."
There's little question that Altmire will cruise to victory tonight, of course. It remains to be seen whether the Quaker Valley effort amounts to anything more than a scattered "Mickey Mouse" constituency. But Dangel predicts that no matter tonight's outcome, Altmire may be in trouble this fall -- "particularly if Keith Rothfus wins" in the Republican primary today. "I have never seen so many campaign signs in all my life as I'm seeing for Rothfus in Sewickley," she says. That intensity of support is particularly notable, given the general lack of enthusiasm about most of the other candidates on the ballot.
Including Altmire himself, says Dangel. "A lot of my progressive friends say they can't imagine voting for him, let alone volunteering for him."