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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Postmortem: A peek behind the numbers of Tuesday's Pennsylvania Primaries

Posted By on Wed, Apr 27, 2016 at 11:49 AM

If there's one thing I am not, it's a numbers guy. But you don't have to be Nate Silver to look at the data and see why things ended like they did on election night. So let's take a quick look at the Race for the U.S. Senate and for Pennsylvania Attorney General. Full statewide results and a county-by-county breakdown can be found here.

John Fetterman - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • Photo by Ryan Deto
  • John Fetterman
Six years ago, former congressman and retired Navy Admiral Joe Sestak came within a heartbeat of beating Pat Toomey. He was champing at the bit for another shot, and if you looked at the poll numbers just two weeks ago, it looked like he was clearly going to get it. He led McGinty by 10 points or more. That scenario should seem familiar to Sestak — except from the other side of things. In 2010, incumbent Arlen Specter was leading Sestak by 20 points or more before Sestak rallied with a brilliant ad campaign and brought Specter down.

But this was different. Sestak, an uber-liberal, was playing well with the party's liberal base despite his run-ins with the Democratic Party. The party asked everyone and his brother to run for the seat before McGinty agreed. And she didn't just get the party's support in spirit. It dumped millions of dollars into advertising in the campaign's final week, and money carried the day. CNN's Manu Raju wrote an excellent piece this morning on how the party overlords managed to get their way in Pennsylvania. So money made a difference, but based on the numbers, I don't think it was the only factor.

McGinty and Sestak are both from the Philadelphia area and they dueled out east for those votes. That made Western Pennsylvania the real battleground: Enter the Fetterman Factor. Braddock Mayor John Fetterman may have finished a distant third, but the final results tell only part of the story. McGinty certainly had a lot of support out this way by virtue of being the party's choice. But Sestak has never been without his supporters. The difference this year is that Sestak and Fetterman are very similar candidates. They are very liberal candidates and care deeply about a lot of the same issues. Both favored a ban on fracking, for example.

But while Fetterman may not be known statewide, he's a bit of a political celebrity in Southwest Pa. Fetterman overwhelmingly won Allegheny county with 45 percent of the vote. Sestak came in third with 19 percent. Elsewhere across the region, Fetterman soundly beat Sestak, coming in second in places like Beaver, Butler, Westmoreland, Armstrong and Fayette counties. In fact, Sestak's numbers were sadly pedestrian in these areas. And while you never know how someone might have voted if their favored candidate wasn't in the race, I think it's fair to say that Sestak would have benefited greatly from a Fetterman-less primary. Fetterman's problem a steep drop-off as you moved farther east. By the time he hit Bedford County, his numbers were in the basement, and got steadily worse from there. Still, this race did give him more statewide notoriety, even as it showed how popular he is regionally. 

Patty Kusick, a 73-year-old Mount Washington voter, says she supported Fetterman and won't be surprised if she gets the chance to do it again.

“He is so intelligent and his view is so far-reaching that it is maybe out of the grasp of regular voters," Kusick says. "I think he is challenging the dynamics [of the party], and hopefully his tenets will become the tenets of the Democrats in years to come.”

"We came up short, but we created a movement," Fetterman told reporters. Well, we do vote for county executive again in four years!

Pennsylvania Attorney General
Steph - en Zappala - PHOTO BY AARON WARNICK
  • Photo by Aaron Warnick
  • Stephen Zappala

This was another case of simple geography (well, and campaign chicanery if you believe the rumors, but more on that in a second).

Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro defeated Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala and Northampton District Attorney John Morganelli. Both Morganelli and Zappala ran on the idea that the state needs a prosecutor, not a politician. Shapiro is an attorney was never a prosecutor. In the end, Shapiro came out on top, with 47 percent to Zappala's 36 percent. Morganelli got 16 percent.

Based on Zappala's numbers in Western Pennsylvania, it looked like this thing was going to be a bloodbath. He won Allegheny County with 73 percent of the vote. In fact he took more than 70 percent of the vote in counties across the region, including Beaver, Westmoreland, Washington and Butler. But the numbers started to drop as you left the region. Shapiro won several northwestern counties, and as the race swept east, both he and Morganelli picked up steam. In several central and eastern counties,  Zappala not only lost to Shapiro, he lost to Morganelli as well.

Throughout this race, there was a lot of speculation that Morganelli might have just been running to siphon the "prosecutor-not-a-politican vote" from Zappala. Of course, no one will ever know for sure but whether intentional or accidental, it worked like a charm.

Ryan Deto, Ashley Murray and Rebecca Nuttall contributed to this report.

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Shapiro wins Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania Attorney General

Posted By on Wed, Apr 27, 2016 at 11:34 AM

  • Photo by Aaron Warnick

Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro has won the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania Attorney General. He faced Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala and Northampton District Attorney John Morganelli in yesterday's April primary election.

Editor Charlie Deitch has a breakdown of the numbers here.

“I’m honored to have earned the support of voters from every corner of our Commonwealth and to be the Democratic nominee for Attorney General," Shapiro said in a statement last night. "Throughout this campaign, I’ve pledged to reform our system, take on the status quo and fight for our values. Too many people today feel the deck is stacked against them and they can’t get a fair shake. Pennsylvanians want an Attorney General who will restore fairness, clean up a mess and do more to protect the safety, the health and the rights of everyone in our Commonwealth. That’s the kind of Attorney General I’ll be. I promise today that I will lead with integrity and stand up to the powerful interests to fight for you.”

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Shapiro received 47 percent of the vote to Zappala's 36 percent and Morganelli's 16 percent.

"Josh Shapiro ran a campaign focused on issues like tackling the opioid crisis, protecting seniors from scammers and safeguarding Pennsylvania's environment," said Sen. Bob Casey who endorsed Shapiro. "He's a person of integrity who has fought for reform at every level of government he has served in. Josh Shapiro is going to be our state's next Attorney General and will work tirelessly to keep our communities safe and ensure justice is administered fairly. I want to congratulate Stephen Zappala and John Morganelli on their hard fought campaigns. It’s critical that Democrats come together to win in November."

A few hours before most news outlets called the election, supporters at Zappala's campaign party at the IBEW were hopeful their candidate would win the election.

"I started in the DA's office, and I can say he ran his office with integrity," said Allegheny County Public Defender Elliot Howsie. "As an administrator I can say decisions look easier from a distance. I don't always agree with Stephen Zappala, but I'm not supposed to — we sit on opposite ends of the table. His heart's in the right place."

"It's critical that the Attorney General understand the inner workings of the criminal justice system, the makeup of the community and the things that push people to become criminals," said Ed Eichenlaub, a Democrat running for the 37th District state House seat. "You need someone who has a long understanding of those elements, and I think Stephen Zappala has the whole package."

But at approximately 10:35 p.m., after a little more than 50 percent of the vote was counted and Zappala found himself 6 points behind, he came to the main ballroom to address his supporters.

"We're not going to win this race," said Zappala. "We have too much ground to make up."

Zappala said one of the most interesting things about the race was that his son Michael had the option of voting for his father for the first time. He also thanked his campaign team and the crowd of about 100 who came to the party.

"I hate to ask anybody for anything and I really didn't have to ask anyone to help us, they were just there," said Zappala. "The biggest disappointment was to make you guys wait to hear me speak, and I really do thank you for coming out tonight."

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Former President Bill Clinton visits Pittsburgh to stump for Hillary

Posted By on Thu, Apr 21, 2016 at 3:43 PM

  • Photo by Ashley Murray

Former President Bill Clinton, campaigning for his wife and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, visited the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers' building in the South Side yesterday. He delivered a message dedicated to optimism and opportunity.

“I look around [Allegheny County] and wherever people are working together, good things are happening,” Clinton told the crowd. “We ought to be optimistic about our economy, we are outpacing every other country.”

The country’s 42nd president spoke about health care, education, college loans and inequality in his stump speech to the crowd of more than 150.

Clinton showed an understanding of the Keystone State that seemed to be lacking among other candidates who recently visited Pittsburgh, particularly Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. (When Trump visited, he spoke about former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, but it was unclear if Trump realized that the coach had died in 2012.) Clinton praised a good health-care initiative happening in eastern Pennsylvania and acknowledged that it is sometimes “hazardous in Western PA to brag about things from Eastern PA.” Before stopping at the South Side, Clinton took a tour with Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald through the neighborhoods of Homestead, Squirrel Hill and Greenfield.

On the topic of college loans and student debt, Clinton referenced Hillary’s plan to allow students to refinance their loans and said that it has been a “scam” that they have not been allowed to do so already. He also directed some criticism toward Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sander’s plan for free tuition at public universities.

“I think free tuition is not as easy as it sounds, since one-third of the money has to come from the states,” said Clinton. “What are the odds at getting Harrisburg to do that?”

Clinton related an anecdote which spoke to Hillary’s ability as a deal-maker: When First Lady, Hillary convinced Bill Clinton’s biggest opponent, former Republican House Rep. Tom DeLay, to work with her on a plan to address the issue of children aging out of foster care with little-to-no subsequent services. It is this deal-making ability, Clinton told the crowd in Pittsburgh, that is needed in the White House.

“She should be president because she has the longest record of actually doing things,” said Clinton. “She is the single best change-maker I have ever known.”

Mike Crossey, former president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, praised the former U.S. president’s address and called it absolutely phenomenal.

“He articulated the needs of the country very well and how Hillary can fulfill them,” he said.

Hillary Clinton is planning to visit Pittsburgh tomorrow, April 22, but no details have been released. The Pennsylvania state primary elections are on Tue., April 26.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Pennsylvania Democratic U.S. Senate candidates discuss Citizens United ruling

Posted By on Tue, Apr 19, 2016 at 5:28 PM

With Pennsylvania’s primary election less than a week away (check out our Election Issue for more), TV viewers, bus riders, and any other general consumers of media are sure to be inundated with political ads attempting to sway the swath of Pa. voters who are still undecided. And with political ads come the questions about campaign finance, which leads to the topic of Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court case affecting political-campaign funding.

So, City Paper reached out to the three Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate (Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, former Pa. environmental secretary Katie McGinty, and retired Navy Admiral and former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak) for their thoughts on the controversial campaign ruling.

Fetterman derides the amount of money that is flowing into political campaigns across the country and believes that Citizens United is negatively affecting races. “Citizens United is the single greatest threat to the democracy of our country,” says Fetterman. “I don't want to tell my son, when he can vote, that it takes $4 billion to run for president.”

The Mon-Valley mayor has raised a fraction of funds compared to McGinty and Sestak, but says his social media following outpaces his rivals (this is partially true as Fetterman's Facebook page has 20,000 more likes than both McGinty and Sestak, but his 11,500 Twitter followers are second to Sestak's 12,000).

Fetterman also rejects the idea that large amounts of money should be filtered into campaigns. He thinks a more “ideal” campaign is being run by presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders consistently says at rallies and debates that his campaign is a true example of grassroots support and that the average donor gives about $27 to his campaign. 

John Fetterman speaks at a rally - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • Photo by Ryan Deto
  • John Fetterman speaks at a rally
However, according to the 2015 contributor data (contribution reports for up to April 2016 have been released, however itemized lists of contributors will not be ready before the April 26 primary), it is Sestak who comes closest to the Sanders-like campaign support. The former U.S. Rep’s average donation is about $250, compared to Fetterman’s $500. Fetterman applauds Sestak for his grassroots fundraising, but also notes that Sestak has been campaigning basically since he lost to Republican incumbent Senator Pat Toomey in 2010.

Fetterman also derides the money flowing from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to support Katie McGinty. The committee is spending more than $1 million in TV ads this month in attempt to boost McGinty ahead of front-runner Sestak, according to the Washington Post. That money could have been used for any Democratic candidate during the general election race against Toomey, who has a warchest of more than $9 million.

The Braddock mayor goes even farther and questions why millions are being spent on TV ads, when there are hard hit communities like Braddock that would benefit immensely from extra funds. “In a nation that has so much lack and things that are needed,” says Fetterman, “people are spending billions of dollars to call each other names on TV.”

McGinty also says she would work to overturn Citizens United, if she were elected Senator. “I think it is some of the worst jurisprudence ever written,” says McGinty. “I 100 percent oppose the decision. It has contorted our democracy with a whole bunch dark money.”

She calls out Toomey for consistently being opposed to efforts to overturn the decision and says Toomey’s refusal to consider President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nomination could be related to that. “Let's get a full Supreme Court and overturn Citizens United,” she says. 

McGinty also says there are policies that can be implemented now that will help remove dark money out of elections. She says banning foreign individuals and foreign governments from contributing would be a start and that there should be stricter limits on the size of donations. She said something around $1000 would be preferred. (However, McGinty received the most individual contributions of more than $1000 compared to her primary opponents.)

Sestak is also against the Citizens United ruling. While serving in congress, he introduced the first piece of legislation designed to limit the effects of the ruling by requiring corporate shareholders to vote on large expenditures that are being spent on campaign ads.
Joe Sestak talks to students at the University of Pittsburgh - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • Photo by Ryan Deto
  • Joe Sestak talks to students at the University of Pittsburgh

"I thoroughly disagreed with the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision because it gives the same  status to corporations as to individual citizens in society by removing decades-old precedents that protected the electoral process from the influence of money," said Sestak in a 2010 press release when he introduced his legislation.

And while all three candidates are opposed to Citizens United, there are still some questionable donations that have been funneled into McGinty and Sestak’s campaigns.

McGinty has repeatedly denied that she has received money from the fracking industry. (Something that Fetterman has said is not true.) But CP found that a board member from EQT gave $1500 and a government relations director from Talisman Energy gave $2000. Both companies participate in fracking.

And environmental-related issues abound throughout McGinty's contributor list. The Bologna family, who own coal mines and have proposed a coal waste plant in Washington County (which McGinty may have fast tracked when she was Pa. environmental secretary), gave her $8,100. Robindale Energy purchased a coal waste plant in 2015 and its president, Scott Kroh, gave $2,700 to McGinty.  

McGinty says waste coal plants are "much cleaner than traditional power plants" and the energy created is very efficient. "We ave to get rid of waste coal," says McGinty. "It has destroyed streams, and it is a public health initiative. Kids getting killed four wheeling on the piles and the dust from the waste coal is harmful."

(However, CP reported in 2009 that in the process of burning waste coal, unhealthy minerals like arsenic and selenium can be released into the air along with a slew of other environmental problems.)

McGinty campaign representatives say that receiving contributions from individuals is not the same as receiving financial support from the corporation itself. She also touts her endorsements from environmental groups like the League of Conservation Voters. "These organizations are standing with me because they know I am standing with them."

Sestak’s contributor list is mostly filled with donations of less than $200, however he did receive $5,400 from Lawrence Malitzky and his wife. Malitzky works for SMRC management, who are listed on a New York City tenant advocacy group’s list of predatory landlords. Sestak has advocated support of increasing funds and implementing better policies to address the country’s affordable housing issues. Sestak did not return requests for comments on his donations.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Democratic Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidates get heated in TV debate

Posted By on Wed, Apr 6, 2016 at 12:37 PM

The gloves have finally come off in the Democratic contest for Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat.

Last night, WTAE broadcast a live debate between senate candidates Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, Gov. Tom Wolf’s former chief of staff Katie McGinty and former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak. Up until this hour-long forum, the candidates had remained mostly cordial to each other during debates and focused on their policies, many of which were very similar.

John Fetterman, Katie McGinty, Joe Sestak - PHOTOS COURTESY OF CANDIDATES
  • Photos courtesy of candidates
  • John Fetterman, Katie McGinty, Joe Sestak
And while some similarities were shown last night too (all three candidates said they embraced immigrants coming to U.S. and lifting the Cuban trade embargo), some differences emerged and not in the most polite ways.

The first scuffle involved McGinty accusing Sestak, the current front-runner according to polls, of supporting social security cuts when he backed the template for Simpson-Bowles, a broad budget-deficit reduction plan that included some social security cuts. (The plan never received the necessary votes for implementation and representatives from Sestak's campaign point out that the former Congressman did not back the entirety of the plan).

Sestak denied any claim that he was in favor Social Security cuts, saying that he voted to enhance Social Security 41 times while serving in the U.S. House.

The subject of fracking, or natural-gas drilling, led to the most contentious moment of the debate. McGinty accused Sestak of flip flopping on his call for a moratorium on fracking (which he said was not true and a misleading statement), and Sestak responded by citing McGinty’s ethics committee investigation during her tenure as Pa. environmental secretary. Fetterman then insulted McGinty citing her role in supporting fracking while environmental secretary saying “there is no such thing as a green fracker.” McGinty responded by touting her endorsements from environmental groups and accused Fetterman of having a higher percentage of financial support from frackers and energy companies than her campaign. Fetterman denied this accusation.

(Check City Paper’s PolitCrap blog next week to read our coverage digging into the the candidate's political contributions and their position on the Citizens United campaign finance ruling.)

Another contentious moment involved the call to raise the minimum wage. Sestak said he supported an immediate increase to $10.80 an hour, with an eventual ramp up to $15 an hour. Fetterman, who said he is the only candidate to consistently support a $15 an hour minimum wage, took issue with McGinty’s stances on minimum wage and said that when McGinty was running for governor in 2014, she supported an increase to a $9 minimum wage for Pa. (the current Pa. minimum wage is $7.25 an hour). McGinty responded by saying she was the first in the contest to call for a $15 an hour minimum wage. CP reported in February 2014 that McGinty favored a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour during the governor's race, however, she also supported that wage for tipped workers and was the only candidate to do so.

The candidates also differed sharply on responses to the fight between the FBI and Apple in unlocking the phone of the San Bernardino shooters. Sestak touted his naval career (he is a retired three-star Navy Admiral) and his support to cut the number of naval ships and focus those resources on cyber crime and McGinty said there should be a compromise between the government and companies like Apple. Fetterman took a stronger stance, saying both Sestak and McGinty gave “non-answers” and said he supported Apple for not wanting to create encryption software to unlock the shooter’s phone. He said this could lead to abuses by governments around the world.

The latest poll from Harper Polling, puts Sestak in the lead with 41 percent, McGinty in second with 31 percent, Fetterman in third with 9 percent and 19 percent of pollsters were undecided.

For future political fisticuffs, make sure to tune into WQED on Saturday April 9 at 8 p.m. to watch the three candidates square off again. Pennsylvania's primary elections will be held on April 26 to decide which Democratic candidate will go head-to-head with Republican incumbent Senator Pat Toomey in November.

Editor's note: Information about Sestak's support for Simspon-Bowles has been updated to better reflect Sestak's position.

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