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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Two Dan Onoratos

Posted By on Tue, Apr 20, 2010 at 6:51 PM

There's been an interesting little drama unfolding in Dan Onorato's gubernatorial campaign. And it may well hold the key to his hopes for victory in next month's primary.

On Sunday, April 18, Onorato appeared with other candidates (or their representatives) at the endorsement meeting of the 14th Ward Independent Democrat Club. During that gathering, Onorato stated -- as he has before -- that when it comes to abortion, he supports Pennsylvania's law as currently written. 

Pennsylvania's abortion law is highly restrictive, of course. But it does permit abortion -- as every state must do, thanks to Roe v. Wade. So by implication, that would make Onorato pro-choice, right? 

Tell it to the good people of York, PA.

The day after the 14th Ward meeting, this story appeared in the York Daily Record. The story reported that a York-based pro-life group called ACTION -- Americans for Christian Traditions in our Nation -- plans to hold a forum for gubernatorial candidates this coming weekend.

There are six candidates in the race -- four Democrats and two Republicans -- but the story reported that Democrats Joe Hoeffel and Anthony Hardy Williams 

were not invited to the event, [ACTION president Ron] Cohen said, because they are not anti-abortion. Although ACTION is bipartisan, he said the group endorses only candidates who are anti-abortion. 

Auditor General Jack Wagner is anti-choice [UPDATE: It turns out that, after this blog post came out, Wagner too qualified his position on abortion rights] as are Republican contenders Sam Rohrer and Tom Corbett. So they all got invites. And what about Onorato? Well, here's where it gets interesting. The version of the story currently online says the following:

The news release [sent out by ACTION] said Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato would send a representative, but spokesman Brian Herman said there were never any such plans ...

Herman said Onorato would support abortion rights as governor.

"He supports the existing law as it is Pennsylvania and he will veto any attempt to change it," Herman said.

Funny thing is, when this story first ran on Monday, it said Onorato WAS sending a representative. And Brian Herman wasn't quoted at all. Here's an earlier, Google-cached version, which I'm repeating the relevant portion of in case it disappears: 

Onorato's representative will give an introduction but won't participate in the questions, said Ron Cohen, ACTION president.

The story was updated, it seems, at 6:06 p.m. yesterday evening. But by then, the Hoeffel campaign had seized on the earlier report

"That Dan Onorato was invited and is actually sending a representative of his campaign to this breakfast, confirms that he’s pro-life," Hoeffel said.

What happened here? I've got a call in to the reporter who did the story, and will post his reply. But it seems pretty obvious that after the story came out -- and after the Hoeffel campaign jumped on it -- Team Onorato went into damage control, and the story was updated to reflect the campaign's position. 

A position which, by the way, ACTION organizers still seem unaware of.

A post on the organization's Facebook page reported only that "[W]e have had 2 of the Democratic candidates now informing us they will not be able to attend. The latest is Jack Wagner will send a representative, Dan Onorato will not be participating at all." 

As of this writing, the Facebook page makes no mention of Onorato's stated pro-choice position -- for the apparent reason that the group was unaware of it.

Asked what happened to Onorato's participation in the event, ACTION Treasurer Angie Kline told me, somewhat drily, "When you figure that out, let us know."

Initially, Kline told me she thought Onorato probably dropped out simply because he got a better offer somewhere else. "Our organization is just 150 people," she said. But when I told her that the Daily Record was now reporting that Onorato supports the current law and would oppose any changes, she said, "We were under a different supposition."

And really, can you blame them? As Hoeffel's camp noted,in earlier elections Onorato had received the backing of LifePAC, a pro-life group. His 2007 re-election bid was also backed by People Concerned for the Unborn Child (see page 3).

Of course, this kerfluffle could be just an innocent misunderstanding -- crossed wires between a campaign, a community group, and a local newspaper. Such things happen.

But the whole incident reflects one of the most interesting facets of this campaign: At least when it comes to social issues, Onorato has manged to be all things to all people. On Sunday, he's a pro-choice progressive; the next day, he's touted as being pro-life. And despite a clarification issued hours later, I'd bet that most of ACTION's 150 members still think he agrees with them. 

And abortion isn't the only such issue he seems to be neutralizing. When the Steel City Stonewall Democrats endorsed a gubernatorial candidate, the pro-LGBT organization actually split down the middle between Onorato and Hoeffel. Clearly, Onorato's efforts to tout his "progressive policies such as ... Allegheny County’s non-discrimination ordinance" have borne fruit. Even though he was a latecomer to the initiative, which started with county council. 

As someone who watched Onorato on Pittsburgh City Council -- where he was consistently among the least progressives voices -- I'm impressed by how he's been rebranded. But then hardly anyone remembers those days, as a recent post by Sue Kerr reflects.

Kerr had previously argued that Onorato had exaggerated his role in passing the county's non-discrimination ordinance, while passing up opportunities to take the initiative on other LGBT causes. But even Kerr -- who pays closer attention to this stuff than anyone I know -- didn't realize how unsympathetic Onorato had been early in his career.

"I was a chump and I can admit it," Kerr posted, with admirable bluntness. 

Well, OK. I wouldn't be a liberal if I didn't think people could change. (Or -- in the case of politicians -- they can at least recognize when times are changing, and respond accordingly.) And whatever his motives may be, I prefer Dan Onorato the gubernatorial candidate to Dan Onorato the city councilor.

The thing is, I think he's still getting credit for being both those guys. 

UPDATE: Another take on this story comes via Alex Roarty, an excellent correspondent from the Web site PoliticsPA (which I really need to start reading more often). Roarty's piece, among other things, raises the possibility that the confusion here might have begun with the Wagner camp. 

Sestak responds to Specter ad

Posted By on Tue, Apr 20, 2010 at 5:12 PM

Earlier today, we reported on Arlen Specter's new TV ads attacking Sestak's military record and history of missed votes in Congress. At an Equal Pay Day rally Tuesday at Mellon Square Park at noon today, Sestak said that he expected the negativity.

"Arlen Specter is a disappointment," Sestak said. "After 30 years in the Senate, the only thing he can bring forward is negative advertisements. That's why Pennsylvanians want change.

"I appreciate that Arlen Secter is of a generation where campaign ads mean negativity," Sestak added. "But how about running an ad talking about the issues or coming out and telling us what you plan to do for the people of this state? That's what my ads have and will focus on. We have to keep it about the issues."

Specter's ad claims that Sestak, a three-star admiral in the U.S. Navy, was removed from a command post for creating a "poor command climate" -- an allegation made by an unnamed source in a Navy Times report. But Sestak says that's not the case. He was removed, he says, because he was an outspoken critic of the size of the Naval fleet.

Between 2001 and 2005, Sestak studied and drew up plans of how the Navy could better fight terrorism with a smaller fleet. Admiral Vern Clark told the Philadelphia Inquirer in April that it was he who assigned Sestak the task. And by taking it on, Clark said, Sestak put himself in the crosshairs of those who wanted to grow the fleet even larger.

"He did what I asked him to do; I wanted straight talk, and this put him in the crosshairs," Clark told the paper. "[H]e challenged people who did not want to be challenged. The guy is courageous, a patriot's patriot."

Says Sestak: "We had to stand up and try to change the Navy for the better. But the new head of Naval Operations" -- Mike Mullen, who is now the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff -- "came in and he didn't agree. The thing is now; the Navy is reducing the size of the fleet. You have to stand up to the establishment when you know something is not right. So now, Arlen Specter is taking these things and he's twisting them into these negative ads."

As for missing votes, Sestak says he did miss about 123 votes, and that it's a fair question for voters to ask. But he says his attendance for Congressional votes sits at 95 percent.

"I had to make a decision in July whether to get in this race even after the Democratic establishment said not to," says Sestak. "I visited 67 counties in an intense three-week perod, and I did miss some votes. I also had a situation last summer with my father on his deathbed over a four-month period and I did what any son would do: I visited him as much as I could in the hospital.

"So yes, I did miss some votes, but I'm very proud of my 95 percent voting record, and we keep our offices open seven days a week. Because of that, we are able to handle four times the number of constituency cases than the average legislator. We work real hard and people know that."

Another Killer Specter Ad

Posted By on Tue, Apr 20, 2010 at 10:28 AM

Not for nothing is Arlen Specter known as a fierce campaigner. This morning, I caught his latest attack ad (viewable here) on Democratic rival Joe Sestak.

The ad refers to Sestak as "No-Show Joe," citing some 127 votes he's missed in Congress. (Team Specter has even helpfully crafted a Web site on the matter.) It also attacks Sestak at the very heart of his campaign -- by challenging his military service. 

Specter's ad notes that Sestak, a three-star admiral in the U.S. Navy, was removed from a command post for creating a "poor command climate." 

As the Navy Times reported in 2005, Sestak was "administratively reassigned" from his job as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations shortly after Mike Mullen became operations chief.

"A source within the Navy Department said there were no allegations of misconduct on the part of Sestak," the Times reported. "Rather, he said, the move is being made because of poor command climate."

Sestak will be in town later today, appearing at a noon gathering in Mellon Square Park with gender-equality advocates. No doubt the ad's charges will come up in discussions with reporters. 

In the meantime, I'll just say this: I've previously felt that Sestak's advantage was that nobody -- nobody -- gets excited about voting for Arlen Specter. But as others have tried to warn me, that's not how Arlen Specter gets elected. Instead, he gets elected by making sure that no one gets excited about voting for anyone else either. That's what he's doing to Sestak ... and right now, it looks like he'll be doing it to Pat Toomey in just a few months.

UPDATE: Sestak has launched his own ad today. It's a minute-long introductory ad that takes a much more upbeat approach to the race. It touts Sestak's military service and his claim to represent a "new generation of leadership."


Monday, April 19, 2010

Either/Orie -- Dems launch write-in challenger for embattled state Senator

Posted By on Mon, Apr 19, 2010 at 2:26 PM

Spotting opportunity in state Sen. Jane Orie's legal troubles, local Democrats are trying to secure a spot on the November ballot with a write-in campaign.

And just in case Orie didn't feel quite persecuted enough ... their candidate once worked for the judge who supervised the grand jury that indicted her.

Just weeks ago, Orie's position in the 40th state Senate district -- which lies in the northern suburbs -- seemed so secure Dems didn't even bother fielding an opponent. But today, Democratic officials from Allegheny and Butler counties announced that in next month's primary, they would try to get 500 signatures needed to put attorney Dan DeMarco on the November ballot.

Ina press statement, DeMarco contended that "For too long, the citizens of Pennsylvania have been handed a state goernment mired in corruption and deceit." (Though the release made little mention of Orie's travails.) 

DeMarco has previously been rumored as a likely challenger for Orie: A longtime Ross Township commissioner, he ran against Orie eight years ago. And interestingly, his professional biography reveals that he once worked as a law clerk for Judge John A. Zottola. That would be the same Judge Zottola who presided over the grand jury which furnished the basis for the charges against Orie. 

It's a small world, and an even smaller legal community. No doubt it's just a coincidence ... and if anything, Zottola has made it harder for the DeMarco campaign to score talking points: The judge has sealed records in the case, over the objection of local media.  But at the very least, we can always hope that this connection leads to another colorful press conference from the Orie family


News out of the 20th state rep race

Posted By on Mon, Apr 19, 2010 at 12:19 PM

I've written previously about the complicated (read "disastrous if your last name isn't 'Ravenstahl'") dynamics taking place in the 20th legislative district race, which is a combined special-and-primary contest to replace now-judge Don Walko. The presumed front-runner is Adam Ravenstahl, the mayor's brother and the endorsed Democrat in the race. But his biggest advantage may be the fact that he faces a divided field of opponents. 

And things just keep percolating over there. A short time ago, the Service Employees International Union announced its endorsement of Dan Keller. Per the release:

"We're proud to get behind a strong candidate like Daniel Keller," said Gabe Morgan, SEIU Pennsylvania State Council President. "We need people like Dan to raise the voices and concerns of working people to Harrisburg."

Keller has gotten the support of numerous union groups, but this one has to sting a bit for at least one of his rivals. When candidate Tim Tuinstra launched his campaign last month, he did so with an announcement touting his work with Pittsburgh United -- a community-advocacy group that is heavily supported by the SEIU:

As President of Observatory Hill Inc. Tuinstra helped start a neighborhood watch and has worked with Northside United and Pittsburgh United to help ensure Northshore development provided benefits to the greater Northside community.

I've got calls in to the SEIU and the Tuinstra campaign to see what's up with this endorsement. And I'll post updates here.

(UPDATE: In response to my query, an SEIU spokesperson told me the union is backing Keller not just because he supports its values, but because he has "broad support from labor and the community, where he is already well-known." Translation: The union thinks Keller has a better shot of actually winning.)

(UPDATE #2: As if to further muddy the waters, the Tuinstra campaign tells me that Tuinstra has been endorsed by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23. The UFCW and the SEIU have worked closely together on the city's prevailing wage bill and other matters. Once again, we see how the opposition is dividing itself.) 

In the meantime, there's this from another candidate in the race:

Mark Purcell, candidate for State Representative in the 20th legislative district of Pittsburgh has been asking any interested parties, including the media, and citizens he talks to as he goes door-to-door with his campaign to, “Take a walk with me to Harrisburg.”

Purcell said he made this commitment for two reasons. First and most importantly he wants to carry a message to his colleagues in the state house that, “The legislature has lost the confidence and trust of Pennsylvania citizens and its ability to properly represent them.”

As a freshman legislator the first official act after you are sworn in is to make a short speech before the entire legislative body Purcell said.”  He wants to deliver the message to the legislature that at 64 years of age, (as of August 31, 2010,) he has walked the entire 210 miles from his home in Pittsburgh to Harrisburg, to underline the seriousness of his request to allow the citizens of Pennsylvania to put into action these words in our Pennsylvania constitution.

Specificially, Purcell wants to put a referendum before state voters, so they can decide whether Harrisburg should hold a Constitutional Convention dedicated to government reform. 

Well, good luck with that. I have to say, though, that right now it looks like the only person doing much walking -- cake-walking, to be more precise -- is Adam Ravenstahl.

14th ward independent Dems weigh in on May primary races

Posted By on Mon, Apr 19, 2010 at 10:54 AM

That bastion of East End progressivism, the 14th Ward's Independent Democratic Club, has announced its endorsements for the May primary. The endorsements came after a club gathering held over the weekend; they don't seem to be up on their Web site just yet, but here you go.

The club's choice for governor is no surprise: Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel. Back in December, I figured he was a natural to "win the hearts of progressives," and he demonstrated his affinity for the East End set at a candidates' forum early this year.  

A bit more interesting is that the club endorsed Joe Sestak over Arlen Specter in the U.S. Senate race.

Yes, Sestak has certainly positioned himself to Specter's left. (Though some have questioned just how progrsesive he really is: Salon recently noted that some progressive scorecards give Sestak's voting record only anemic approval.)  And yes, while Sestak's challenge has driven Specter hard to the left, I imagine the Squirrel Hill set is about as tired of the Specter soap opera as everyone else.

Still, a different outcome wouldn't have stunned me: Specter does have the backing of much of the Democratic establishment. Plenty of others have swallowed their objections and gotten behind the guy, on the basis that his allegedly superior "electability." But I guess that's why this is the 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club.

As a matter of policy, the club doesn't reveal vote totals. But "More people than I expected voted for Specter," says club president Chris Zurawsky. Turnout was heavy, he adds. 

The club's other endorsements:

  • Lieutenant Governor --  Jonathan Saidal
  • U.S. Congress, Dist. 14 – Mike Doyle
  • State Senate, Dist. 38 – Jim Ferlo
  • State Assembly, Dist. 23 – Dan Frankel
  • State Assembly, Dist. 34 – Paul Costa
  • State Assembly, Dist. 24 – Joe Preston
  • County Democratic Committee, Dist. 14-16 – Saleem Khan
  • State Democratic Committee, Dist. 38 – Pamela Macklin, Cynthia Maleski, Daniel Jimenez, Brenda Frazier
  • State Democratic Committee, Dist. 43 – Barbara Behrend, Ernsberger, Barbara Daly Danko, Patrick Sweeney, Diana Kazour, Rich Fitzgerald, Marvin Leibowitz

A couple of those committee races bear noting. I've written about Saleem Khan's committee challenge to Denny Regan previously. And a special shout-out to Daniel Jimenez: A Pitt grad student, he was in many ways the poster child for students opposed to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's tuition tax -- now he's running for a state committee spot. Watch out for him!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Trib finds an academic elitist even Tea Partiers will like

Posted By on Fri, Apr 16, 2010 at 3:52 PM

Usually I leave deconstructing Tribune-Review articles to the good folks at 2 Political Junkies: God knows it's important work, but you know -- life is pretty short.

Still, I couldn't help but notice this passage from the Trib's wrap-up of yesterday's Tea Party event in Market Square Downtown

The tea party patriots have been given a bum rap, according to Tim Hagle, an associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa.

"They've been treated unfairly in the media," he said.

Nice to see at least one academic who isn't trying to undermine our nation's values, eh, Tea Partiers?

But I got interested in this Tim Hagle. He's been quoted in other outlets, certainly -- even NPR, that bastion of latte-sipping cultural elitists who long to destroy America from within. But as it turns out, he's got special reason to be well disposed to a movement that -- while it claims non-partisanship -- routinely blasts Democrats as "socialists."

Hagle, it seems, is not just a professor at the University of Iowa. He is also the

faculty advisor to the University of Iowa College Republicans and the Iowa Federation of College Republicans. He has been a member of the Johnson County Republican Central Committee. Hagle recently completed two years of service at the United States Department of Justice in the Office for Victims of Crime and the National Institute of Justice. He was also appointed by President Bush to serve on the Permanent Committee for the Oliver Wendell Holmes Devise, a committee that oversees the writing of a history of the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Not only that. Hagle has contributed sizable sums -- sizable for someone living on an acadmic salary, that is -- to Republican candidates and causes. In 2008, he gave $1,500 to the Republican National Committee, plus another $1,500 to the McCain/Palin presidential ticket. Prior to the GOP's national conention, Hagle gave $500 to abortive GOP candidate Fred Thompson (remember him?) and additional sums to McCain. In 2004, he gave repeatedly to Bush/Cheney. He's also given to Iowa Republicans running for Congress. In all,

I track more than $7,700 in contributions to Republican causes since 2002. (Some of these donations are identified here, though you really need to go the FEC's database to get the full story.)

Should the Trib have disclosed those connections? Well, it's not like NPR did (though the Daily Iowan has previously noted his party affiliation at least). So who am I to judge? 

Still, it's kinda ironic to see reporters getting criticized for bias ... when the guy doing the criticism is himself an avowed partisan. It's almost like having a Richard Mellon Scaife-funded "media watch" group fault mainstream reporters for slanting the facts.

But that's a topic for 2 Political Junkies. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Are the Tea Parties Cooling Off?

Posted By on Thu, Apr 15, 2010 at 3:16 PM

I tweeted a bit from today's Tea Party event in Mellon Square Park Downtown, but here are some further initial impressions.

First, although last year's April 15 Tea Party took place on a  dismal day -- and though today was picture-perfect as far as weather goes -- the crowd seemed smaller, and more subdued. 

This actually isn't a bad thing. With some exceptions -- like the protesters holding aloft "Obama bin Laden" sign and a "We came unarmed ... this time" signs -- the spirit of the event seemed less batshit crazy. I attribute that partly to a lack of Ayn Randers ... I didn't see a single "Who is John Galt?" sign in the bunch. But of course the real credit for toning down the crazy goes to the participants and organizers. 

The roster of speakers also gains points for diversity -- a black minister, the Reverend C.L. Bryant, was featured prominently -- though the folks behind the lectern were a lot more diverse than the crowd listening in.

Even so, the comparative lack of fervor surprised me. I mean, this time a year ago, we weren't being cruelly oppressed with a government ruthlessly trying to prevent us from losing our insurance when we get sick. I'd have thought the crowd would be more apocalyptic, not less. But maybe it's hard to believe in the creeping doom of socialism when its in the mid-70s and sunny. (In any case, it made it much harder for Glen Meakem -- a fixture at these events -- to claim that global warming doesn't exist.) Or maybe it's because the proceedings stopped periodically to allow KDKA Radio [Sorry, that was 104.7 FM; KDKA merely covered the event, and had its advertising all over the place] -- which was carrying the event live -- to break for commercials. As Steelers fans who've attended home games know, it's hard to sustain an energy level when everything stops to allow for a word from the sponsor. 

But despite warnings from Bryant -- who warned that some politicians were "Republicans in sheep's clothing, and in name only" -- there was some political activity taking place. Supporters of Melissa Haluszczak were out in force, for example. But more interesting was a flyer handed out by backers of Keith Rothfus


Rothfus is a Republican vying for Jason Altmire's seat in Pennsylvania's 4th Congressional District. His flyer, however, targeted not Altmire ut Mary Beth Buchanan, another Republican vying for the GOP nomination next month. 

The flyer featured a photo of a somewhat bemused-looking Buchanan with a slightly menacing pic of Barack Obama, and warned us that, "Mary Beth Buchanan SAYS she is conservative, yet she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette She would consider working in the Obama Administration." 

The P-G story in question -- which dates to one month after Obama was elected, and more than a month before he even took office -- reported that Buchanan didn't plan to resign her post as US Attorney. In the story, Buchanan indeed allowed that she was "open to considering further service to the United States" at the time. 

Buchanan later did step down, of course. And honestly, it's hard even for me to blame her for giving the new boss a chance. But I guess for Rothfus, the only thing for Buchanan to do was resign her commission immediately ... perhaps committing seppuku for emphasis. 

Come to that, last year's Tea Party sort of made me feel like killing myself. Not so much this year. If this is all the more anger that the passing healthcare can generate, maybe this coming November won't be the disaster I expected. 

Poll dancing

Posted By on Thu, Apr 15, 2010 at 12:46 PM

It "has everyone talking" say the folks at DailyKos: A Rasmussen poll out this week showing Joe Sestak and Arlen Specter in a statistical dead heat. Maybe people are talking about it; I'm just not sure what it means. 

I've written about Rasmussen's often-controversial numbers before: The long and short of it is that they tend to weigh likely voters heavier than other polls do. So maybe it's no surprise that Sestak performs does well in their books: After all, the premise of Sestak's campaign is that he appeals to true believers sick of Specter's endless compromises. Plus which, Sestak has performed strongly in Rasmussen polling before. His 42 percent is, in fact, the same result he posted last fall. So is this a meaningful trend, or just some statistical choppiness resulted from the volatility of how voters feel about Specter?

Last summer, Sestak was in the low 30s -- and that's right where he was at the outset of this year, after his peak in October. It's hard to read a trend here, unless it's the trend of voters being pissed at Specter. For example, Rasmussen finds that:

Although Sestak voted for the national health care bill, he captures the majority of the votes of those Democrats who think the national health care bill is bad for the country ... Fifty-four percent (54%) of primary voters who view the health care bill as good for the country support Specter. Fifty-nine percent (59%) of those who say the bill is bad support Sestak.  

Of course, among the reform's critics are plenty of folks on the left who think the bill is bad because it's not progressive enough. But my gut sense is that the lion's share of that 59 percent are people who think the reform is government overreach ... and they simply don't know what Sestak's position on it is. I'm guessing a lot of those votes are members of the "anyone but Arlen" crowd. 

Still, all that aside, I'd expect some tightening of the numbers in the next few weeks. A seperate survey, by Susquehanna Research, shows Sestak well behind Specter -- 42-28 -- but improving significantly on his showing late last year. The question is whether Sestak will be able to capitalize on that trend. He's got the money -- $5 million on hand at the start of the year -- but I'm not sure if he has the momentum suggested by Rasmussen's numbers.

Oh, and speaking of Susquehanna, they also polled the gubernatorial race, and showed Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato establishing a lead over other Dems. What struck me most, though, was how Onorato appears to be dominating Auditor General Jack Wagner in their mutual homebase of Allegheny County: Two-thirds of voters here say they support Onorato, compared to just 7 percent for Wagner.

It's not that I expected Wagner to have a huge base of support here, necessarily. But Onorato -- just by nature of his job -- often has to play the heavy with voters here. And in any case, I did expect Wagner to be at least as popular in his own backyard as he is in the rural "T" of the state. Instead, he has the backing of 13 percent of those voters.

Thanks for the memos

Posted By on Thu, Apr 15, 2010 at 11:07 AM

Got a feeling that Infinonymous has got a copy of this as well, and it's been leaked (and reported) elsewhere, but I'll post it now, while I'm waiting for today's Tea Party action to begin: an internal memo from the Dan Onorato campaign laying out their strategy for deciding whether to knock Hoeffel off the ballot. 

You may recall that Onorato's gubernatorial team briefly challenged the election petitions of another Democratic rival, Joe Hoeffel, but quickly dropped the matter. Maybe you thought that Hoeffel's protests changed Onorato's mind or something. But not so.

As the memo shows, the Onorato team felt that a challenge of Hoeffel's signatures had a 40 percent chance of removing Hoeffel from the ballot ... and a 95 percent chance of ousting Anthony Hardy Williams, an upstart candidate who holds a state Senate post out in Philly. (More about Williams tomorrow.) But the team decided to make its challenge contingent on whether Hoeffel and Williams filed challenges of their own.

Both Hoeffel and Williams are from the southeast portion of the state (Hoeffel is a county commissioner in Montgomery County, next door to Philly). The idea, presumably, was that Onorato could ensure that there were going to be either two candidates in the southeast, or none. That way, voters in the Philly area would either split their votes between two choices, or have no local choice at all. 

Originally, the memo suggests, the plan was to stake out the Williams and Hoeffel campaigns, watching to see if they filed challenges, and swinging into action if they did. But the memo proposed a different strategy: File the challenge against Hoeffel without waiting to see what anyone else did. If Hoeffel didn't make a challenge of his own, Onorato's team could just drop its own court action. 

That is essentially how the strategy played out, as explained last month by the Post-Gazette's Jim O'Toole. (And the memo's existence has been leaked to others as well, witness this story in the Philadelphia Daily News.)

So if you were wondering what was up with Onorato's abortive challenge, now you know. It's also worth noting some of the high-octane names in the memo's cc list -- just in case you weren't aware of how closely allied Onorato is to governor Ed Rendell. There's local attorney and Democratic power broker Cliff Levine, of course, and also Pennsylvania "wheeler-dealer" (and Rendell campaign veteran) Dan Fee. But there's also Thorp Reed's David J. Montgomery and former Rendell pollster David Petts, as well as Neil Oxman of the Campaign Group, whose previous clients included Rendell, Supreme Court Justice Max Baer, and Al Gore.


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