Hostile Climate | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Hostile Climate 

A tale of two political rallies

Some days, you can almost imagine why people become Republicans. It's much more convenient. 

So it was July 6, when President Obama came to town. Republicans had their own pre-speech rally at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall, blocks away from the Obama rally at Carnegie Mellon University. "You can park in one location, go to the first event, [and] return to your car for your protest sign," a Tea Party blast email chirped. 

The earlier indoor event was shielded from the day's blistering sun — and with only about 100 people in attendance, there wasn't much body heat from the crowd, despite the presence of GOP luminaries like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. At one point, Allegheny County Republican Committee Chair Jim Roddey encouraged the crowd to cluster in front of the Romney campaign sign, so TV cameras could "get a great picture." 

Having just created the illusion of higher turnout, Roddey then joked that Democrats inflated their political strength: He'd changed his will, he said, so that "I could be buried in Philadelphia and keep voting." 

Roddey's witticisms notwithstanding, there's no evidence that voter fraud plays any role in determining modern elections. But thanks to a Republican "Voter ID" law requiring voters to present photo IDs, many Democratic constituencies may end up being the butt of Roddey's joke. 

When Harrisburg debated Voter ID earlier this year, Gov. Tom Corbett's administration predicted that only one voter in a hundred would need a new ID. Actually, according to new numbers from the state, it now seems the ratio is closer to one voter in eleven.

That little fact was disclosed hours before the July 4 holiday — in a release headlined "Most Registered Voters Have Photo ID." That's a little like the state health officials announcing a plague outbreak under the title, "Most Pennsylvanians Remain Anthrax-Free."  But Republicans had good reason for sounding blasé: The five counties with the largest numbers of voters needing ID — Allegheny, Philadelphia and three Philly-area counties — all went for Obama in 2008. 

And to put this in perspective: Nearly 187,000 voters lack PennDOT photo IDs in Philadelphia County alone. That's more than Democrat John Kerry's entire margin of victory in Pennsylvania back in 2004. 

The problem may still seem remote. Obama made no mention of Voter ID when he appeared before the CMU crowd of 6,000 people. Among other things, he extolled the fact that, thanks to his controversial health-care reform, "Insurance companies can't drop you when you get sick. ... [Middle-class families] don't have to fear that when somebody in their family gets sick, that somehow they're going to lose everything they've worked for."

But for all Obama's rhetoric, and the crowd's enthusiasm, there were bad omens on the ground.

Dozens of feet from where Obama lauded health-care reform, paramedics could be heard asking, "Does anyone need medical attention?" Though volunteers circulated with misting bottles, there was almost no shade anywhere on the quad. Dozens of people needed treatment for heat. Most of them were older, many were black ... populations that are among the most likely to be tripped up by a driver's-license requirement at the polls. 

Obama's campaign mantra is "Betting on America," but in Pennsylvania, he's playing against the house ... and the pit boss is trying to swap the dice. 

As of July 9, reporters observed that the state still had outdated voter-registration data on its website. According to the Philadelphia City Paper, meanwhile, the administration has let a $250,000 contract to help advertise the new Voter ID requirements, part of a $5 million effort to raise awareness of the new requirements. And the winning bidder of this contract? The Bravo Group ... whose head, Chris Bravacos, chairs Mitt Romney's fundraising efforts in Pennsylvania. 

The Voter ID requirements are being challenged in court, and state Democrats insist that they can compete under the new rules. But they will likely have to work much harder than the GOP. In rural and suburban GOP strongholds, where car ownership is a necessity, voters will have little trouble furnishing an ID. But in many urban neighborhoods, logistical problems arising from the ID requirement may tax the stamina of even dedicated voters.  

And that's the real challenge for Democrats. It's not the heat, it's the putridity.


Speaking of Potter's Field


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