Presidential Election

Speech to PA School Boards’ Association, 5/18/08, 8PM

Posted on May 19, 2008. Filed under: Presidential Election |

          Good evening everyone. Let’s first talk about the status of the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama from a national perspective.  Even with Hillary Clinton’s huge win in West Virginia this past week, her expected win in Kentucky this coming week, and her 9-point win in PA a month ago, it’s still unlikely she can legitimately claim the rights to the nomination unless she convinces an overwhelming majority of the remaining uncommitted super delegates to vote for her. Obama is winning with pledged delegates, approximately by 153 at last count, leads with the total number of states won (32 of the 49 contests so far), and leads with the popular vote by slightly less than 600,000 nationwide not counting Florida or Michigan, both of which have been contested because they moved their primaries ahead against the rules of the Democratic Party.  Obama is now even winning with super delegates by approximately 13 at last count, a group that early on Hillary had a significant lead with.  If you have been following the super delegate race, there really has been three break points when super delegates have committed to the candidates – the first phase was early in the primary season before Super Tuesday when the Clinton forces were able to capitalize on her perceived status as the “inevitable” nominee, calling in chits with party leaders and using her husband’s good name to secure what quickly became a formidable, 120-super delegate lead over Obama. So Hillary clearly won the first wave. Then, after super-Tuesday in February Obama went on a winning streak of 10 states practically in a row amassing up leads with both pledged delegates and the popular vote and the second wave of super delegates lined up mostly behind him, narrowing Clinton’s lead considerably to less than 50.  Now, what we are seeing is probably the beginning of the third wave of super delegates breaking for Obama almost on a daily basis since it’s become clear from the handwriting on the wall that Obama will probably be the nominee given his margins with both pledged delegates and the popular vote.  Presently, there are less than 250 remaining super delegates who have yet to commit to either candidate, many of which have said they will make a decision after all the states have voted by June 3 and most of these are not expected to vote against the winner of the pledged delegate race, although the party rules do say they are free to make their own decisions which is why they are called “super” delegates after all.  Of course neither candidate will probably win the vote from Steven Ybarra, an uncommitted super delegate from Sacramento, California…Does anyone know who Steve Ybarra is…?

 

          Clinton’s main strategy has been to convince super delegates that she is the only candidate that has and will continue to win the big, “delegate-rich” states the Democrats need to win in November to beat John McCain. She points to her wins in California, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, even Michigan and Florida, and of course PA.  It’s an argument she’s hoping that the super delegates will still respond to, assuming you still believe she is in this race to still get the nomination.  So the key is: can the results of the remaining contests in Kentucky, Oregon, Montana, South Dakota and Puerto Rico really make that much of a difference?  Since the candidates will probably split the remaining states with Clinton favored in Kentucky and Puerto Rico and Obama favored in South Dakota, Oregon and Montana, it’s probably unlikely all that much will change since neither candidate is likely to emerge with a decisive lead in pledged delegates from these final states.  However, the real game changer in our opinion were the recent contests held in North Carolina and Indiana, where Obama won North Carolina by a huge 14-point margin when the polls showed the race closing to single digits.  This win was significant not only because it added substantially to Obama’s lead with pledged delegates and the popular vote, both of which had narrowed after Pennsylvania, but also because North Carolina is considered a key battleground state that the Obama campaign has now been able to use to undermine Clinton’s argument that she is the only candidate who can win big, delegate-rich states in November. Clinton of course won Indiana, which was important because Obama held leads in that state in early polls, but her narrow 2-point victory seemed to be a nonstarter with the super delegates who may have started to take Hillary’s argument to heart that she might have actually been the best candidate to beat McCain in November. And perhaps the real audience for what happened in North Carolina and Indiana may be a small group of people who make up the rules committee of the Democratic National Committee, who are scheduled to meet May 31st to decide the fate of the 338 delegates still hanging in the balance from primaries in Michigan and Florida.  This is important because the pledged delegates from these two states could have cut deeply into Obama’s delegate lead given that Clinton won the popular vote in both states; and if you count her popular vote lead from both states its actually enough to overtake Obama in total popular votes.  However, the perception by some committee members that Clinton has failed to derail Obama’s candidacy, particularly after what most have called one of the worst months of his campaign, could have strengthened Obama’s hand with this committee to the point where one of the more likelier outcomes of this committee hearing is that there will be a decision to seat just enough delegates from these two states at the convention in Denver to confirm Obama’s nomination, but not enough to actually swing the nomination to Clinton. The theory is that what this does is also avoid a huge backlash from voters in these two states if they don’t find some way of making sure their votes were counted in some ways, which according to some could even risk turning a state like Michigan into a red state in November.  So the end result of all of this is that by the time all the states have voted, Obama will probably have enough pledged and super delegates to hit the magic 2,025 he needs to secure the nomination.  If you’ve noticed, both Obama and Clinton have virtually stopped attacking each other, and Clinton is sounding more conciliatory in her speeches in terms of stressing that whoever the nominee is will go on to win in November. Plus, Clinton’s revelation that her campaign is $20 million in debt has really given people the sense that her campaign is all but over, although Obama has been very careful to not ask her to drop out of the race and to simply let the remaining states play out with the understanding that as long as he doesn’t make any more public blunders, the math won’t change enough to deny him the nomination.

         

          Now, let’s turn to a quick recap of the race in PA which I really think is important to understand so you can get a better sense of what Obama is faced with to win a state like PA in November.  Clinton’s win in PA last month was projected for weeks, with the real debate more focused on whether it would be a narrow victory or a 10-point win like in Ohio and New Jersey.  Her 10-point margin in the state proved once again she has a much broader base of support than Obama in these key battleground states.  She won 60 of the 67 counties, and exit polling showed big margins for her with Catholics, females, blue collar “Reagan Democrats”, super voters and senior citizens.  She even won narrowly among white males, which have tended to be up for grabs in the past. Undecided voters broke for Clinton by a near 60/40 margin in the remaining 7 days of the race, a clear indication she had stopped his momentum in early April stemming from both self-inflicted wounds about his comments about how people in small towns in PA “cling to guns, religion, etc.” when they are bitter about their economic anxieties, as well as a poor debate performance on 4/16 in Philadelphia when tough questioning from the media kept him on the defensive.

 

       For Obama, exit polls showed his strengths primarily among voters 45 years and under, affluent and white collar voters and black Democrats. Among those who registered to vote for the first time, exit polls showed they voted for Obama by a 62/38 margin. Obama needed a big win in the Southeast counties of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery, where polls showed he was neck-and-neck with Clinton; he ended up narrowly losing these counties collectively by a 52/48 margin.  The other key region for Obama was the Mid State/Harrisburg region (Adams, Dauphin, Cumberland, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Berks and Perry), where Democrats tend to be more affluent, white collar and up-and-coming professionals, and therefore more like Southeastern PA Democrats and less like the blue collar, culturally-conservative Democrats you get in the Northeast and the West.  Obama only split these counties 50/50 with Clinton.  As expected, he won Philadelphia by a 2:1 margin, and also carried Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Dauphin, Centre and Union Counties, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Clinton’s home-grown advantages and institutional support in the state, even with the unprecedented turnout of more than 2 million votes cast, up from 1.2 million in 2002 which was the last time the Democrats had a contested statewide election between Rendell and Casey for governor. 

 

          So, the significance of a Clinton win in Pennsylvania really brings to light Obama’s potential problems in key industrial states like PA, Ohio and Indiana as the Democratic nominee in the fall and that’s important because many insiders believe that the candidate who wins two out of the three states of PA, Florida and Ohio, usually wins the White House which has been the traditon the last several presidential elections. Obama’s problems attracting support from white, working-class voters may not go away easily, and national polling showed that following Clinton’s win in PA, favorable impressions for Obama dropped 5 points, while the percentage of Americans who viewed him as unfavorable jumped 9 points, a 14 point swing, with the highest negative ratings coming from Independents, seniors, blue collar workers, rural and small town voters and even suburban women, the last of which have given Obama some of his strongest support in past contests.  In PA, our poll just released this past week shows the state is much more of a lock for the Democrats with Hillary as the Democratic nominee because if the election were held today she would beat McCain by a 49/38 margin, which is an 11-point lead.  However, with Obama against McCain the race is tighter, with Obama winning by a 7-point, 46/39 margin. Even though Obama is winning with 46% of the vote, what does it say about a guy who just spend a record amount of money in the state – upwards of 9 million dollars – which we think is the most in the state’s history and compared to McCain who hasn’t spent a dime here yet, even after all this, he still can’t crack fifty percent in the polls here?

 

          Probably the most important region in the poll is the Southwest region or the Pittsburgh media market, where if Clinton was the nominee she would lead McCain by a 17-point margin there, but with Obama as the nominee it actually flips to McCain by a 11-point margin, or a swing of 28 points. This is important because we’re talking about those same types of voters we mentioned earlier that proved critical to Clinton’s margin in the PA primary as well as in Ohio and more recently in West Virginia – namely Catholics, blue collar “Reagan Democrats” and white, working class voters, most of whom are culturally conservative on social issues like guns, abortion and gay marriage and who in past elections have given Republicans key victories at the statewide level.  All other areas of the state showed both Clinton and Obama’s leads against McCain virtually the same, so the real battleground in PA, and we would argue maybe even the entire nation if you believe the notion that the whoever wins PA helps elect the next president, comes down to the fluidness of the vote in the Southwestern part of the state.  It is precisely these types of voters Obama will need to appeal to if he is going to win the presidency and at the current time, he still has a lot of work to do. 

 

          Let’s shift to the general election between McCain and either Obama or Clinton.  For tons of reasons, this should be the Democrats’ year to capture the White House.  Approximately 75% of Americans say the country is on the wrong track, a sentiment which historically works against the party occupying the White House.  A majority of Americans believe the war in Iraq was a mistake and not worth the sacrifices we have made, and most Americans and most Pennsylvanians for that matter, think we are currently in a recession, or headed for one in the next several months.  And with record gasoline and food prices, mortgage foreclosures through the roof and problems in the credit market, people are simply looking for change.  The president’s approval rating has been flat lined at 30% for literally almost two years now, which is near Nixon levels, and all these factors have contributed to such a black mark on the Republican Party that according to polls, when you ask Americans which party they want to win the White House, by a 10-point margin they say the Democrats. When you ask Americans which party they belong to, fewer and fewer Americans identify as being Republican, which is near historic lows.  And according to a Wall Street Journal poll released last week, only 27% of voters nationwide now have favorable views of the Republican Party, the lowest level for either party in the survey’s near two-decade history.  And if this doesn’t convince you, just look at the last three special elections for Congress that have been held in recent months in Illinois, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The Democrats won all three of them in districts that were largely considered safe seats for the Republicans for decades, and this clearly shows that the negative political environment against the GOP is coming home to roost. And you don’t have to look at statistics or these special elections to feel the energy the Democrats have had this year with record turnouts in the primaries, huge advantages in fundraising where the Clinton and Obama campaigns have raised twice and three times as much money as McCain or the Republicans have, and hundreds of thousands of new voters registering to vote for the first time.  Just in PA alone, the Democrats have increased their voters by 8% recently, giving them more than 4 million voters on the rolls which is unprecedented – and even flipped 5 counties from Republican to Democrat in registration (Centre, Clinton, Bucks, Montgomery and Clearfield). Even here in Dauphin County, the increase in Democrat registration was the highest of the state, a 38% increase adding 20,000 new Democrats to the rolls, giving the Republicans now a less than 2,000 voter registration advantage in a county that Republican candidates have carried in the past by huge margins.

 

          Despite all this, McCain is still in a statistical dead heat with both Clinton and Obama in national polls and in Pennsylvania as we said earlier is trailing both candidates but still considered competitive enough to keep PA in play.  McCain’s resilience can be attributed to many factors:  as someone who has been willing to buck the Republican Party establishment, his maverick-style image has made him attractive to Independent voters, moderates and Hispanics.  Plus, polls show he has strong appeal to senior citizens and veterans, and is fairly well liked by most voters, and the WSJ poll I referred to earlier showed that among all three presidential candidates, Americans gave the highest marks to McCain on “values and background”, which the survey identified as things like honor, trustworthiness and patriotism.  In fact, McCain scored higher than Obama and Clinton among most key demographic groups on these issues including with men, seniors, independents, suburbanites, small town voters and rural voters.  More recently, a key series of focus groups were conducted in the key battleground state of Virginia with Independent voters – and these were focus groups done by Democratic pollsters – it showed that these Independent voters actually leaned towards McCain in November and had serious reservations about Obama because they just aren’t sure they know enough about him, some thought he was a Muslim, and others wondered if more surprises are still to come.  All this means McCain’s appeal is more based on personal traits and his maverick image more so than his positions on issues, which can work to his advantage given his controversial positions on the Iraq war, and the perception by many that he lacks the credentials to grasp economic issues and turn the economy around. 

 

Also, with McCain as the GOP nominee the entire electoral map of which states are competitive in November gets turned upside down.  For instance, because of his appeal to Reagan Democrats, the McCain campaign believes they put states like Michigan and PA in play for the general election, and his popularity with Independents may put Minnesota, New Hampshire and even Wisconsin in play.  Also, the bitter primary between Obama and Clinton is giving Democratic Party leaders heartburn, since they are concerned about what impact this will have on the nominee in the fall, and if the Clinton voters will vote for Obama and vice versa in a general election. Polls show up to 1 in 4 Democrats may not vote for either Clinton or Obama if the other candidate wins the nomination. 

 

Ultimately, I think the general election for president will be closely contested, and I think a lot of it has to do with how successful the GOP is defining Barack Obama if he is the nominee, something Clinton has really not had the luxury of doing since she can’t afford to alienate the same base she’ll need to rely on in November if she’s the nominee.  For McCain, he can win if he’s able to continue to win traditional Red states, but also pick up a few blue states due to his appeal to moderates, Independents and Hispanics. He also needs to shore up his Republican base since the true conservatives in the party have despised his positions for years on positions like immigration, voting against the Bush tax cuts, his support of a campaign finance bill which many 2nd amendment groups found to be obscene because it violates their right to free speech, as well as his support for global warming and opposition to drilling for oil in ANWAR.  And if you followed the recent primary in PA, even though McCain was virtually uncontested in the Republican primary, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul still were on the ballot and combined got 27% of the vote against McCain even though they weren’t actively campaigning, and turnout was very low on the GOP side because few races were contested so these were the party faithful that turned out, so it just shows that McCain still has work to do to get the GOP base energized for him in November.  However, in a year when this should be a slam dunk for the Democrats given all the negative indicators, the only saving grace for the GOP, which is really the most ironic part, is that despite all the bitching, name calling and outright hostility that Republicans, yes Republicans have shown to John McCain over the years, he is probably the only nominee that could have given them a prayer this year because he’s the only candidate who has the potential to have any separation from the low GOP brand because he has built his entire reputation on his maverick, independent image as someone who has been willing to buck the party.   All the other nominees, Huckabee, Romney, Thompson, even Rudy Giuliani, would probably have been sunk by now and been dragged down by the same political environment that is killing these Republican candidates in congressional races that are playing out across the country.

 

For Obama, he can’t win in November if he doesn’t win traditional blue states the Democrats have always relied on, like Michigan and Pennsylvania, so the first step for him is to some how get Democrats in these states, most of whom voted against him in the primary, to vote for him in the fall.  In addition, because of Obama’s appeal to new types of voters, look for his campaign to try to win some reliably Republican states, like Virginia, which recently has elected two consecutive Democratic governors, or others in the Midwest like Colorado, New Mexico or Nevada which Bush carried by very close margins in 2004.  Obama will probably even make a play for Southern states he’s done well in just recently in the primaries, states like North Carolina, Mississippi or Georgia – all of which he’s won due to high turnout from the black community.   And Obama will need to again rely on a new paradigm of voter turnout – by increasing turnout among first time voters, young voters, college students and higher black turnout primarily in the state’s urban centers.

 

Now, turning to education issues for a few minutes…Thank you for your time

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New PA Poll Shows Clinton, Obama Leading McCain, but Clinton Stronger

Posted on May 12, 2008. Filed under: Presidential Election |

A new statewide poll released Friday, May 9, with Pennsylvania likely voters conducted by Harrisburg-based Susquehanna Polling and Research, Inc., shows Hillary Clinton beating John McCain in a hypothetical general election match-up by a 49/38 margin if she is the Democratic nominee, while Barack Obama leads McCain by a closer 46/39 margin.  The current poll was conducted May 1-6 with 800 registered likely voters and has a margin of error of 3.4% at the 95% confidence level; the calls were made from our telephone call center in downtown Harrisburg using live survey interviewers.   

          “Both Clinton and Obama lead McCain at this stage of the game, but the fact that Obama’s margin over McCain is 7 points compared to 11 points for Clinton shows how much more competitive the state is for McCain with Obama as the Democratic nominee,” said President Jim Lee.  The key difference in the poll seems to be Clinton’s strength in the Southwest region of the state, where she leads McCain by a 51/34 margin, but with an Obama ticket in November McCain leads 45/34, which is a 28-point swing in support.  This means the Southwest region of the state, where Democrats are more culturally conservative on social issues like gun control, abortion and gay marriage and have voting patterns similar to so-called “Reagan Democrats”, can really be the deciding factor in November because this is an area that in past elections has been reliably good for Republicans at the statewide level for both former and current President Bush, former US Senator Rick Santorum and others.  

Most other areas of the state don’t show much of a disparity whether Obama or Clinton is the Democratic nominee.  For instance, both Clinton and Obama beat McCain in the Southeast and Philadelphia by near equal margins, while the Northeast and “T”/Central parts of the state are dead heats regardless of who is the Democratic nominee.  However, McCain leads both Clinton and Obama in the conservative, Republican South Central/Harrisburg region which includes counties like Lancaster, Cumberland, Perry, Adams and York.

Clinton also does better against McCain with white, working class voters than does Obama, a point she has stressed all along in key battleground states, which is a core demographic group in the Southwest and accounts for 43% of all voters polled in the survey.  For instance, among all white voters in the poll with no college degree, Clinton beats McCain 47/41, whereas in an Obama/McCain match-up McCain holds an impressive 47/33 lead with these same voters, a swing of 20 points.  Among whites with a college degree or more, McCain and Clinton are nearly tied at 44/43, respectively, while Obama leads significantly over McCain by a 49/39 margin with this same group.  This means Obama has a lot of work to do to repair his image with white, working class voters before he can put Pennsylvania in the win column, Lee added.  Check out our website for the top line results and cross-tabulations showing support among various key demographic groups.

 

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Speech to PA Business Council Election Forum, 5/6/08, 2PM

Posted on May 7, 2008. Filed under: General Politics, PA State House, PA State Senate, Presidential Election |

          Good afternoon. Let’s first talk about the status of the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama from a national perspective.  Even with Hillary Clinton’s win in PA two weeks ago, it’s still unlikely she can legitimately claim the rights to the nomination unless she convinces more super delegates to vote for her.  Obama is winning with pledged delegates, approximately by 154 at last count, leads with the total number of states won (31 of the 46 so far), and leads with the popular vote by approximately 500,000 nationwide not counting Florida or Michigan and also not counting the imputed results from the four caucus states of Iowa, Maine, Nevada or Washington.  Clinton would have to win 2/3 of the remaining pledged delegates in the 9 remaining states yet to hold contests for her to tie him in the delegate count, and that is unlikely to happen because of the complex way the Democratic Party rules award delegates.  A good example of this is Nevada, where Clinton carried the state in the popular vote, but Obama was awarded one more delegate because of how his vote was dispersed.  And in Texas, which had both a caucus and a primary, Obama was awarded more delegates because of his strong showing in the caucus despite Clinton’s win with the popular vote.

 

          Clinton’s main strategy has been to convince super delegates that she is the only candidate that has and will continue to win the big, “delegate-rich” states the Democrats need to win in November to beat John McCain. She points to her wins in New Jersey, New York, Ohio, even Michigan and Florida, and of course PA.  It’s an argument she’s hoping that the super delegates respond to, and at the current time she still leads in the super delegate count by approximately 15, but her lead has been significantly diminished over the last two months as more party leaders think it’s inevitable Obama will win the delegate race after all states have voted by June 3.  So the key is, can the results of the remaining states really make that much of a difference – starting with Indiana and North Carolina both of which hold primaries today, and moving on to West Virginia, Oregon, Kentucky, Montana, South Dakota and Puerto Rico.  Obama’s strategy needs to be to keep these remaining states close so that no one gets a decisive lead with the remaining pledged delegates yet to be awarded, and keep the pressure on the super delegates to not vote against the will of the people, something party leaders including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi are increasingly signaling would be a major mistake to do.

 

          However, according to some political analysts, Clinton may also be contemplating making an argument that she should be the nominee because she is really the “choice of the people” if she can overtake Obama in the popular vote.  She can do this by first counting her win in Florida, where she beat Obama by close to 300,000 votes, because Obama was on the ballot there, but not Michigan where he wasn’t on the ballot.  If she does decent in North Carolina where polls show her trailing but closing the margin, wins Indiana decisively, and gets big margins in West Virginia and Kentucky as she’s likely to do, this could erase Obama’s popular vote lead particularly if Obama doesn’t get big wins in Oregon, South Dakota or Montana where he is expected to do well.  Clinton may also be counting on big numbers in Puerto Rico, where polls suggest she’s doing well partly because her home state of New York has the biggest population of Puerto Ricans of any state in the country.  And undermining this argument will be Clinton’s suggestion that Obama’s lead with pledged delegates isn’t as legitimate as her lead with the popular vote, because close to two thirds of his “pledged” delegate lead comes from delegates elected in caucuses, which were chosen by so few people in comparison to the states that held primaries.  For example, approximately 1.5 million voted in caucuses compared to 30 million in states that had primaries.  It’s probably a risky strategy to make, but the Clintons have obviously shown they aren’t afraid to play hard ball.

 

          Now, let’s turn to a quick recap of the race in PA.  Clinton’s win in PA was projected for weeks, with the real debate more focused on whether it would be a narrow victory or a 10-point win like in Ohio and New Jersey.  Her 10-point margin in the state proved once again she has a much broader base of support than Obama in these key battleground states.  She won 60 of the 67 counties, and exit polling showed big margins for her with Catholics, females, blue collar “Reagan Democrats”, super voters and senior citizens.  She even won narrowly among white males, which have tended to be up for grabs in the past. Undecided voters broke for Clinton by a near 60/40 margin in the remaining 7 days of the race, a clear indication she had stopped his momentum in early April stemming from both self-inflicted wounds about his comments about how people in small towns in PA “cling to guns, religion, etc.” when they are bitter about their economic anxieties, as well as a poor debate performance on 4/16 in Philadelphia when tough questioning from the media kept him on the defensive.

 

       For Obama, exit polls showed his strengths primarily among voters 45 years and under, affluent and white collar voters and black Democrats. Among those who registered to vote for the first time, exit polls showed they voted for Obama by a 62/38 margin. Obama needed a big win in the Southeast counties  of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery, where polls showed he was neck-and-neck with Clinton; he ended up narrowly losing these counties collectively by a 52/48 margin.  The other key region for Obama was the Mid State/Harrisburg region (Adams, Dauphin, Cumberland, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Berks and Perry), where Democrats tend to be more affluent, white collar and up-and-coming professionals, and therefore more like Southeastern PA Democrats and less like the blue collar, culturally-conservative Democrats you get in the Northeast and the West.  Obama only split these counties 50/50 with Clinton.  As expected, he won Philadelphia by a 2:1 margin, and also carried Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Dauphin, Centre and Union Counties, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Clinton’s home-grown advantages and institutional support in the state, even with the unprecedented turnout of more than 2 million votes cast, up from 1.2 million in 2002 which was the last time the Democrats had a contested statewide election between Rendell and Casey for governor. 

 

          However, the significance of a Clinton win in Pennsylvania really brings to light Obama’s potential problems as the probable Democratic nominee in the fall.  Obama’s problems attracting support from working-class, white voters may not go away easily, and national polling shows that favorable impressions for Obama have dropped 5 points this month, while the percentage of Americans who view him as unfavorable jumped 9 points, a 14 point swing, with the highest negative ratings coming from Independents, seniors, blue collar workers, rural and small town voters and even suburban women, the last of which have given Obama some of his strongest support in past contests.  In PA, our recent polling in Democratic-leaning districts shows that if Clinton is not the nominee, some Reagan Democrats are more comfortable with McCain than Obama, while others may simply stay home.  For instance, our polling in three key regions of the state where support from Reagan Democrats is crucial, those being the Southeast, the Johnstown/Altoona market and the Northeast – showed Clinton either beating or narrowly losing to McCain, but McCain besting Obama by anywhere from 13 to 25 points in these same districts. In one district, even 11% of Democrats said they would not vote for either McCain or Obama, which means Reagan Democrats may not be particularly enamored with either candidate, but also means the Democrats may have a turnout problem in November if Obama doesn’t repair his image with this critical swing group. 

 

          Let’s shift to the general election between McCain and either Obama or Clinton.  For tons of reasons, this should be the Democrats’ year to capture the White House.  Approximately 70% of Americans say the country is on the wrong track, a sentiment which historically works against the party occupying the White House.  A majority of Americans believe the war in Iraq was a mistake and not worth the sacrifices we have made, and most Americans and most Pennsylvanians for that matter, think we are currently in a recession, or headed for one in the next several months.  All these factors have contributed to such a black mark on the GOP that according to polls, when you ask Americans which party they want to win the White House, by a 10-point margin they say the Democrats. When you ask Americans which party they belong to, fewer and fewer Americans identify as being Republican, which is near historic lows.  And according to a Wall Street Journal poll released last week, only 27% of voters nationwide now have favorable views of the Republican Party, the lowest level for either party in the survey’s near two-decade history.  And you don’t have to look at the statistics to feel the energy the Democrats have had this year with record turnouts in the primaries, hundreds of thousands of new voters registering to vote for the first time, and huge advantages in fundraising where the Clinton and Obama campaigns have raised twice and three times as much money as McCain or the Republicans have.  Just in PA alone, the Democrats have increased their voters by 8% recently, giving them more than 4 million voters on the rolls which is unprecedented – and even flipped 5 counties from Republican to Democrat in registration (Centre, Clinton, Bucks, Montgomery and Clearfield). Even here in Dauphin County, the increase in Democrat registration was the highest of the state, a 38% increase adding 20,000 new Democrats to the rolls, giving the Republicans now a less than 2,000 voter registration advantage in a county that Republican candidates have carried in the past by huge margins.

 

          Despite all this, McCain is still in a statistical dead heat with both Clinton and Obama nationally, and in Pennsylvania is trailing both candidates but still considered competitive enough to keep PA in play.  McCain’s resilience can be attributed to many factors:  as someone who has been willing to buck the Republican Party establishment, his maverick-style image has made him attractive to Independent voters, moderates and Hispanics.  Polls show he has strong appeal to senior citizens and veterans, and is fairly well liked by most voters, and the WSJ poll I referred to earlier showed that among all three candidates, Americans gave the highest marks to McCain on “values and background”, which the survey identified as things like honor, trustworthiness and patriotism.  In fact, McCain scored higher than Obama and Clinton among most key demographic groups on these issues including with men, seniors, independents, suburbanites, small town voters and rural voters.  This means McCain’s appeal is more based on personal traits and his maverick image more so than his positions on issues, which can work to his advantage given his controversial positions on the Iraq war, and the perception by many that he lacks the credentials to grasp economic issues.

 

Also, with McCain as the GOP nominee the entire electoral map of which states are competitive in November gets turned upside down.  For instance, because of his appeal to Reagan Democrats, the McCain campaign believes they put states like Michigan and PA in play for the general election, and his popularity with Independents may put Minnesota, New Hampshire and even Wisconsin in play.  Also, the bitter primary between Obama and Clinton is giving Democratic Party leaders heartburn, since they are concerned about what impact this will have on the nominee in the fall, and if the Clinton voters will vote for Obama and vice versa in a general election. Polls show up to 1 in 4 Democrats may not vote for either Clinton or Obama if the other candidate wins the nomination.  Ultimately, I think the general election for president will be closely contested, and I think a lot of it has to do with how successful the GOP is defining Barack Obama if he is the nominee, something Clinton has really not had the luxury of doing since she can’t afford to alienate the same base she’ll need to rely on in November if she’s the nominee.  We can discuss more about how the GOP will try to define Obama if time permits.

         

The PA Congressional Races

 

          There is one open seat in the 5th District represented by retiring Congressman John Peterson, and the Republican nominee, G.T. Thompson, should be the favorite to win over Democratic nominee Mark McCracken since he won the primary relatively unscathed given that the two front runners for the race, Derek Walker and Matt Shaner, really suffered the brunt of all the negative campaigning.  Democratic incumbents are defending 9 seats in the fall elections.  Two to watch are freshman incumbents Chris Carney, who represents the 10th District formerly held by Don Sherwood.  This is the best chance for the GOP to win back a seat because this district gave Bush his highest vote of any district in the last presidential election; the GOP nominee is Chris Hackett.  Another seat to watch is the 11th District held by Paul Kanjorski, who is being challenged by Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, who is benefiting from his popularity as the first mayor in the nation to pass an ordinance cracking down on illegal immigrants which makes him an instantly credible challenger. In the spirit of disclosure I should also mention that we are the pollster for Barletta. Other freshman Democrats like Jason Altmire who represents Allegheny/Beaver Counties, Joe Sestak, who represents Delaware County, and Patrick Murphy, who represents Bucks County, will be uphill climbs for the Republicans.

 

          On the Republican side, GOP congressmen are defending 7 seats.  Two to watch are Congressman Phil English, based in Erie, who faces a tough challenger from Kathy Dalhkemper in a district that recent elections show is trending more Democrat, and Congressman Tim Murphy, who represents Allegheny County. Allegations have surfaced against Murphy relative to his staff’s involvement in questionable campaign activities, so this seat bears watching if these allegations materialize before November; the Democrat nominee is Steve O’Donnell.  Two other seats that Republicans are defending are Jim Gerlach in the 6th District in the Southeast and Charlie Dent who represents the Lehigh Valley. Both districts are trending Democrat in voting patterns but the Democrats have not recruited good candidates in these seats, so it’s unlikely either incumbent will be defeated.

 

Statewide Row Office Elections

 

          There are three statewide row office elections up this year for Attorney General, State Treasurer and Auditor General.  In the auditor general’s race, our March polling shows Auditor General Jack Wagner with a 40/21 lead over Republican Chet Beiler, and this race will be a tough uphill climb for the GOP, as will the treasurer’s open seat race which currently shows that by a 44/33 margin, voters would vote Democrat if the race was held today; the Democratic nominee is businessman Bob McCord and the GOP nominee is former Montgomery County Commissioner Tom Ellis.

 

          The attorney general’s race is most interesting however, between Attorney General Tom Corbett and Democrat District Attorney John Morganelli from Northampton County.  And let me first ask this question: Does anyone remember who Melissa Hart was?  Melissa Hart was a former GOP congresswoman from Allegheny and Beaver Counties who lost her seat in the 2006 elections primarily because Reagan Democrats went home to the Democratic Party, an election which was largely viewed as a referendum on the Iraq war and dissatisfaction with the Bush Presidency.  It wasn’t that M.H. was involved in a scandal, or was viewed as out of touch with the voters, or did anything sinister.  M.H. ultimately became the 4th incumbent GOP congressperson in PA defeated in the 2006 elections, and wasn’t even on the target list of the national Democrats until October when they realized how big the anti-Republican tidal wave sweeping the country was. 

 

I bring this up because in our estimation Tom Corbett could be the Melissa Hart of the ’08 cycle. In our March polling, Corbett is only winning by a slim 37/29 margin, and this is important because if you remember what I said before about the race for state treasurer, where a “nameless” Republican candidate is only getting 33% of the vote, Corbett is only polling 4 points ahead of a nameless GOP candidate, which means he is dangerously close to being swept out with the tide if he doesn’t get any separation from the lousy political environment that the GOP is facing this year.  To win, Corbett needs to rely on a big vote in the Harrisburg region where our polls shows his support is the strongest partly due to his investigation into bonuses paid to House/Senate staffers, and as well as big numbers out West in his home area and at least do decent in the Southest.  For Morganelli, if he has at least some money to communicate a message that he is qualified to run from his service as a DA, then between that and the higher surge in Democratic registration, it could be enough to get the job done.  If Corbett wins, he probably wins this race 52/48, but I could envision a scenario where Morganelli wins by a much bigger margin.

 

State House/Senate races

 

The GOP margin in the state senate, currently 29R/21D, will continue to stay strong.  In the State Senate, six state senators have announced their retirement – three Republicans and three Democrats – so expect lively races to fill these open seats, but none are likely to produce seats that swap from R to D or vise versa.  One potential seat in question is State Sen. Bob Regola (R-39, Westmoreland), who is being investigated due to the accidential shooting death of his son’s neighborhood friend, who died from an apparent self-inflicted gun shot wound from a gun owned by Sen. Regola, which court documents say was obtained from Sen. Regola’s house.  This is a Democrat seat in voter registration, but has trended Republican in recent years due to support from Reagan Democrats.  Sen. Regola’s personal reputation in the district will be the deciding factor, and if he can rehabilitate his image and at the same time, convince voters his opponent, Tony Bompiani, is not a viable alternative, he may be able to win reelection.  

 

In the state House, House Democrats regained the majority last election cycle for the first time since 1994 by one vote. This year, pending write-in candidates which have yet to be certified, up to 94 incumbents- which is slightly less than 50% of the entire House – have completely free rides and face no primary or general contests, which is a huge increase from 2006 when the legislative pay raise from 2005 brought hundreds of candidates out of the wood work.  This year, it seems as if we are back to the old days when most incumbents will probably get reelected, particularly if you take into account how handily the candidates for judicial retention at the statewide level last year won by near 2:1 margins, which said to us the animosity from the pay raise has definitely lost its shine. All this means that most of the competition for House races will be in 19 open seats.

 

The strategy for the Democrats will be to hold onto seats they snatched away from Republicans in 2006, at the same time, pick up a few “insurance” seats primarily by focusing on several open seats formerly held by Republicans in the Southeast that are trending Democratic in voting trends. 

 

The strategy for the GOP to reclaim the majority will be to hold open seats in the Southeast due to GOP retirements, and more importantly, defeat incumbent Democrats in marginal seats where Republican performance is strong.  Our early polling indicates that if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee for president, more Democratic incumbents, particularly in rural and Western PA districts will be in play given how well McCain is polling in these same districts. In some cases, our polling shows McCain 20 points or more ahead of Obama in competitive House districts, while a McCain/Clinton match-up is a dead heat. This means the straight ticket vote for the Democrats will be minimized, and GOP candidates will be able to win more McCain votes down ballot from both Republicans and conservative Democrats.  Or, with an Obama ticket, more Democrats in these districts might stay home on Election Day. This means most GOP candidates should prey for an Obama ticket in November to help their prospects, and this gives the House Republicans a much-needed lift in their prospects to reclaim the majority, which we think is probably a 50:50 chance of happening. However, an Obama ticket is probably the best chance the GOP has. 

 

 

 

 

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Clinton’s PA Win Expected, but McCain Should Hope for Obama Ticket in November

Posted on April 23, 2008. Filed under: Presidential Election |

          Clinton’s win in PA was projected for weeks, with the real debate more centered about whether it would be a narrow victory or a 10-point win like in Ohio and New Jersey.  Her near 10-point margin in the state proved once again she has a much broader base of support than Obama.  She won 60 of the 67 counties, and exit polling showed big margins for her with Catholics, females, blue collar “Reagan Democrats”, super voters and senior citizens.  She even won narrowly among white males, which have tended to favor Obama in past polling. Undecided voters broke for Clinton by a near 60/40 margin in the remaining 7 days of the race, a clear indication she had thwarted his momentum in early April stemming from both self-inflicted wounds about his comments about how people in small towns in PA “cling to guns, religion, etc.” when they are bitter about their economic anxieties, as well as a shabby debate performance on 4/16 in Philadelphia when tough questioning from the media kept him on the defensive for most of the evening. 

 

       For Obama, exit polls showed his strengths primarily among voters 45 years and under, affluent/white collar voters and black Democrats. Among those who registered for the first time, they broke for him by a 62/38 margin, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Clinton’s home-grown advantages and institutional support in the state, even with the unprecedented turnout of more than 2 million votes cast, up from 1.2 million in 2002 which was the last time the Democrats had a contested statewide election between Rendell and Casey for governor.  Obama needed a big win in the Southeast counties (Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery), where our polls showed he was up by 5 points, but with a big enough undecided to affect the outcome; he ended up narrowly losing there 52/48, which meant probably Clinton scored big with soccer moms, Jewish voters and Rendell’s influence.  The other key region for Obama was the Mid State/Harrisburg region (Adams, Dauphin, Cumberland, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Berks and Perry), where Democrats tend to be more affluent, white collar and up-and-coming professionals, and therefore more like Southeastern PA Democrats and less like the blue collar, culturally conservative Democrats you get in the West.  Obama split these counties 50/50 with Clinton.  As expected, he won Philadelphia by a 2:1 margin, and also carried the counties of Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Dauphin, Center and Union. 

 

          However, the significance of a Clinton win in Pennsylvania really brings to light Obama’s problems as the probable nominee in the fall, unless the delegate math changes enough to deny him the nomination which is unlikely to happen.  Obama’s problems attracting support from Reagan Democrats in the primary will not go away easily, and our recent polling in Democratic-leaning, congressional and legislative races in the state shows that if Clinton is not the nominee in the fall, Reagan Democrats are more comfortable with McCain than Obama, while others may simply stay home.  For instance, our polling in three key regions of the state where support from Reagan Democrats is crucial, those being the Southeast, the Johnstown/Altoona market and the Northeast – all Democratic leaning areas in voting patterns – showed Clinton either beating or narrowly losing to McCain in a hypothetical match-up race for the fall, but McCain besting Obama by anywhere from 13 to 25 points in these same districts. In one district, even 11% of Democrats said they would vote for neither McCain nor Obama, which means blue collar Reagan Democrats may not be particularly enamored with either candidate, but also means the Democrats may have a turnout problem in November if Obama doesn’t repair his image in the state with this critical swing group. 

 

McCain is able to make inroads with these voters partly because they are comfortable with him, he has strong ties to veterans and senior groups, and polling nationwide shows he is fairly likeable among voters of all stripes, including a very low negative except among staunch, conservative Republicans.  Also, we suspect that because voters are familiar with McCain’s long and distinguished record of service, they can literally visualize him as president sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office, while perceptually they still don’t have the same comfort level with Obama.  This is why polling shows casting a vote for president is as much about liking the person as it is about their positions on issues, which is why Democrats are favored to win the White House when voters are asked “generically” which party they want to see win in November, but when faced with a McCain/Obama or McCain/Clinton match-up more directly the nationwide polls show a much tighter race.  Clinton’s key argument that she is the only candidate who can win the key battleground states like Texas, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Michigan and now Pennsylvania, is now a more powerful argument the super delegates can no longer afford to ignore, because an Obama ticket puts Pennsylvania back in play, a state the Democrats have had the luxury of taking for granted for years because it hasn’t voted for a Republican for president since, well, you guessed it….Ronald Reagan.

 

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Clinton’s Lead Down to 3 Points in Latest SPR Poll

Posted on April 14, 2008. Filed under: Presidential Election |

Harrisburg, PA (Monday, April 14) – A new statewide poll conducted by Harrisburg-based Susquehanna Polling and Research, Inc., in the upcoming PA Democratic Presidential Primary Election shows Hillary Clinton with a slight 40/37 lead over Barack Obama with just one week remaining before the April 22nd Primary Election.  Eighteen (18) percent remain undecided, while 4% said they would vote for neither candidate; 1% refused to answer.  This represents a significant drop from her 14-point lead in our last poll conducted March 5-10, where Clinton led by a 45/31 margin. The current poll was conducted April 6-10 with 500 likely Democratic voters and has a margin of error of 4.3% at the 95% confidence level; the calls were made from our telephone call center in downtown Harrisburg using live survey interviewers.

         

Clinton’s 3-point lead is within the poll’s 4% margin of error, so this race is now a virtual toss-up,” said Jim Lee, the firm’s president, who conducted the poll for public dissemination.  “Obama has a strong 62/19 favorable to unfavorable ratio in name ID (better than 3:1), and has succeeded in building up his positive image in the state, something he said all along he was capable of doing if voters had more time to get to know him.  At the same time, Clinton’s name ID shows a higher negative than Obama, with 25% having an unfavorable opinion of her compared to 61% who view Clinton as favorable,” Lee added.

 

Clinton still leads in the culturally conservative Southwest (57/17), the Northeast (44/26) and Central “T”/Johnstown-Altoona media market (40/32), but her leads in these areas has narrowed in comparison to March when she was winning with bigger margins.  Perhaps most surprising is Clinton’s shrinking margin in the Northeast, her natural strength given her family ties to the area, where her 38-point, 56/18 margin over Obama in March has now shrunk to 18 points (a swing of 20).   Meanwhile, Obama has strengthened his lead in the Harrisburg/South Central region (now 39/29), and surpassed Clinton in the 4 suburban counties surrounding Philadelphia (now 45/40), whereas Clinton led in March by a 42/35 margin; Obama’s 50/30 lead in Philadelphia is unchanged from our earlier poll.  “Obama’s media efforts are clearly paying off, he’s holding his base in the socially liberal areas of the state, and at the same time, has chipped away at her lead in areas where he knows he can’t win, but can at least have a respectable showing, namely in Central and Western PA, where Reagan Democrats are still key to a Clinton victory,” Lee said. 

 

Because voter turnout is expected to be near historic levels, this race will be decided by whether or not Obama can turn out the vote among new voters, those least likely to have voted in past primary elections and black Democrats, all of whom historically have been less likely to vote in primaries.  For instance, Clinton holds a 48/34 lead with senior citizens and a 42/35 lead with voters who have the strongest primary vote history based on past primary elections (i.e., 3 or 4 of the last 4 primaries), while Obama holds a near 2:1 lead with voters under 45 years old and a 50/30 lead with black Democrats; among those with less vote history in the poll it’s a 39/38 dead heat.  If Obama succeeds in turning out the vote among new registrants, younger voters on college campuses and in the African-American community, he may be able to pull off an upset victory.  However, still the undecided vote is still relatively high (at 18%), this vote is now even more up for grabs given Obama’s recent comments which the media is reporting are generally thought to be insensitive to voters in small towns, and may help stimulate turnout for Clinton in rural parts of the state if Obama isn’t able to give a more satisfactory explanation.

 

Endorsements by Governor Rendell and U.S. Senator Casey, Jr., for Clinton and Obama respectively don’t seem to be having much influence, however.  Eighty-one (81) percent of voters said Rendell’s endorsement would have “no impact” on their vote for Clinton, while 8% said it would make them “more likely” to vote for her compared to 10% who said it would make them “less likely”.  Similarly, 85% said Casey’s endorsement for Obama would have “no impact”, while 7% said it would make them “more likely” to vote for him while 8% said “less likely”.   “This suggests people are making up their own minds, and endorsements by either of the state’s top Democrats don’t seem to carry much weight.  However, this is probably more troubling for Clinton, who needs a big win in PA to stay in the race and has been counting on popularity from Governor Rendell to deliver the vote particularly in the Southeast where he is most popular.”

 

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’08 PA Presidential Race Is Clinton’s to Lose

Posted on April 11, 2008. Filed under: Presidential Election |

Jim Lee, president of Susquehanna Polling and Research, has a message for political junkies throughout Pennsylvania – Rejoice! Election year 2008 promises to be one of the most exciting electoral years in recent memory. So get out the popcorn and the peanuts and settle down for a long ride, first to the April 22 primary and then to the November election.

 “Pennsylvania has been a hard-fought state in general elections now for a long time,” Lee said, “but this is the first year that we are also important in a primary for President at least on the Democratic side. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are going to spend heavily in this state and make more appearances than we’ve ever seen before,” Lee said.

Susquehanna’s survey in early March was the first to show Clinton’s lead here widening over Obama. The polls showed Clinton with a 14-point lead over the Illinois senator 45-31 percent with 19 percent of 500 Democrats surveyed undecided. Subsequent polls found the same pattern. The state primary, which will have national media attention and focus during April, is set for April 22. SPR’s recent poll conducted 4/6-4/10 is due out shortly.

Lee believes Clinton is the favorite to win, given her strong margins with Catholic voters, blue collar “Reagan Democrats”, senior citizens and middle income households.  Plus, the poll showed Clinton beating Obama in virtually every region of the state but for Philadelphia, where the city’s black population is high, and South Central PA, where Democrats are more “Obama like-minded” because they tend to be more affluent, more liberal on social issues, and less like the Reagan Democrats you get in Western PA.

In the fall election, Lee does not rule out a possible John McCain victory in Pennsylvania.  “He is still in the hunt,” Lee said, based on the results of his latest poll. It tested the strength of both Democrats against the Arizona senator and presumptive GOP nominee. He was within the margin of error in both cases – only a 3 to 4 percentage difference. If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, she would beat Sen. McCain by a narrow 47-44 margin in Pennsylvania among all voters. But Sen. McCain bested Sen. Obama in the same general election quiz by a 45-41 margin.  This proves the state is again a battleground, especially when you consider the fact that despite the very favorable political climate for the Democrats, McCain is still running neck-and-neck with both Obama and Clinton in the general election match-ups.

For now, McCain seems to have safely positioned himself away from President George W. Bush who continues to score poorly among Pennsylvanians. The President’s disapproval rating was 64-29 percent. However, Lee believes McCain has a much better chance to win the state for the GOP if Obama is the nominee, which he is likely to be, since McCain wins support from the same type of voters that Obama appeals to – moderates and independents. 

In some of our polling in legislative races this year, McCain’s margin over Obama is 20 points, compared to a dead heat against Clinton. Clearly, most GOP candidates should pray for an Obama ticket in November, Lee said.

 

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