PA Abuzz Over Possible Electoral Changes

The Constitution allows each state the ability to determine how its electors are assigned in presidential elections.  In 2012, Pennsylvania will have 20-electoral votes.  How they are awarded… is now the subject of debate.  Under the current system, all 20 would be awarded to the winner of PA’s popular vote, but some believe there is a better way to do it. 

Dominic Pileggi

State Senator Dominic Pileggi (R-Del.)

State Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) is backing a plan that would divvy up the votes based on election results in each of the state’s 18 congressional districts, plus two votes being awarded to the winner of PA’s popular vote.  “This proposal is designed to more closely align Pennsylvania’s Electoral College vote with the popular vote in the state,” says Pileggi spokesman Erik Arneson. 

Governor Tom Corbett indicated his support for the plan on Radio PA’s monthly Ask the Governor program.  “I think it more closely reflects the vote across the state of Pennsylvania,” Corbett says, “Many people complain about the electoral process and that people are disenfranchised.  This makes the state much more competitive across the entire state.” 

This is the first time such a plan has been offered in Pennsylvania, and Franklin & Marshall College political science professor Terry Madonna believes there would be consequences.  For instance, he believes Pennsylvania’s relevance – in practical terms – would be reduced to 5 – 7 electoral votes.  “That that means that other states, with larger electoral votes, that are competitive, will get far more attention,” Madonna says, adding that this system would not have changed the outcome of any election in modern history, had Pennsylvania been using it. 

Pennsylvania and 47 other states currently follow the winner-take-all model; only Nebraska and Maine follow the model being put forth by the Senate Republican Leader. 

As Democrats have won Pennsylvania in each of the past five presidential elections, many Democrats are calling it a political power grab.  “This is exactly the behavior that is turning the public against politicians,” Pennsylvania Democratic Party chairman Jim Burn said in a statement. 

But Erik Arneson points out that the new system would actually benefit President Barack Obama, if a Republican takes Pennsylvania in 2012, as some pundits predict.  While telling us that it’s about fairness, not politics, Arneson also points out that the plan has been criticized from both sides of the aisle. 

Senator Pileggi is currently circulating a co-sponsorship memo.  The bill should be officially introduced in a few weeks, and they’ve already requested a committee hearing.  After the hearing, Arneson says, they will decide the next course of action.

Super Committee to Meet, Obama to Speak on Same Day

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction convenes for the first time on Capitol Hill this Thursday.   Only a matter of hours later, President Barack Obama will address Congress and the nation on jobs.  Republican Pat Toomey (R-PA) will be there for both events. 

Tapped by the Senate Republican Leader to serve on the bipartisan, bicameral super committee, the first-term Senator says it’s hard to overstate the seriousness of Washington’s fiscal problems.  “We are running annual deficits of almost one and a half trillion dollars, we’re borrowing 40-cents of every dollar that we spend,” Toomey recently told a jobs roundtable in Tioga County. 

The super committee has until November 23rd to craft a plan that will save the federal government at least $1.5-trillion dollars over the next ten years.  “We can look anywhere in the federal budget that we can find an opportunity to have the savings, and we could include tax reform.  I think there are ways that we could reform the tax code that would generate strong economic growth,” Toomey says. 

Deficit reduction will dominate Toomey’s life for the next several months, but the issue is closely tied to the nation’s economic and employment woes.  While Toomey doesn’t know what to expect from President Obama’s jobs speech, he has his hopes.  “I’m hoping that the President will give us a strongly pro-growth message.  I hope that there’s some awareness, some realization that the huge deficit spending hasn’t worked.  The idea that the government can borrow and spend America to prosperity, that has failed,” Toomey said after his Tioga County event.    

The Joint Select Committee’s organizational meeting will be open to the public and the press.  President Obama’s jobs speech will precede the opening salvo of the NFL football season, and will be televised on all of the major networks.

Pennsylvania Give Low Marks to State, National Leaders

The latest Franklin and Marshall College Poll shows  President Obama, Governor Corbett and Pennsylvania’s two United States Senators, Bob Casey and Pat Toomey,  are all in the 30% approval range for job performance among Pennsylvania adults.

The President’s rating stands at 34%, the Governor’s at 32%, Senator Casey is also at 32% and Senator Toomey is at 29%.  Poll director Dr. Terry Madonna blames the relatively low marks on the disdain voters have for the polarization and politics taking place at the state and national level, when it comes to debts, deficits, budgets and programs.

Results in the approval ratings were divided along party lines.  88% of Republicans give President Obama a fair or poor approval rating, compared to 50% of Democrats, who give Governor Corbett a 73% fair or poor rating compared to 46% of Republicans.

 Dr. Madonna says the recession has become personal.  There was a big drop in the number of people generically citing the economy as the top concern.  There was a huge uptick in the number citing unemployment and personal finances.

Only 41% of those polled believes the President deserves re-election. Fifty-two percent of Pennsylvania voters believe it’s time for a change.  But among those voters, President Obama leads Republicans Mitt Romney by 6 points, Michelle Bachman by 19, Rick Perry by 11 and former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum by 8 points.

Dr.  Madonna says 80% of independents give President Obama a fair or poor approval rating and independents are a key to winning the state.  He says the President’s polling numbers indicate Pennsylvania will be competitive and Madonna also believes the state will be competitive and reasonably close.

The poll also looked at two hot topics in Pennsylvania; the privatization of liquor sales and taxing of natural gas extraction. There’s strong support for taxing companies that extract natural gas, with 64% strongly or somewhat favoring a levy.  Fifty-six percent support selling state owned liquor stores to private companies.

Dr. Madonna says the poll shows 66% have a favorable view of the drilling industry, but respondents were split on whether the potential economic benefits outweigh the possible environmental damage.  They were very clear on additional drilling on state forestland; 54% strongly oppose it.

Dr. Madonna says 72% of those polled feel that the proceeds of a tax on natural gas extraction should be shared between the state and local communities.

The survey was conducted August 22-29 and the sampling error is +/- 4.3 percentage points.

The Race for the Republican Nomination

It’s a wide-open field, according to Kiron Skinner, professor of international relations at Carnegie Mellon University.  “We haven’t seen a contest quite like this in a very long time.  Usually we have a sense of the frontrunners very early on in the process.  We do not, right now, have that sense,” says Skinner, who spoke to Radio PA from California, where she is also a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford.  While former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has the name recognition and the head start in the polls, Skinner wouldn’t put her money on Romney right now. 

Santorum Campaign Kick-Off

Professor Skinner says Rick Santorum is trying to carve out space in a crowded field of social conservative candidates.

Some of the Republicans racking up the best poll numbers aren’t even official candidates yet.  For instance, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin nets 12% in the July Quinnipiac National Poll.  Likewise, Texas Governor Rick Perry received 10%.  “[Perry] has been successful, from the standpoint of many in the party, as governor.  He is not running up big deficits, and in fact it’s a better economy in Texas than most states,” Skinner says.  

The biggest storyline leading up to 2012: “Who can create jobs?”  Skinner says many think Texas Governor Rick Perry is the one.  “It’s a big state that’s creating jobs faster and more permanently than other states, and has an economy that’s growing,” Skinner explains.  

While Republicans do view President Barack Obama as vulnerable in 2012, Skinner says that’s not the only reason for such a large GOP presidential field.  She says many candidates are rushing to fill the void in a Republican Party that’s perceived to be weak.  “There’s been no one since Reagan who’s been able to bring a broad coalition of Republicans together, to win elections by a landslide as Reagan did in ’80 and ’84.”

GOP Chair Confident Heading into 2012

Republicans are targeting Pennsylvania in their quest to retake the White House in 2012.  The Republican National Committee has already bought up commercial time on cable television, in the Keystone State, to criticize President Barack Obama.

Republican Party of Pennsylvania Chairman Rob Gleason thinks President Obama is vulnerable in PA.  “The 2012 election will come down to the President’s clear failure to lead on the economy.  He will lose because Pennsylvanians will hold him accountable at the ballot box,” Gleason told reporters on a recent conference call.

Sen. Bob Casey

US Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) is Seeking a Second Term in 2012

Pointing to last year’s legislative and Congressional races in Pennsylvania, Gleason sees clear Republican momentum.  He thinks it’s enough to not just take back the White House, but Democrat Bob Casey’s US Senate seat too.  While no high-profile Republicans have stepped forward to challenge Casey yet, Chairman Gleason says he is talking to people on a regular basis.  “We have many people considering it, and our polls show that Senator Casey is very vulnerable… He’s voted with the President 97% of the time.  When the President goes down, Bob Casey is going to go down, and we will have a good candidate for the United States Senate,” Gleason says.    

Meanwhile, a June Quinnipiac Poll in Pennsylvania finds that voters believe Casey deserves as second term, by a margin of 47 – 31%.  The election is still 16-months away, and Casey reportedly has $3.1-million dollars in his campaign coffers already.  In a statement, Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn says Casey’s in a good position entering his reelection bid.  But, Gleason believes this is going to be an expensive Senate race – possibly in the $25 – $30-million dollar range.

Santorum Greets Supporters in Somerset Co.

Santorum 2nd in Pennsylvania Presidential Poll

The GOP primary may well be decided by the time Pennsylvanians vote in 2012, but the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute didn’t shy away from the chance to take the pulse of PA voters.  Former Pennsylvania US Senator Rick Santorum comes in second in his home state, with 16% support. Frontrunner Mitt Romney leads PA with 21%.  Sarah Palin captured third place with 11%, despite the fact that she’s made no announcement concerning her candidacy.  While Santorum had a decent showing in today’s Pennsylvania poll, most national polls place him toward the bottom of the crowded GOP field. 

President Obama would win the hypothetical matchup with Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, 49 – 38.  Obama’s approval rating in PA, according to the Q-Poll, is split 48 – 48.  That’s a marked improvement from the April poll, which showed Obama in negative territory (42 – 53).  “Whether it’s still the Osama bin Laden bounce, or because voters are taking a closer look at the alternatives, President Barack Obama’s fortunes in Pennsylvania, a critical swing state in presidential elections, have improved – at least for now,” says Quinnipiac pollster Tim Malloy. 

There are two other Republican contenders with PA ties.  Ron Paul – a Pittsburgh native – netted 6% in today’s poll.  Newt Gingrich – a Harrisburg native – received 5%.

Flags in the State Capitol Rotunda

PA Veterans Can Qualify for Benefits

Memorial Day is a time for all Americans to honor those who have lost their lives in defense of freedom.  It’s also a time to thank our surviving veterans – both young and old – for serving this country.  Here in Pennsylvania, there are more than 964,000 veterans to whom we owe a debt of gratitude.  While Pennsylvania’s veteran population topped 1.11-million in 2005, officials say we still rank fourth among states in terms of our population of veterans.

“Although the number of veterans in our state has gone down over the last five years, we’ve been able to help veterans secure more funding, particularly in pension and compensation benefits,” says Department of Military and Veterans Affairs spokeswoman Joan Nissley.  She tells us Pennsylvania veterans received $1.5-billion dollars in benefits in federal fiscal year 2010.  “That’s money that’s actually coming into our veterans’ pockets,” she says.  VA expenditures also totaled more than $3.8-billion in Pennsylvania in fiscal year 2010. 

Nissley also encourages those veterans who have recently returned from Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere to seek the benefits that they’ve earned.  “When it’s time for them and they’re ready they can come to us, or to a county director for veterans’ affairs, or to an accredited veterans’ service officer at one of the state veterans organizations,” Nissley says.  A good first stop for vets interested in learning more about their benefits is the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs website

On this Memorial Day, President Barack Obama has designated the hour beginning at 11am as the time for America to unite in prayer.  President Obama is also asking all Americans to observe the National Moment of Remembrance at 3pm local time.  This tradition dates back to 1950.