Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Q&A: 10 Questions for a Pennsylvania Voter

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 272

With voters going to the polls today in what is expected to be a record turnout for a Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, I wanted to get a sense of what was on the minds of voters - or at least one voter - in the Keystone State.

Enter Laurenn S., a 30-something professional woman who lives and works in the Center City section of Philadelphia. Laurenn was good enough to take time out of her day to participate in an email interview with me after casting her vote this morning.

iPol: Who are you supporting in the Democratic primary, and why?
Laurenn S.: I am supporting Senator Barack Obama for his vision, his intelligence, and his inspirational qualities. He is my generation’s JFK. Senator Obama sees politics as something good, as a way for the citizens of this country to get involved and make a difference in their own lives. I also feel he can arouse the world populace to think differently about their own communities, to see a future that is filled with peace and security. Some people would say these are big dreams that they are unattainable, Senator Obama knows that it will not be easy, but you have to dream big in order to achieve big. In the words of Martin Luther King, “if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but by all means keep moving.” It is just not about achieving health care for all or getting the gas prices down, it is about how we want to live as a people, how we see ourselves and the world.

iPol: You live in Pennsylvania’s 2nd Congressional District, where nine delegates are at stake, the most of any Congressional District in Pennsylvania. This is what Congressional Quarterly had to say about the PA-02 in a recent article:

“The 2nd is almost certain to go even more heavily for Obama than the neighboring 1st District. It stretches from ‘Center City’ to West Philadelphia, and more than 60 percent of the residents are black. Not only is this likely to be Obama’s best district, but it is by far the most delegate-rich, which should help him offset Clinton wins in districts outside the Philadelphia region. Obama will win at least six of the nine delegates, and he would beat Clinton 7-2 if he exceeds 72.2 percent of the district vote. CQ Politics Prediction: Obama 7 (delegates), Clinton 2 (delegates).”

Given CQ’s description, is there a perceptible Obama vibe in your neighborhood? Do people seem excited and engaged in the campaign? If so, how does that show?
Laurenn S.: There is definitely electricity in the community, people are excited and engaged. Independence Hall and the National Constitution Center were bookends with Senator Obama in the middle giving a speech that encompassed this country’s past and the hope for the future; where we have been and where we can go as a people and as a nation. 35,000 people listened to that speech, people were moved beyond words, tears were flowing and possibility was in the air. Yet it was just not about big speeches, I saw a woman wearing Obama banners and signs as clothing, people dressing their dogs with Obama slogans; it seems even the animals are for Obama! So whether at a big event or just people on the street there is something going on that cannot be explained, granted this is in the Philadelphia area and Clinton is poised to win Pennsylvania, but the vibe that I am feeling bodes well for Obama in November.

iPol: Other than last year’s campaign here in Iowa, the last six weeks in Pennsylvania have been the longest period of sustained campaigning in any state during the Democratic primary. What’s been your reaction to all the media, ads, rallies and general hoopla during this time: has it been exciting and fun for you, or are you heaving a sigh of relief that it is finally coming to an end?
Laurenn S.:
In the beginning it was exciting, who would have thought that Pennsylvania would be playing a huge role in the primaries. After a while however, nothing new was being talked about, by the media or by the candidates themselves. I just started to tune out; it was dragging on too long. I have to say though that today, the excitement and energy returned, when I went into the voting booth I knew it was an historic moment. Whether you are voting for Clinton or Obama, you are contributing to history in a very profound way.

iPol: Did you do any campaign volunteering (phone banks, precinct walking, licking envelopes) in the runup to the election? If so, what was that like for you, and what was the reaction you encountered with other voters you may have spoken with in the course of volunteering?
Laurenn S.:
I did attend a couple meetings, but I did not volunteer as much as I would have liked. What I discovered however when attending these rallies/meetings was the diversity in the group. A majority of the people, young, old, black, white, women, and men, said they never participated in a campaign before, never contributed time or money, but they just felt compelled to get involved. Obama inspires activism, whether going door to door, stuffing envelopes, or just contributing $5.00 dollars.

iPol: What has been the most important issue to you during the Pennsylvania primary campaign, and how has it influenced your choice of whom to support?
Laurenn S.: The most important issue for me is Foreign Policy. Senator Obama seems to have a more balanced approach. His judgment in my estimation is right on. Strong leadership is about not being afraid to talk to your enemies. It does not mean you are giving in or that you are weak. Senator Obama has the confidence and intelligence to know when to compromise and when not to. What is the saying, “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”

iPol: Overall, what has been the single biggest influence on your vote during the Pennsylvania primary campaign: endorsements, TV ads, speeches, or something else?
Laurenn S.:
I would have to say speeches and how the candidates react to different situations; how they handle a bad week and if they wallow in hypocrisy. I am looking for a different tone, something fresh and new. Speeches are not my only influences, issues are very important, but when the candidates have similar plans, their vision becomes a vital part in my decision making process.

iPol: Speaking of endorsements, a lot has been said about Governor Ed Rendell and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton, and about U.S. Senator Bob Casey’s endorsement of Barack Obama. For you and other Pennsylvania Democrats you’ve spoken to, how much influence do these endorsements have on how people actually vote?
Laurenn S.: I don’t really think endorsements matter much. It is interesting to see who is in what camp. Endorsements have more of an entertainment value, but they do not have substantive quality.

iPol: Did you watch last week’s Clinton/Obama debate? If so, what were your impressions?
Laurenn S.: The debate concentrated on trivial issues. I thought it was a waste of time; I wanted to learn more about policy and how that policy would affect me and my future. When the flag pin question was directed to Senator Obama, I said here we go…is this really important. Patriotism has to do with how our leaders treat the citizens of this country, how they support our military on and off the field of battle. I know Senator Obama has to get ready for the attack machine coming his way in the fall, but I do not believe the debate is the right forum for this kind of gutter play.

iPol: What is your opinion about the tone of the campaign in Pennsylvania? Do you think it’s been very positive, too negative, or just about right? Do you think that the tone of the campaign is likely to hurt the chances of the eventual Democratic nominee (whether Clinton or Obama) in the fall campaign against John McCain?
Laurenn S.: I know pollsters and media hounds have to create controversy in order to attract good ratings, but I think this is much to do about nothing. The campaign in Pennsylvania has not been too negative. There have been some things said that make you wince and say “is that really necessary”, but on the whole it has been pretty tame. Obama started out his campaign not wanting to play in the arena of divisiveness, but just because he did not want to, doesn’t mean others were going to follow his lead. Politicians don’t know any better, Obama is trying to say it can be done a different way…unfortunately he has a long way to go in proving this style of campaigning works.

iPol: Open ended question: if there is one thing you would have liked to have seen done differently during the Pennsylvania primary it would be:_____________.
Laurenn S.: To actually have the candidates sit down and discuss one particular topic in depth for 1 ½ hours. It could have been the Iraq war, economic solutions, the global environment, etc. Hopefully this will be done during the general election, so we can get a better sense of what the nominees actually think and feel, instead of the same sound bites over and over.

iPol: Laurenn, thanks so much for taking time to chat with me today.
Laurenn S.: Thank you!

Thank God It's Tuesday

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 272

Today is the date of the oh-so-long-awaited Pennsylvania primary, and the results could be decisive in determining the outcome of the Democratic nomination process.

A few background notes:

  • Pennsylvania is the largest of the 10 remaining Democratic nominating contests this year, with 158 pledged delegates up for grabs; the Keystone State will also send 29 super delegates to August's Democratic National Convention in Denver.
  • The most recent polling average calculated by Real Clear Politics gives Hillary Clinton a 6.1% advantage over Obama among Pennsylvania Democrats. If this holds, will a 6% margin of victory for Clinton be enough to sustain her campaign amid the ongoing calls for her to exit the race? An old adage in politics is that a win is a win is a win, but that may not hold true for Clinton unless her margin of victory significantly exceeds expectations.
  • A recent district-by-district analysis by Congressional Quarterly predicts that Clinton will bring home 53 delegates to Obama's 50, a net gain of only 3 delegates. Definitely something to watch when the returns start coming in.
    [UPDATE: the Washington Post has published this helpful info: "The state has a two-part primary ballot, with voters choosing a presidential candidate and also picking from a slate of local delegates. Essentially, each of the state's 19 congressional districts runs a separate contest for delegates, weighted according to turnout in recent elections. A total of 103 delegates will be awarded according to each district's popular vote, while the remaining 84 will be distributed according to the statewide popular vote, or as unpledged superdelegates."]
  • From the standpoint of immediate practicality, perhaps more important for the shape of the race than popular vote totals and delegate hauls will be how Pennsylvania's results influence campaign fundraising, particularly for Hillary Clinton. FEC reports released a few days ago show Clinton's campaign $10.3 million in debt with just $9.3 million cash on hand at the beginning of April. Barack Obama, by contrast, began April with $42 million in cash on hand and only $663,000 in debt. If the results in Pennsylvania don't provide the needed encouragement for donors to open their wallets - big time and in a hurry - for Hillary Clinton, that may be the ball game in and of itself, irrespective of other factors.

Pennsylvania as been famously described as Philadelphia on one end, Pittsburgh on the other and Alabama in between. Having lived in Philadelphia for more than five years and volunteering there for John Kerry in 2004, I can vouch for there being some truth in this. Pennsylvania is a sprawling, complex state, and is likely to deliver results to match.

North Carolina Debate Cancelled Amid Party Unity Concerns

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 272

From the North Carolina Democratic Party:

"We regret to inform you that the proposed Democratic Presidential Debate scheduled for April 27 has been cancelled due to time constraints and logistical issues associated with such a large, national event.

You have shown tremendous passion and interest in being a part of history as Democrats are poised this year to elect the first female or African-American President. However, there were also growing concerns about what another debate would do to party unity.

We hope your interest in the North Carolina Democratic Party will not end with the cancellation of the debate.

We will keep your e-mail addresses for a random drawing to attend a special event in the fall featuring the nominee.

Senators Clinton and Obama have offered additional opportunities to be seen and heard across the state in the coming weeks and months.

Both candidates have committed to attending our Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on Friday, May 2 in Raleigh.

Tickets are available by signing up online at www.ncdp.org.

Again, the Party thanks you for your interest in the Democratic Presidential primary. We hope you will continue to be involved in local and state politics.

Your voice, your vote does make a difference."

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