By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor
Today is the day. Berks County voters head to the polls to choose a replacement for the late state Senator Mike O’Pake. Will Democrats turn the page on 2010, or will Republicans continue their statewide streak? We will soon find out.
Democrat Judy Schwank seems to have the momentum behind her as Republican Larry Medaglia’s campaign was forced to withdraw television ads over the past week, suggesting a lack of funding. However, the finicky nature of special elections makes it impossible to predict the outcome with certainty.
Democrats certainly have a great deal to lose in this contest. From the outset, Dems have exuded confidence in Schwank’s chances. County Chairman Tom Herman called her victory a “slam dunk” all the way back in January. She’s had more money, more TV ads, and higher expectations. A loss in the Democrat-leaning 11th district would be a sign that the party’s 2010 woes are still with them.
Republicans have a lot on the line as well. In the short space of a week, Democrats have succeeded in making this special election a referendum on Governor Tom Corbett’s bare-boned budget proposal. Corbett won the 11th district in November, and Medaglia has aligned himself closely with the Governor. If Medaglia loses, especially by a large margin, it could put a damper on Corbett’s mandate and give pause to GOP legislators in swing districts.
Neither campaign is taking the outcome for granted and both parties are mobilizing volunteers and supporters for today’s big push. Democrats and Republicans have brought in Field Organizers from across PA to assist during the waning hours of the campaign, and for good reason.
In a special election like this one, getting supporters to the polls is key. Turnout usually hovers between 15 and 20 percent. 107,876 people voted in this race in 2008. Today will be unusually busy if even 25,000 voters get to the polls. That means that being generous, 1,000 voter would equal 4 percent of the total cast. With those kinds of margins, ground game really counts.
Each candidate has the field support of their state party, both of which sent out emails over the weekend offering supporters the chance to make GOTV (get out the vote) phone calls to voters in the district. Or, for those nearby, shifts going door-to-door.
“We are operating phone banks every day between and Election Day,” wrote PA Republican Executive Director Mike Barley. “Help us call voters in the 11th State Senatorial District and ask them to support Larry Medaglia on March 15th. We can send you a phone script and list of voters to call from the comfort of your home, anywhere in the Commonwealth.”
“We need your help! There is a special election going on in Berks County on Tuesday, and we need all hands on deck!” wrote Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn. “Please sign up for a shift to help in the final days of this election.”
All the cards are down and there’s no X-factor in the forecast (it’s supposed to be 55 and sunny today in Berks County). All that’s left now is the fight to the finish.