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One final push before Election Day

Tuesday, November 02, 2010
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

This story is by James O’Toole based on his reporting and that of Dennis Roddy, Daniel Malloy and Tom Barnes.

In Pennsylvania as across the nation, avid Republicans and anxious Democrats made 11th-hour appeals Monday in recession-shadowed elections that seemed poised to deliver a collective rebuke to the Obama administration and members of its party up and down the ballot.

Last-minute campaigning in the Keystone State attested to its status as a key battleground at almost every contested level. While confident top-of-the-ticket Republicans circumnavigated the state, Democrats drew on marquee party names to try to energize core voters with the potential, though perhaps not the motivation, to counter the Republican strength depicted in a round of closing polling.

First lady Michelle Obama followed her husband’s Saturday appearance in Philadelphia with a Monday evening rally on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania before a student-laden crowd of 3,500.

Speaking after governor hopeful Dan Onorato and Senate candidate Joe Sestak, Mrs. Obama urged the crowd to vote for allies to the president to keep the momentum going from the 2008 campaign.

“He needs strong leaders in Washington and Pennsylvania and all throughout the country to help him,” she said. “And we need folks like all of you to make that happen. We need you. We still need you. We need you to get fired up.”

Coupled with the concern about Democratic turnout were signs of a drastic erosion in independent support for the party of the White House. The final Gallup Poll assessment of congressional preferences suggested a record tilt toward the GOP.

“This year’s 15-point gap in favor of the Republican candidates among likely voters is unprecedented in Gallup polling and could result in the largest Republican margin in House voting in several generations,” the polling firm wrote.

With roughly half of the state’s 19 congressional races sharply contested, Pennsylvania seats could represent a large share of that churn and the 39-seat net gain the GOP would need to reverse the U.S. House majority Democrats had seized in 2006. The Gallup results signaled a Republican tide that could also swamp the Democrats’ control of the narrowly divided state House.

In the costly and sharply contested statewide races in Pennsylvania, the latest public surveys found Attorney General Tom Corbett leading Democratic nominee Onorato with margins of between 7 and 10 percentage points. Those surveys depicted a slightly closer Senate race, but one in which the Republican, Pat Toomey, also enjoyed a consistent advantage over Congressman Sestak, the Delaware County Democrat.

Republican chances of capturing the Senate appeared more remote than their House prospects. The Pennsylvania race would be an essential element in such a takeover, alongside the neighboring contest in West Virginia where Gov. Joe Manchin was fending off a startlingly strong challenge from Republican businessman John Raese.

Pennsylvania Democrats vowed to exorcise their dire polling omens by capitalizing on their party’s registration edge.

At a White Oak rally, Jim Burn, the state Democratic chairman, told a partisan crowd, “We have 1.2 million more Democrats in Pennsylvania than Republicans. The only way we lose is if you don’t come out and vote.”

Moments later, former President Clinton claimed that Republican momentum across the nation came on the heels of “the most-fact-free election I’ve ever seen.”

Mr. Clinton told Democratic partisans that the key to understanding attacks on Mr. Onorato and other Democrats was to “follow the money.”

Assailing Mr. Corbett, the Democrats’ most popular campaigner charged that the attorney general had joined a suit against the administration’s health insurance legislation to protect the profits of insurance companies.

Mr. Clinton also denounced the unprecedented volume of independent expenditures, much of it anonymous that helped make this the most expensive midterm election season in history. Invoking his Arkansas youth, he said his mother told him, “If you’re going to have a fight with someone, look them in the eye and tell them your name … if you hid, you were a chicken because you had something to hide.”

As he spoke, a serene group of Republican contenders barnstormed the state with a series of airport stops in which speakers invoked the mantra of Obama, Pelosi and Rendell — the party’s designated troika of goblins.

Calling Mr. Sestak “a San Francisco liberal,” Mr. Toomey said, “He found a way to get to the left of Nancy Pelosi.”

After last night’s rally at the Embassy Suites in Moon, Mr. Toomey headed home to Allentown. He acknowledged the Republicans, should they be successful, face a daunting task to please a volatile electorate that less than two years ago was elated with the prospects of an Obama administration and could quickly declare itself disillusioned with the GOP.

He said the party could win “if Republicans do the things they’ve promised, if Republicans live up to their commitment to job creation in the private sector and fiscal discipline in Washington. They better do it this time.”

Mr. Corbett left much of the harder political rhetoric to his running mate, Jim Cawley, a Bucks County commissioner.

At each stop, Mr. Cawley mocked Democratic nominee Dan Onorato’s television ad, in which the candidate holds up a sheet of paper with his name.

“Oh no, Dan!” Mr. Cawley bellowed, after holding up a sheet spelling ONO-rato.

He referred to Mr. Onorato as the only candidate in the field with a tax named after him — the Allegheny County drink tax on alcoholic beverages.

Mr. Corbett mixed with the crowd after his speech, urging the troops to make certain to ask Democratic friends to cross over and vote for him.

He said he was not tired of campaigning but was ready for it to end, naming the time to the very minute, when the polls close Tuesday.

“Am I tired of it? No. But will I be glad 29 hours and 49 minutes from now? Absolutely.”

Politics Editor James O’Toole: or 412-263-1562.

Read more:

  • Reader Poll: Should President Joe Biden Step Aside?

    • Yes. He should step aside because of his age, declining ability to do the job. (45%)
    • No. He should not step aside. (39%)
    • Yes. He should step aside because he can't beat Donald Trump. (15%)

    Total Voters: 231

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