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Turnout light, voters cite negative campaigning as Election 2010 theme

The Times-Tribune
Staff Report

A light but steady stream of voters visited polling places throughout Lackawanna County this morning to pick representatives in a midterm election they said was defined by negative campaigning.

Seventy-five people had voted in the three precincts with polls at the United House Apartments on Pine Street in Scranton by about 8:45 a.m., a turnout election officials there said was “not really slow” for the neighborhood, which is split between elderly people living in high-rises and younger families from the Hill Section.

“We had people line up at the door around 7 o’clock” when polls opened, said Marilyn Piserchio, minority inspector for precinct 9-2.

A maintenance man who was supposed to unlock the doors had car trouble, so election workers opened the doors a few minutes late, Eric Skelton, the election judge in precinct 9-1, said. “I had a lady screaming election fraud,” he said. “I said, there’s no conspiracy.”

At the Dunmore Community Center, which has the largest number of precincts – five – in one location, 179 people had voted by around 9:30 a.m.

“It’s all the regular voters,” said precinct 6-4 minority inspector Ann O’Neill. “We’ve not seen a lot of new faces like we do in bigger elections.”

Precinct 6-1 judge Cathy Desmarais attributed the slow morning for her precinct to negative campaigning. “I think with all the negativity going on, people don’t come out to vote as much,” she said. “There’s so much bickering between the parties, people don’t know who to vote for.”

Dunmore voter Maryellen Fairclough and her husband Harry said the tone of the campaign season almost convinced them not to vote.

“I did not like the campaign whatsoever,” Mrs. Fairclough said. “We’re voting for all new people.”

“I didn’t even want to come,” her husband added.

Susan Knight of Dunmore said she is looking forward to Wednesday, when the campaigning will be over. “They could have fed all of Lackawanna County for what they spent on the junk mail,” she said.

Meanwhile, County Director of Elections Marion Medalis said things appeared to be going smoothly at polling places and she had not received any reports of problems this morning.

“We assume everyone’s voting,” she said, “We’re not getting calls otherwise.”

Voters are heading to polls across Pennsylvania and the nation today in what is expected to be a good day for Republicans and a bad day for Democrats if months of polling is right.

Voters are choosing a new governor to replace Ed Rendell, a new U.S. senator to replace Arlen Specter, congressmen and state senators and representatives.

At stake is control of Congress, the General Assembly and the governor’s office and the privilege of shaping the future of the United States and Pennsylvania.

Across Northeast Pennsylvania, voters have a choice of candidates for the state General Assembly in almost every seat, something that used to be a rarity. In Lackawanna County, voters in Abington Twp. are deciding whether to allow changing the name of their township to Waverly. In Luzerne County, voters are deciding on a new form of government, and whether to approve a home rule charter.

The weather should not discourage voting, with AccuWeather predicted a mostly sunny but chilly day with a high temperature in the mid- to upper 40s, a bit cooler than average for the date.

“I think we’re going to see a good deal of sunshine,” meteorologist Brian Edwards said.

This is a midterm election, the one that falls exactly between presidential elections. If history is any guide – and it usually is when it comes to midterm voter turnout – a quarter to a third fewer voters will do their duty than in a presidential election.

That could damage the prospects of the Democratic candidates, Joe Sestak for the U.S. Senate, and Dan Onorato for governor, who are counting on a huge turnout to take advantage of the almost 1.2 million-voter registration edge that Democrats enjoy over Republicans, a figure that represents about one-seventh of the electorate.

With that in mind, Mr. Sestak and Mr. Onorato spent the vast majority of their time over the weekend and Monday in the southeast, where almost half the state’s Democratic voters live, trying to stir them into voting. They did not visit the Northeast, despite the two big Democratic counties here, Lackawanna and Luzerne. They were joined Monday evening by First Lady Michelle Obama at a get-out-the-vote rally at the University of Pennsylvania.

“We have come too far,” Mrs. Obama told about 1,000 young people gathered at the chilly Penn quadrangle, asking them to support candidates who will help her husband advance his unfinished agenda.

Sitting out the election, she said, could stop progress for people struggling to stay in the middle class, afford college or obtain health care.

Mr. Sestak, who appeared with Mrs. Obama, said, “A lot of people have invested in me their hopes and their beliefs that maybe we can change things, so if there’s one more hand to shake, I just want to shake it and say, ‘Please come and support me.’ ”

Earlier in the day, several hundred people packed a gymnasium at a Penn State campus in McKeesport, where Mr. Onorato appeared with former President Bill Clinton, the sixth time the two-term president has campaigned for the Allegheny County executive, according to The Associated Press.

Mr. Clinton referenced efforts and mobilization by the conservative tea party movement

“Let’s not let a small minority take over this country,” he said.

They urged Democrats to vote.

“It’s about turnout now. It’s about getting out tomorrow,” Mr. Onorato said. “It’s right there in front of us.”

Most polls have shown Mr. Sestak and Mr. Onorato trailing, but both are counting on a better than expected Democratic turnout to propel them to victory.

Their Republican opponents, Pat Toomey for the Senate and Tom Corbett for governor, flew around the state, hitting seven rallies, including one with more than 75 people at the Holiday Inn Express at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.

Mr. Toomey said his race is close and urged his partisans to reject the failed policies of President Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mr. Sestak.

“Starting tomorrow, we start back on the right path,” Mr. Toomey said. “I am extremely optimistic and bullish about our prospects. We can have a strong economic recovery. We can have the job growth that goes with that.”

Mr. Corbett said voters want lower taxes, less government spending and fiscal discipline in their governments “and they just want to go to work.”

“We need to change Pennsylvania; we need to change Harrisburg; we need to change Washington,” he said. “You can’t continue to tax us. I have yet to see a tax increase … that has stimulated an economy.”

On the local level, Democratic U.S. Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski, D-11, Nanticoke, faces a tough, third challenge from Republican Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta as he seeks a 14th term while Democratic Rep. Chris Carney, D-10, Dimock Twp., is seeking a third term against Republican Tom Marino, a former U.S. attorney.

In local state House contests, the most hotly contested competitive race is for the vacant 114th District seat now held by Rep. Jim Wansacz of Old Forge. Republican auctioneer Dan Naylor faces Democratic former television sports anchor Michael Kavulich, listed on the ballot as Sid Michaels Kavulich, a combination of his TV and real names.

In other House races, Democratic Rep. Kevin Murphy faces a challenge from Republican Boy Scouts executive Mike LaPolla in the 113th District; Democratic Rep. Ken Smith and Republican truck driver Lee Morgan are squaring off in the 112th District; longtime Democratic Rep. Edward Staback is opposed by Republican tea party candidate Theresa Kane in the 115th District; Democratic Rep. Mike Carroll has opposition from Republican Terrance O’Connor in the 118th District; Republican Rep. Sandra Major faces Democrat Jim Knapp and Green Jay Sweeney in the 111th District; and Republican Rep. Karen Boback and Democrat Richard Shermanski are running for the 117th District seat.

Incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Peifer is unopposed in the Wayne County-based 139th District.

In the Lackawanna County-based state Senate race, Democratic former state economic development official John Blake is the heavy favorite to defeat Republican auto parts executive Frank Scavo for the 22nd District seat left open by the retirement of 40-year incumbent Sen. Robert J. Mellow.

In the Luzerne County-based 14th District, Democratic state Rep. John Yudichak is the favorite over Republican County Commissioner Stephen Urban.

In the 20th Senate District, incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Baker is unopposed.

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