Jennifer D. Wade Journal

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Blog posts April 2012

In and Out

Yesterday's primary election turned out to be a little more exciting than I thought. Sure, Rick Santorum took away some of the fun by dropping out of the race about two weeks ago, and MITT ROMNEY celebrated his five-state sweep by giving a speech from a sixth state. Even so, there was plenty to talk about, especially since some who were in ended up being out.

Election night coverage by my station focused on a couple of races in which the campaign ads started off positive but went negative pretty quickly.

One of those races was in the reconfigured 17th Congressional District. Democrat Rep. Tim Holden wanted an 11th term in Congress. But, to get that, he would have to fend off a primary challenge from attorney MATT CARTWRIGHT. The newly redrawn district still includes Holden's home county of Schuylkill, but it now runs through the Democratic strongholds of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, places where Cartwright is a familiar name because of all those commercials his law firm runs.

I thought this could get messy for Holden, and it did. He had some positive ads on the air for about a week, then quickly went negative by trying to link the lawyer and his previous campaign contributions to Luzerne County's so-called "Kids for Cash" scandal. Cartwright countered those ads and fought back with his own negative spots that tried to associate Holden, a "Blue Dog" Democrat with the Republicans.

Given Cartwright's name recognition in the revamped district and the overall friendlier tone of his ads, I thought he had a chance to defeat Holden. So, I wasn't surprised when, on Election Night, Cartwright won. What did surprise me was by how much. Cartwright won by close to 10,000 votes - a 14% margin. Holden never really got close. So, Holden is out, and Cartwright is in - if he can defeat Republican challenger LAUREEN CUMMINGS in November.

Another race we followed closely was the GOP race in the 29th state senate district, which is concentrated in Schuylkill County. Dave Argall, a former state rep who made the jump to the senate by winning a special election in 2009, is running for his first full term. He faced a primary challenge from coal company owner Brian Rich. This race also got a lot of air play with Rich trying to paint Argall as a Harrisburg insider and Argall trying to paint Rich as unethical. There were some positive ads, too. Rich used the buzzwords "job creator" while Argall promised he would support legislation to repeal property taxes (which sounds great until you start to wonder what the lawmakers will come up with to replace them).

Anyway, Argall v Rich looked to be another close one, but Argall got an early lead and never gave it up. He won by almost 2,000 votes, a margin of 53%-47%. Closer than Holden/Cartwright, but not as close as I thought. So, Argall is still in, but in November, he'll have to fend off a challenge from Democrat TIM SEIP, a former state rep. I guess I give the early edge to Argall, if for no other reason than that the district has been held by a Republican forever. But, I expect Seip to be a worthy opponent, so, you never know.

Entries on the "out" list include two current state reps from the Scranton area. In the 112th District, Democrat Ken Smith lost by about 300 votes to KEVIN HAGGERTY. 300 votes may not seem like a lot, but it translates to about three percentage points. Smith's financial problems have been well-publicized (including by the news organization that I work for), but he ran a positive ad for a few days leading up to the election and made the race close. He's talked of asking for a recount, but I think 300 votes is a lot to overcome. There were no Republicans on the ballot, so, for all intents and purposes, Smith is out and Haggerty is in. (Update on 4/28: A count of the write-in votes showed that Ray Nearhood won a spot on the GOP ballot. So it will be Haggerty v. Nearhood in November)

In the neighboring 113th, the lone candidates on the ballot were again two Democrats. Incumbent Kevin Murphy and county prison employee MARTY FLYNN. For largely logistical reasons, I didn't pay a lot of attention to this race in my election coverage planning, but I admit I didn't really think it was one I needed to plan for. Well, surprise! At the end of the night, Flynn had won by, again, a margin of roughly 300 votes.

Neither candidate did any TV advertising (at least not that I noticed). But, Murphy took a hit the weekend before Election Day when the local paper revealed (after checking out a tip from a Flynn supporter) that Murphy did not actually have the college degree he claimed he did. In the article, Murphy admitted that he didn't actually have a diploma in his possession, but he said he thought he had earned his degree because the school keeps sending him letters asking for money. He called his claims that he had his degree an honest mistake and went on to say that he expected to have the matter cleared up quickly. Did the oversight cost Murphy the election? No idea, but it probably didn't help. So now, again for all intents and purposes, Murphy is is out and Marty is in like Flynn (sorry, couldn't resist).

In the race for another state house seat based in Lackawanna County, a politico who tried to get back in the game is out. I'm talking the 115th District, where former county commissioner Randy Castellani squared off against landscaper FRANK FARINA. Castellani had the backing of outgoing State Rep. Ed Staback, who's held the seat for more than three decades. But, Farina seems to have pulled off the upset, winning by just over 100 votes. What made the difference? A co-worker seems to think that people haven't forgotten that Castellani quit as a commissioner to take a job with the state. Is it a coincidence that the home page of Farina's website contains the promise, "I'll never quit working for you." I haven't heard anything definite about a recount here, but I won't be surprised if there is one. At any rate, at this point, it appears as though Farina is in and will move on to November, where he'll face Republican THERESA KANE.

Another Kane, this one a Democrat, has managed to make it into November. In what I think is a somewhat surprising victory, KATHLEEN KANE of Lackawanna County, defeated Patrick Murphy in the race for PA Attorney General. Kane will now face DAVID FREED, a DA from the Harrisburg area, in November.

This was another tough one to figure. Conventional wisdom had Murphy winning. But, Kane got her name out there last fall when she appeared on various national newscasts to provide some expert insight into the Jerry Sandusky case. Kane specialized in handling child abuse and sexual assault cases when she worked for the Lackawanna County DA's office. She touted that experience in her TV ads. Murphy, on the other hand, emphasized his military service and his experience as a military prosecutor. Both camps kept things positive. In the end, Kane won by around 40,000 votes, a margin that she said surprised even her. So, Murphy is out and Kane is still in with a chance to be Pennsylvania's first elected female Attorney General.

One more race worth mentioning is the GOP contest for US Senate. Incumbent Democrat BOB CASEY had a primary opponent but dispatched him easily. Casey didn't even hang around his hometown of Scranton after voting in the morning. He went right back to Washington, DC. The Republican side featured five candidates, but played out as a three-man race. Steve Welch had a fair amount of money and the endorsement of Governor Corbett; TOM SMITH had a lot of money; and Sam Rohrer had a familiar name a good ground game. Rohrer never did any TV advertising, but Welch and Smith were always on - mostly fighting over which of these former Democrats had turned into the most conservative conservative. The final results: Smith, Rohrer, Welch. So, Corbett's candidate is out, Smith is in, and Casey will have an opponent in the fall who's not afraid to spend money - even if it's his own.

Take those races, mix in a race for president, and the general election in November should be a good one.

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Games People Play

Yesterday, April 5, was a big news day. The leading GOP presidential contender, MITT ROMNEY, paid a visit to Wyoming County; the SWB YANKEES opened their season against the LEHIGH VALLEY IRON PIGS; the PHILADELPHIA PHILLES opened their season against the Pittsburgh Pirates; and, last but not least, JERRY SANDUSKY had a pretrial hearing in Centre County court (you didn't think this would be a Sandusky-less post, did you?).

I missed a good bit of all that news because I was busy getting things organized for our coverage of the upcoming primary election. But, on the face of it, the thing that seemed as though it would be the most exciting turned out to be the least exciting. And, I'm not talking about Mitt Romney.

No, Thursday's hearing in the Sandusky case proved to be the very definition of anticlimactic. At first, it seemed like there could be some key developments in the case. The judge was expected to hear arguments and possibly rule on several motions - including one to dismiss the charges - and Sandusky was expected to be there. The hearing was supposed to last into the afternoon. With so much going on, what could a news station do but send two reporters and order satellite time?

But, the hearing ended almost as soon as it started. Sure, Sandusky showed up, but that was about the only thing that went as planned. Sandusky's lawyer withdrew most of the motions, so there really wasn't much for anyone to do after that except go home and wait for more motions to be filed sometime later.

Later will actually have to be pretty soon, though, because the judge seems to be holding to the recently revised trial date of June 5. The original trial date was May 14, but I never thought that would happen. Despite what this judge says now, I'm also not convinced that the trial will start on June 5. In fact, I'm still not convinced that there's even going to be a trial. What I am sure of is that Sandusky's lawyer is continuing his strategy of doing whatever it takes to keep Sandusky out of jail for as long as possible.

With the hearing out of the way, I went back to focusing on election preps. One of the most interesting primary races looks to be in the 17th Congressional District where incumbent Democrat TIM HOLDEN is facing a strong challenge from attorney MATT CARTWRIGHT. Holden, a "blue dog" from Schuylkill County, has been in office for 20 years. In 2002, after redistricting, he went up against another incumbent, Republican George Gekas, and surprised a lot of people, I think, by winning. Now, the lines have been redrawn again, and Holden again finds himself in unfamiliar territory. Schuylkill County is still in the 17th, but now the district includes large chunks of Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, where Cartwright has some name recognition.

Both candidates started advertising a couple weeks ago. Cartwright showed some humor when he used his initial ad to introduce himself and his family. Holden stood around with guys in hard hats and touted his accomplishments. But, Holden has now gone negative and, as some other bloggers have pointed out, that's often a sign that a candidate is in trouble. On the other hand, candidates wouldn't "go negative" if it didn't work. I think it will be interesting to see if it works this time. In November, the winner will face the GOP candidate, LAUREEN CUMMINGS of Old Forge.

Another interesting race looks to be in the 112th State House district in Lackawanna County. Incumbent Democrat KEN SMITH is being challenged for a second time by KEVIN HAGGERTY. Smith won two years ago. Since then, his family-owned restaurant, which had already been sold to a bank at a sheriff's sale, has now reopened under new ownership, and Smith has been criticized for failing to pay back loans. The money issues didn't hurt Smith in 2010. It will be interesting to see if 2012 will be different.

2012 will be different in NEPA due to the fact that it won't have a AAA baseball team. The SWB Yankees will play all of their games on the road while PNC Field gets renovated. A lot of those games will be played in upstate New York, which prompted the temporary rebranding of the team as the Empire State Yankees. That name change only served to increase speculation that the team would never come back to the area. But, just today, Lackawanna County officials announced they are close to finalizing a deal that will keep the team in NEPA for at least the next 30 years.

Finally, the Phillies opened the season with a win at Pittsburgh. A win is a win, and it's always nice to start the season with a W. But, I'm a little concerned that it took Roy Halladay pitching a two-hitter over 8 innings to get the win. The Phils offense managed to push just one run across the plate. The Phils pitching was good last year and, if the first game is any indication, it may have to be even better this year. I think they have a good shot at topping 100 wins again, but they're going to have to score more than 100 runs to get them.

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