Sep 26, 2010

Pennsylvania's Wacko Winners

Guest Column By G. Terry Madonna & Michael L. Young

Tom Corbett and Pat Toomey, the GOP’s candidates for governor and U.S. senator this year, respectively, are undoubtedly emitting collective sighs of relief.

Earlier in the month, Governor Ed Rendell shocked many observers by opining that the Republican Party was being taken over by “wackos.”

But Rendell, always a paragon of restraint, clarified his statement a few days later, saying that “there are clearly elements of the Republican Party that are totally wacked out.” But “by no means are all Republican candidates wacked-out . . . fruit loops.” And Rendell added that he doesn’t consider either Corbett or Toomey to be in that “wacked-out fruit loop” category.

While Rendell’s belated benediction must relieve considerable angst for Corbett and Toomey, most voters seemed not to pay much attention to the governor’s latest verbal pyrotechnics. In fact, voters appear to consider neither Corbett nor Toomey to be wackos. If voters were to describe the GOP candidates this year, the word they would probably use is not wackos, but winners.

Certainly the polls thus far support that conclusion. The latest authoritative Real Clear Politics averages have Corbett up some 12 points over his Democrat opponent and Toomey up 9 points. These are impressive leads in a state where a 10-point win is considered a landslide.

Actually, Corbett’s lead only mildly surprises. With some exceptions, his candidacy and career have been well within the mainstream of the state’s centrist-moderate political tradition. Corbett hails back to a long line of Republican gubernatorial moderates, including Bill Scranton, Ray Shafer, Dick Thornburgh, and Tom Ridge. True, Corbett has moved to the right somewhat, but he is still well within what has been the ideological consensus prevailing in the state’s Republican Party.

Pat Toomey, however, is another story. To wit, four years ago, even two years ago, Toomey was generally considered too conservative to be a serious candidate. Indeed in some respects he was right of Rick Santorum, once the reigning enfant terrible of the far right.

That Toomey is very conservative is beyond debate. If he is elected, he will arguably be the most conservative U.S senator Pennsylvania has elected since before the New Deal days. Still, some of his opponents have unfairly tried to paint him as the next Jesse Helms. He is not that. Rather, he is a politician that has consistently taken a series of what could be called classically conservative “Burkean” positions on key public policy issues. Conservative he is. Kook he is not.

Toomey’s lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union is 97%; Santorum’s is just 88%. has ranked Toomey 98% more conservative during his three terms in Congress than all other members of Congress back to 1995. Santorum himself once called Toomey “too conservative” for Pennsylvania. Moreover, Toomey has been at the forefront of efforts to drive moderates out of the GOP.

Yet in today’s political environment, Toomey is perceived almost as a mainstream candidate, now comfortably ahead of his Democratic opponent in a state where Democrats out register Republicans by a whopping 1.2 million voters.

The obvious question: why is Toomey so well positioned some 45 days from the November election? And what does it reveal about American politics approaching Barack Obama’s first midterm election?

These are all easier questions to ask than to answer. Part of Toomey’s success lies in his opponent’s failure. Sestak, a party maverick who is often savagely critical of the Washington establishment, leads a Democratic party markedly less enthusiastic about his candidacy. Recent events suggest both the state and national parties are rallying resources to the Sestak candidacy, and the race may become closer. Toomey, however, has led a united and zealous GOP throughout the campaign, while Sestak has struggled for party support.

But Toomey’s ascendency owes more to the zeitgeist of the times, the temper of the country, and growing voter alienation from the president and his party. Conservative policies as well as conservative politicians are more in favor this year than at any time since 1994. Voters are very concerned about government spending, debt, and regulation. And they have turned sharply against much of the Obama agenda because of the administration’s perceived failure to improve the economy while spending massive amounts of money.

The electorate is out of patience, and Democrats seem increasingly to be out of time. This explains more than anything how a candidate as conservative as Pat Toomey, talented though he may be, is running so strongly in a state that historically has eschewed candidates of either right or left extremes. Toomey is such a candidate, and he does little to conceal it. And why should he? Voters seem not to care.

The shifting political tides are raising both Republican boats and conservative Republicans’ expectations. For generations Pennsylvania conservatives have been content to be the power behind the throne, influencing who gets to run and who wins.

Now conservatives want both the power and the throne. No longer content to play the wizard behind the curtain, they want to take that curtain down. Toomey is in the vanguard of that transformation. Whether he succeeds or fails will determine the trajectory of state and national politics for a long time after November 3rd.

Copyright © 2010 Terry Madonna and Michael Young

Sep 5, 2010

Transformational: November's elections could change the course of America

Guest Column By Lowman S. Henry

Although Labor Day is traditionally seen as the kick-off of the General Election campaign season, the long process of state primaries will continue well into September. The primaries held to date have validated the TEA Party as a political force and have set the stage for what could be a transformational election in November.

Few election cycles are truly transformational. Gerrymandering and a wide array of perks and staff services enjoyed by Congressional incumbents of both political parties mean few districts are competitive. That has yielded long periods of control for the party in power and few seismic shifts in policy.

But 2010 is different on both fronts. The general mood of the country was established last January with the election of Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. By winning the seat long held by liberal lion Ted Kennedy, Brown's victory signaled that the political climate had changed. The primaries which have been held since that special election have upended conventional wisdom within both political parties as the power of incumbency morphed into the curse of incumbency.

After having run a near flawless campaign for the White House, President Barack Obama and his team this year have profoundly misread the mood of the electorate. Enactment of health care reform may have been a major legislative victory for Obama, but it came at a political cost which he both misunderstood and underestimated. A significant majority of Americans opposed the president's "reforms," and they have neither forgotten nor forgiven the fact it was jammed down their throats. The White House banked on that fervor abating. It has not, and now dozens of congressional Democrats in marginal districts appear destined to pay the price.

November 2nd is shaping up as a blood bath for Democrats. Independent analysts, pollsters and academics virtually all agree Republicans will make major gains in both houses. It is likely the GOP will reclaim control of the House of Representatives. State-by-state polling shows that even in the Senate, where Republicans must gain 10 seats to return to power, a change in party control is possible.

A less visible, but equally dramatic power shift has occurred within the Republican Party. As the primary election season has progressed voters have signaled their dissatisfaction with the GOP establishment as well. This has resulted in an impressive string of victories for candidates supported by the TEA Party, or at least candidates who previously were considered outside the mainstream.

Here in Pennsylvania, former Congressman Pat Toomey's challenge of long-time incumbent U.S. Senator Arlen Specter was so strong Specter actually bolted to the Democratic Party - only to lose in the primary to ultra-liberal Congressman Joe Sestak. Toomey, former head of the free market Club for Growth, was anathema to the state's GOP establishment. But now, sporting an average 9-point lead in the polls, Toomey enjoys the united support of Republican insiders as well as the conservative base that propelled his ascendancy.

The Toomey story is hardly unique this year. In state after state conservative Republicans - often with TEA Party backing - have upended establishment candidates. Like Toomey, Marco Rubio in Florida chased a formerly popular GOP powerhouse out of the U.S. Senate race. Governor Charlie Crist is now running as an independent in a three-way race. Sharron Angle in Nevada bested several better-known establishment candidates to claim her nomination to challenge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. U.S. Senator Bob Bennett of Utah was considered a stalwart conservative, but he strayed on several key votes and was booted by Mike Lee who has a virtual lock on the November election. In Kentucky Rand Paul, son of Libertarian icon Ron Paul prevailed in a race to succeed retiring Senator Jim Bunning. Most recently in Alaska, TEA Party and Sarah Palin-backed Joe Miller squeaked by Lisa Murkowski in that state's primary.

Each of these candidates has a better than even chance of winning in November. They, and possibly several others, will form the core of an energized conservative caucus within the Senate GOP. Further, they are young, telegenic, and brimming with new ideas. This will become the policy incubator which will power the Republican Party's attempt to reclaim the White House in 2012.

And the nation is looking for new ideas. President Obama's "summer of recovery" has turned into the "summer of rebound recession." It is clear the soft European-style socialism he employed has - predictably -- failed. With unemployment stubbornly high, the markets stagnant and capital sitting on the sidelines, the country is looking for a new way forward. And the developing conservative core of the U.S. Senate will provide the free market solutions needed to get America moving again.

Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His email address is

Sep 2, 2010

Obama's Best Bad Option

Guest Column By G. Terry Madonna & Michael L. Young

One of Shakespeare’s most popular plays is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a comedy, focused on magic and distinguishing fantasy from reality. Right about now, President Obama is probably having his own midsummer night’s dream, anxious to get back his old magic and separating fantasy from reality as he contemplates the upcoming midterm elections. For Obama, however, dreams could easily become nightmares if he fails to solve the political challenges now confronting him and his party.

In late summer of a crucial midterm election, two political fundamentals are abundantly clear, while two others are almost equally unknown. All four bear enormously on the next presidential election and the fate of the nation over the next six years.

Abundantly clear is that:

1. National Democrats are facing electoral carnage, possibly of monumental proportions, that could cost them the House and even the Senate;

2. The Obama presidency seems increasingly imperiled in this second year of his presidency. Many believe he could not be re-elected if the next presidential election was this November rather than two years from now.

Abundantly ambiguous are two related political fundamentals:

1. How bad is it going to be for Democrats in the 2010 midterms?

2. What will Obama do to salvage his presidency in the aftermath of the inevitable reverses to be sustained in November?

The how bad will it be question seems to offer only a series of equally horrific scenarios for Democrats. Past midterms provide a guide, and that guide suggests that the president’s party almost always loses congressional seats in the first midterm, an average of 30 in the House and five in the Senate since 1938. Only one president in that interval (Bush in 2002) didn’t lose House seats in his first midterm.

Moreover, it has been worse for presidents running in bad economic times and during war. Obama carries both of these disadvantages in 2010. Since 1938, presidents running in such times have lost an average of 44 house seats in the midterm. The Democrats now control the House by just 39 seats.

But these dismal prospects are not the worst of it. To them is added Obama’s personal unpopularity. The president’s approval rating is in the dumpster at 47% and unlikely to move higher anytime soon.

Ominously for Obama, a president’s approval rating in the midterm year is highly correlated with electoral losses for his party in Congress. Obama’s unpopularity rivals Clinton in 1994 (46% approval), Carter in 1978 (49% approval), and Johnson in 1966 (44% approval).

In short, the carnage for Democrats in 2010 is likely to be broad and deep--affecting Democratic candidates at both state and national levels. So to the first unknown--how bad will it be--the answer is most probably very bad indeed. The losses could reach historic magnitudes.

The second unknown is by far the most interesting and the most difficult to forecast. What will Obama do about it? What he ultimately does will determine whether he has any chance for a second term.

For Obama, there are three recent options or strategies employed by comparably embattled Democratic presidencies. Call them the bad, worse, and worst strategies because Obama at this point probably has no really good options.

The “worst” strategy was employed by Lyndon Johnson in 1968. Faced with an unpopular war, hemorrhaging party support and voter unrest, he simply announced he would not run again. The political consequence of that strategy was Richard Nixon’s election, eight years of Republican rule, and, of course, Watergate.

The merely “worse” strategy was Jimmy Carter’s. After modest 1978 midterm losses, Carter entered his final two years facing an insurrection from liberals in his own party. Unlike Clinton 20 years later, he adjusted hardly at all to public opinion, changed few of his policies, and consequently steadily lost popularity for both his domestic and foreign agendas. He ended his term disastrously in the midst of a bungled hostage standoff with Iran.

The “bad” strategy and “best” was Bill Clinton’s in 1994. Voter anger that year over Clinton policies was widespread. Consequently, the GOP captured both houses of Congress. Many believed the Clinton presidency was over. It might have been, but Clinton shrewdly assessed the damage, saw his limited options, and moved to the center faster than you can say “triangulate.” The result two years later was another term and a revitalized party.

Which of these strategies might Obama employ? Maybe none! While each of these earlier presidencies provides a roadmap, they were all traveling different roads. Obama faces a set of conditions and circumstances unique in the modern presidency—a recession bordering on a depression, unprecedented peace-time debt, and an unpopular war. To get out of this one he might have to invent his own strategy.

Indeed, Obama has done just that throughout his life. During his career, he has faced challenges and overcome obstacles. His historic presidential campaign in 2008, becoming America’s first black president, eloquently showcased his immense capacity to overcome adversity and emerge a winner after all. All of those trials probably helped prepare him for this one. But none of them have tested him as he will be tested after November 2nd.

Dr. G. Terry Madonna is Professor of Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, and Dr. Michael Young is a former Professor of Politics and Public Affairs at Penn State University and Managing Partner at Michael Young Strategic Research.

Pennsylvania State Revenue Collections Higher Than Projected In The Month Of August

Jan Murphy from The Patriot-News:
“It’s the first time since August 2008 that we have exceeded estimates, and that’s a good sign,” Gov. Ed Rendell said. The growth in the sales tax revenue helped to offset the below-estimate collections from personal income and corporate taxes for the month.

PennPatriot's View Via Mobile Blogger: Governor Rendell seems very happy that state tax revenues were up in August. Yeah more wasted SEPTA and Port Authority funding!