Three big takeaways from Pennsylvania’s pandemic and protest primary | Wednesday Morning Coffee

June 3, 2020 7:25 am

A polling station in Camp Hill, Cumberland County (Capital-Star photo).

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

If we know one thing for certain about Tuesday’s most unusual primary election — and it’s not the results, those were still being counted before we turned off the lights — it’s that everything we know about politics has been turned completely on its head. Whole college political science courses are waiting to be taught about everything we’ve learned during this time of profound upheaval.

So as we mainline some caffeine to get the blood flowing, here are a few thoughts about what we learned on Tuesday.

(Capital-Star photo by Elizabeth Hardison)

1. The pandemic completely blew up the traditional campaign mode:
Robbed of the chance to knock on doors, hold massive rallies, or even shake hands, the spring 2020 candidates had to get both innovative in their campaigning — and double-down on old school techniques.

Democratic 10th Congressional District candidate Tom Brier of Hershey, for instance, launched a TikTok channel, where he leveraged his supernaturally boyish persona to maximum advantage. He was also inescapable on Instagram, where his “stories” sometimes felt like “War & Peace” for those with attention deficit problems.

But as innovative as he got, Brier also marshaled a decent ground game, sending out an army of enthusiastic volunteers to canvass for support. That effort was augmented with text messages. Other candidates, such as Democratic state House hopeful Brittany Rodas also used Instagram to maximum advantage, sharing campaign stories as she sought to build a bond with voters.

Direct mail also abounded. Soooo many trees dying in the service of direct mail pieces that may or may not have been read.

And of course, TV. The pandemic was a reminder that the most old-school, and most expensive, way of reaching voters remains as effective a tool as ever.

As the Capital-Star’s Cassie Miller reported on Tuesday, Democratic auditor general hopeful Nina Ahmad, of Philadelphia, outspent her closest TV ad competitor, Michael Lamb, of Pittsburgh, by a 3:1 margin.

At press time, Lamb was leading with 33 percent of the vote, according to unofficial tallies.

(Screen Capture, Twitter)

2. As Germans love David Hasselhoff, Democrats love mail-in ballots.
First of all, give it up for summer intern Julia Shanahan, who’s been covering Keystone State politics from her home in the Hawkeye State.

On the Yudichak Scale of Isolation, working a full time zone away is a firm seven out of 10. But, Shanahan, a University of Iowa student and editor of her student newspaper’s politics section, has been hitting for the fences during her two-week rotation with us as part of the PLCA Summer Internship program. And we’ll turn her over to the next outlet with only the greatest reluctance.

Anyway, Shanahan crunched the numbers and discovered that the total number of Democratic ballots received by the Department of State is more than twice the amount of Republican ballots received. The Department of State has counted 148,141 Democratic mail-in ballots and 52,341 Republican mail-in ballots, Shanahan reported.

That data was buttressed with an in-person discussion we had with Cumberland County Republican Committeeman David Bueller at a polling station in Camp Hill, outside Harrisburg, on Tuesday morning. Buell told us that about 20 percent of the suburban county’s registered voters had voted by mail, with Democrats enjoying a 60-40 advantage.

This may go some distance to explain — but not justify — President Donald Trump’s frantically false claims that mail-in balloting leads to all kinds of voter fraud. The far simpler explanation is that Democrats are simply more enthusiastic about it. And that has Trump running so scared that no amount of upside-down Bible holding will wish it away.

3. The Keystone State remains as key as ever.
This very weird Election Day began with former Veep Joe Biden, freed from the basement, campaigning in Philadelphia, where he drew a purposefully empathetic and sharp contrast with Trump’s strongman posturing.

“The country is crying out for leadership, leadership that can unite us, leadership that brings us together, leadership that can recognize the pain and deep grief of communities that have had a knee on their neck for a long time,” Biden said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Biden, who’s upped his public profile while Trump has blustered and threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 to quell protests, used his appearance in electoral vote-rich Pennsylvania to condemn the looting that’s taken place in Philly and other cities. But his main ire appeared reserved solely for Trump.

“I look at the presidency as a very big job, and nobody will get it right every time and I won’t either. But I promise you this: I won’t traffic in fear and division, I won’t fan the flames of hate, I’ll seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued our country, not use them for political gain,” Biden said, according to the Inquirer.

Trump, who carried the Keystone State by barely a percentage point in 2016, was showering himself in his usual self-aggrandizement on Twitter.

Biden “has been in politics for 40 years, and did nothing. Now he pretends to have the answers. He doesn’t even know the questions. Weakness will never beat anarchists, looters or thugs, and Joe has been politically weak all of his life. LAW & ORDER!” Trump tweeted, using a schoolyard nickname for Biden that we will not reprint here.

And so it goes.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
From Erie to Scranton and all points in between, the Capital-Star’s staff and our crack team of regional correspondents fanned out across Pennsylvania to cover Tuesday’s primary, you can find all their reporting in our continuously updated live coverage post which all you need to know about key races and miles of live reporting from the field.

Capital-Star Correspondent Michala Butler introduces you to some of the Pennsylvania college and university students who have been raising their voices in protest over the past few days.

And in Washington, civil rights advocates urged lawmakers to combat police brutality, Washington Bureau Chief Robin Bravender reports.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Bruce Ledewitz says the United States is drowning in debt, and wonders who might throw us a lifeline.

The statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo at the Municipal Service Building, across the street from City Hall (Philadelphia Tribune photo by Abdul R. Sulayman).

A polarizing statue of former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo was moved in the middle of the night on Tuesday from its spot outside Philadelphia’s Municipal Services Building, the Inquirer reports.
Pittsburgh police used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd at a protest in the city’s East Liberties neighborhood on Monday night, Pittsburgh City Paper reports.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale leads attorney Tom Brier in the Democratic nomination for central Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional Districtbut the race is still too close to callPennLive reports.
A GOP primary in the Lehigh Valley’s 7th Congressional District is also too close to call, the Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:

WHYY-FM has its own wrap-up of Tuesday’s primary. 
Here’s a summary from the PA Post as well.
The Trump White House’s attacks on mail-in voting has elections officials nationwide reports.
The truly terrible U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, lost his GOP primary on Tuesday night, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
The House and Senate remain out of session. But there is some committee action today.
10 a.m., G50 Irvis: House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee
10 a.m., 333 Market St, Harrisburg: Independent Regulatory Review Commission
Time TBD: Daily COVID-19 briefing

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Corrected best wishes go out this morning to James Robinson in the Pa. Senate Democratic Caucus, who celebrates a day. We inadvertently aged him a day early on Tuesday.

Heavy Rotation.
When only Marvin will do. Here’s ‘Theme from Troubleman.’ In support.

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
The Hockey News looks at the efforts by some NHL players to stand up, and speak out, against racism.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.