Scenes from an Election: Pennsylvania goes to the polls

ptr-electionday02-042716BY DONALD GILLILAND and KARI ANDREN  dgilliland@tribweb.com

(NOTE: This post will be updated throughout the day with photos from polling places, please scroll down to see new scenes.)

At 65, Tamara Cline voted for the first time Tuesday.

“I never cared before,” Cline said after voting at SonRise Church in Unity Twp in Westmoreland County.

“I was a little nervous going in, but… it was pretty easy,” she said.

Cline carried a handwritten list into the voting booth with the names of both candidates and convention delegates for whom she planned to vote.

The daughter of staunch Democratic parents, she said she registered as a Republican – to vote for Donald Trump.

It was a wet election day morning in Western Pennsylvania. Really wet.

Like Biblically wet…

The polling place at the Harmar Township municipal building is often very busy on election day with a dozen or more candidate supporters handing out materials and seeking votes. But that wasn’t the case at 8:06 a.m. Tuesday. One voter was seen exiting and another entering. Photo by Jeff Domenick, Tribune-Review editor
The polling place at the Harmar Township municipal building is often very busy on election day, but that wasn’t the case at 8:06 a.m. Tuesday. Photo by Jeff Domenick |Tribune-Review

But the skies cleared, and only isolated thunderstorms were forecasted as the day wears on. That means the old chestnut about only the die-hard voters showing up to the polls likely won’t apply. That could be significant in this year of The Outsider in both national and state politics. For a quick recap (click the links for in-depth coverage):

In the Republican race for President, Donald Trump is the frontrunner, but Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are doing their best to make sure he remains shy of the required majority of delegates, thereby forcing a contested convention in Cleveland this July.

If Pennsylvania’s Republican delegate system confuses you, you are not alone. National media have been scratching their heads over it for the past month. The L.A. Times said, “If this year’s presidential primaries offer an education on the nation’s byzantine voting rules, Pennsylvania may need its own extra-credit seminar.”

In a nutshell:

17 of the state’s 71 delegates are appointed and must vote for the candidate who wins the state. The other 54 are elected — three from each district — and under party rules will be “unbound” at the GOP convention, meaning they can vote to nominate whomever they want, regardless of the primary’s outcome.

Yep. You read that right. They can vote for whomever they want, and they can change their mind at any time between now and July. That puts Pennsylvania in the thick of it politically.

The Tribune-Review surveyed all the delegate candidates, and the majority said they would vote the way their district votes. Click here to read where they say they stand.

In the Democratic race for President, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders continue to duke it out.

But perhaps the most interesting race on the Democratic ballot is the race for U.S. Senate.

Not least because a last-minute decision by the PA Supreme Court to put Joe Vodvarka back on the ballot made some county elections officials scramble to accommodate the change. In at least one Pennsylvania county, they decided to revert to paper ballots for the Senate Race.

Larry Spahr, director of elections in Washington County, said the county’s only option for getting Vodvarka’s name on the ballot in time was to put that specific race on a paper ballot.

Mikus“That was the only way we could handle that,” he said.

So don’t expect any early Senate results from Washington County: they won’t count the paper ballots until Wednesday afternoon or maybe Thursday, after they’ve counted the 1,700 absentee ballots, Spahr said.

Senate candidate Katie McGinty’s campaign manager, Mike Mikus, alerted her supporters to the issue over Facebook. Mikus said Tuesday morning that he had poll watchers in Washington County and that there really hadn’t been any issues to speak of thus far.

Washington County is the only county that is providing a supplemental ballot.

Columbia and Lancaster counties were also unable to get Vodvarka’s name on the ballot. Advisories have been issued to Democratic voters there that if they wish to vote for him, they must vote for him as a write-in candidate, according to a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of State.

At least one precinct in Westmoreland County experienced a glitch Tuesday morning.

Lower Burrell resident and former Westmoreland County Judge David Regoli tweeted that the voting machines at the city’s polling place at Puckety Presbyterian Church were inoperative at 7 a.m. and voters were turned away.

Regoli

Shari Wright, deputy director of the Westmoreland County Bureau of Elections said the polling place was just “a few minutes ” late in opening and that they were told no one was turned away.

Voters lined up out the door at the poll at Christ's Luthern Church in Murrysville. Photo by Kari Andren | Tribune-Review
Voters lined up out the door at the poll at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Murrysville. Photo by Kari Andren | Tribune-Review
Mark Roberts of Murrysville passes out campaign flyers in support of Presidential candidate Donald Trump to voters lined up at Christ's Lutheran Church in Murrysville on April 26, 2016. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Mark Roberts of Murrysville passes out campaign flyers in support of Presidential candidate Donald Trump to voters lined up at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Murrysville on April 26, 2016. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review

 

Voters were waiting in line about 15-20 minutes outside Christ’s Lutheran Church in Murrysville, but said some years wait times have topped an hour.

Louis Intrieri said he changed his voter registration from Democrat to Republican so he can vote for businessman Donald Trump this year.

He said he usually only worried about the general election.

“I’m starting to see the primary election is like the general election,” he said.

Intrieri also researched delegates and brought a list of which people he planned to vote for.

“My vote isn’t as impactful if I don’t know the delegates.”

Mary Woods helps her friend Gladys Waugaman,91, of Greensburg back to the car after she cast her vote in the primary election at the polling precinct at McKenna Center on April 26, 2016, in Greensburg. Photo by Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Mary Woods helps her friend Gladys Waugaman,91, of Greensburg back to the car after she cast her vote in the primary election at the polling precinct at McKenna Center on April 26, 2016, in Greensburg. Photo by Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review

Republicans Jim & Shari Jarrett, casting ballots at Trinity United Christian Church in Lower Burrell, were at the other end of the political spectrum: Republicans unenthusiastic about their choices.

Shari Jarrett said she wrote in Bernie Sanders on her Republican ballot.

“I didn’t like the junior high antics” by the candidates on the Republican side, she said.

Jim Jarrett said the GOP has no good candidates in 2016.

“Call it a protest vote, but I voted for Kasich,” he said, adding that he thought Trump is “all rhetoric and no plan.”

DormontSocial media rumblings indicated there was some early confusion over how to get into a Dormont polling place in Allegheny County Tuesday morning.

The Kim Quoc Sunrise on Potomac Avenue is under construction, and some voters went to a door propped partially open, according to poll workers. It was, however, the wrong door, and the prospective voters encountered caution tape.

Election workers placed signs directing voters to the correct door at the back of the church.

When a Tribune-Review reporter visited the site, the polling location was clearly marked.

Some voters in the carbon section of Hempfield Township in Westmoreland County were confused as to whether they could vote at Saint Paul Parish. Voter Joyce Oliver, 68, said there were no signs indicating the church was a polling place, nor were there any campaign workers or volunteers standing outside.

A teacher at the church’s school told Oliver there was no voting there today because school was in session.

“You don’t go barging into a school — not these days,” said Oliver.

But Oliver said she was determined to vote for “my girl Hillary” and went back.

Voters should follow signs for the church office to find the polling place.

Janet Holmes takes a photo of fellow volunteer Michael McDonald as they both get ready to stump for Donald Trump at SonRise Church on April 26, 2016, in Unity. Photo by Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Janet Holmes takes a photo of fellow volunteer Michael McDonald as they both get ready to stump for Donald Trump at SonRise Church on April 26, 2016, in Unity. Photo by Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Jack Beiler, left, treasurer of the Butler County Democratic Party, speaks with Trump campaign volunteers Andrew Shehorn, middle, of Ravenna, Ohio, and Fran Ventura, of Butler Township, outside the Penn Township Volunteer Fire Department in Butler County on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. Photo by Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Jack Beiler, left, treasurer of the Butler County Democratic Party, speaks with Trump campaign volunteers Andrew Shehorn, middle, of Ravenna, Ohio, and Fran Ventura, of Butler Township, outside the Penn Township Volunteer Fire Department in Butler County on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. Photo by Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review

Another race that many will be watching is the attempt to unseat Republican Rep. Daryl Metcalfe.

Gordon Marburger visits the Penn Township Volunteer Fire Department while campaigning in Butler County on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. Marburger is challenging PA Rep. Daryl Metcalfe for the republican nomination in the 12th District. Photo by Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Gordon Marburger visits the Penn Township Volunteer Fire Department while campaigning in Butler County on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. Marburger is challenging PA Rep. Daryl Metcalfe for the republican nomination in the 12th District. Photo by Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review

Gordon Marburger, a fourth-generation farmer and school bus driver in Butler County, came so close to unseating Metcalfe with a primary write-in campaign two years ago, he’s taking one more good swing at it.

During his nine terms in Harrisburg, Metcalfe has made himself a statewide icon of the hard right. He is among the Capitol’s staunchest gun rights advocates, having for 11 years hosted a Second Amendment rally of gun owners and their firearms on the front steps of the Capitol. His outspoken conservatism on social issues makes headlines. He once tried to prevent Philadelphia’s Rep. Brian Sims from speaking on the House floor in favor of same-sex marriage.

Marburger and his supporters think their state representative should spend less time on hot-button, headline-grabbing issues and more time on local concerns.

Read Melissa Daniels’ profile of the issues in the race and Metcalfe’s response.

Tribune-Review reporters Megan Guza and Elizabeth Behrman contributed.

Hillary Clinton, hot sauce, and the paradox of political authenticity

Hillary Clinton’s perennial quandary – often media-fueled – is the perception she lacks authenticity. She’s also accused – often in the same breath – of being a serial panderer.

The Hillary paradox, which must frustrate her, is that this happens even in some of her most authentic and genuine moments.

I know – I’ve watched it first-hand.

On Monday Clinton told the hosts of “The Breakfast Club” radio show the one thing she always carries in her purse is hot sauce.

Charlamagne Tha God, one of the hip-hop hosts and sometime Clinton critic, told her: “Now listen, I want you to know that people are going to see this and say ‘She’s pandering to black people.’”

He was right.

As in all things inconsequential in the coverage of the presidential campaign, Hillary’s hot sauce became a ‘thing’ on social media with the hashtag #peppergate.

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump chimed in with the inauthentic pandering allegation: “It’s the same thing that she always does. She carries hot sauce like I carry hot sauce. It’s just – I don’t know – it’s just so phony and so pandering and so terrible,” Trump said on a Fox News interview.

Washington Post political reporter Karen Tumulty tweeted in Clinton’s defense:

I saw it: On the 08 campaign, flight attendants delivered a regular supply of jalapenos to @HillaryClinton in the front cabin. #peppergate”

I saw it too. Hillary was carrying hot sauce in her purse eight years ago when I interviewed her as she was campaigning in Pennsylvania. I cannot remember which town we were in, but after the Q&A we somehow got on the subject of spicy food, and we both realized we were carrying personal stashes of hot sauce somewhere on our person.

Both our pepper sauces that day were jalapeno-based; both of us laughed and agreed that variety was always important.

It wasn’t something new. Clinton had said essentially the same thing months earlier in a “60 Minutes” interview, and in the 1990s it was well-documented that she kept hot sauces on hand in the White House.

Which brings us back to authenticity.

Clinton loves hot food, something she shares with the bulk of Americans who patronize the myriad wing joints and ethnic restaurants that thrive in our cities and towns.

Hillary’s hot sauce admission – candid and true – was the kind of “relatable” moment that would have connected other politicians to a wide swath of the electorate; instead, it has been used to highlight – once again – Hillary’s perceived deficiencies.

Sometimes a girl just can’t catch a break.

Raising a child with Asperger’s while covering the White House – ‘Love That Boy’ shines

Ron and Tyler Fournier at the Lincoln Memorial.
Ron and Tyler Fournier at the Lincoln Memorial.

BY SALENA ZITO  szito@tribweb.com

Parenting – even under the most normal or average conditions – is hard. Even when everything seemingly is going well, it really never is; ask anyone who has successfully raised a decent human being.

Equally as hard is covering politics as profession. Even in a normal election year it is at times a thankless job, with an erratic schedule, during which you anger people on both sides of the aisle, daily.

And the people you cover? They are at times both congenial and impossible – sometimes all in one sentence.

Ron Fournier, a longtime Washington-based reporter for the Associated Press and the National Journal, has written a new book – “Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, And My Son Taught Me About A Parent’s Expectations” – detailing how he straddled both worlds under less than normal conditions. It is a painful, awkward and eventually graceful journey told in a very personal way that will move you.

Most parents want their kid to fit in the normal bracket; when they don’t, how we as parents deal with that becomes our greatest challenge. How the Fourniers struggled and eventually prevailed is a testament to understanding it’s OK to not be perfect.

Tyler is a bright, talkative teenager who was diagnosed six years ago, at the age of 12, with Asperger’s. He loves to talk (a lot). He also loves history (also a lot), and he also doesn’t exactly know when to stop talking.

Fournier’s rich detail of how he and his wife, Lori, were able to see his life forward began with her suggestion that he and Tyler take road trips together to see presidents and presidential homes and libraries bridging their worlds (Tyler’s love of history and Ron’s job) together.

A favorite passage in the book is when Fournier is leaving the White House beat in 2005: there is a long-standing tradition when a reporter leaves the beat that the sitting president says a goodbye to the family because of the sacrifice of time the family has made.

Tyler walks in with all of the family, and all he can talk about is President George W. Bush’s dog (and other presidents’ dogs) – to the point Fournier inwardly groans.

Bush grabs Fournier on the way out and basically gives him a presidential executive order: “Love that boy.”

“Love that boy” is a labor of love that intricately and intimately intertwines our current history with raising a child with Asperger’s. Read it. I promise you won’t forget it anytime soon.

PA Senate race moved from ‘leans Republican’ to ‘toss up’

by SALENA ZITO  szito@tribweb.com

The potential of a polarizing figure as the Republican presidential nominee has cost Sen. Pat Toomey his ‘leans Republican’ status for holding his U.S. Senate seat in November.

The University of Virginia Center of Politics Crystal Ball changed the safer rating for Toomey to ‘toss-up’ on Thursday, based on how intertwined his race could become in the presidential contest through ads and association.

The concern is that  many ‘regular Republicans’ might not show up to vote if Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket, while a groundswell of Democrats would, which could cost Toomey his seat.

“Toomey’s reelection bid … has very little to do with the particulars of the Senate race in Pennsylvania,” writes Kyle Kondik, political analyst at the Crystal Ball. “Rather, it’s because of the potential for the GOP nominee to drag down Toomey even against a relatively mediocre opponent.”

The race moved from ‘leans Republican’ to ‘toss-up’ because White House races can impact down-ballot candidates. “The party whose letter (D or R) becomes toxic loses a substantial number of Senate seats; thus, the presidential coattails are long,” said Kondik.

Here is his summary:

For the second cycle in a row, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has not only endorsed in the Keystone State’s Senate primary but is also spending money to influence the primary, which is highly unusual for a party committee. The DSCC must really dislike former Rep. Joe Sestak (D), who it is trying to defeat in the primary for the second time in six years. Sestak foiled the DSCC in 2010 by defeating party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary, but Sestak lost the general election to Sen. Pat Toomey (R) by only two points. This time, the DSCC is backing Katie McGinty in the primary — as are President Obama and Vice President Biden — over Sestak and Braddock Mayor John Fetterman. McGinty, who most recently served as chief of staff to Gov. Tom Wolf (D), ran in the 2014 gubernatorial primary and only won 7.7%, but she’s become the establishment favorite against Sestak, who is not a strong fundraiser and who marches to the beat of his own drummer. The primary dissension would seem to benefit Toomey, who like Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is going to be very well-funded, but Toomey faces the same challenges Portman does (and maybe more so) in having to run significantly ahead of his top-of-the-ticket Republican “running mate” in November.

Posted Thursday, April 7, 12:11 p.m.