Revenge of the Rust Belt in Pennsylvania

Donald Trump arrives at a press conference in Hanahan, South Carolina.BY DONALD GILLILAND

NEW YORK – The really big – and to some, surprising – shift in the electoral map last night was Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes going to Donald Trump.

Here’s my back-of-the-envelope analysis with three hours sleep:

It wasn’t Philly and the collar counties. They turned out for Hillary Clinton in numbers roughly analogous to those Barack Obama garnered in 2012.

Trump won Pennsylvania by roughly 63,000 votes, and three-quarters of those votes can be attributed to shifts in four counties: Luzerne, Lackawanna and Northampton in the North East and Erie in the North West.

In other words: Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Bethlehem and Erie – all former industrial powerhouses fallen on difficult times.

The remainder can be attributed it appears to enthusiastic turnout in traditionally red but less-populous counties.

Call it the revenge of the Rust Belt and Rural counties.

Luzerne is the big one: Obama took it by five points in 2012; Trump took it by 20.

Obama took Lackawanna by 27 points in 2012; Hillary retained it with only 3 points.

Erie went for Obama by 17 points in 2012; this year they went for Trump by 2.

Obama took Northampton by 4 in 2012; Trump won it by 5.

A lot of people are going to be talking about enthusiasm – particularly Clinton failing to perform as well as Obama in 2012. She didn’t, but that’s not the real story.

Clinton got 177,000 fewer votes than Obama in 2016, and yes, that’s bigger than Trump’s winning margin. BUT… Trump got nearly  207,000 more than Mitt Romney did in 2012.

That’s the enthusiasm story.

Some people weren’t as thrilled by Clinton, but many others were energized by Trump, particularly those who live in the Rust Belt and Rural areas.

That’s a tectonic shift in Pennsylvania politics. But it seems to me it’s also Trump specific, all top-of-ballot stuff: Democrats won all the state row office seats.

Multiple polls showed voters most interested in change and the fact Trump is not a politician. They responded enthusiastically to his promises to change Washington. What remains to be seen is how successful he’ll be making good on those promises.

NOTE: This post has been updated from the original to reflect updated 2016 state totals and correct the spelling of Lackawanna.

This story was first posted at 1:28 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016

Donald Trump’s clickbait candidacy

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures and declares "You're fired!" at a rally on June 17, 2015, in Manchester, N.H.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures and declares “You’re fired!” at a rally on June 17, 2015, in Manchester, N.H.


Not all polls are created equal.

It’s a hard fact in an election year struggling with fact.

Since Monday night’s debate, Donald Trump’s campaign has been trying to peddle the idea he won in a landslide with “polls” pulled from websites as varied as Time and Brietbart.

It’s embarrassing, it’s wrong, and it’s a sad indication of how far the Republican party has fallen.

A scientific poll – such as the ones tracked by Real Clear Politics – is based on a random sample of prospective voters, carefully weighted to account for demographics. Pollsters stake their reputations on the accuracy of these polls, so the emphasis on SCIENCE should not be underestimated.

A non scientific poll – such as those that have proliferated in the Internet age – are entertainment. They are based on nothing more than how many people visiting the website have clicked on the poll – and many allow a single person to click as many times as he’d like.

That’s why they’re often referred to as “clickbait.”

The kinder term is “audience engagement.” People click on the poll, get a glimpse of the results and feel… well, something… and they’re tempted to return (more clicks) to check on the results.

There’s nothing scientific about it, and it bears no relation to reality whatsoever.

Apparently that applies to Trump’s campaign for the presidency as well.

After Monday night’s debate, Trump tweeted a conglomeration of clickbait polls and proclaimed “Such a great honor. Final debate polls are in – and the MOVEMENT wins!”

Trump poll

In an echo chamber, perhaps. In the real world, time – and scientific polls – will tell.

The fact that Trump – an inveterate, and at times indiscriminate tweeter – did a bit of chest-thumping over clickbait is less surprising than the fact his campaign proceeded to pitch the unscientific polls to reporters.

Trump’s Pennsylvania communications director Greg Manz emailed the media a list of clickbait polls with this message: “ICYMI: Donald Trump soundly defeated Hillary Clinton in Monday’s debate as evidenced by the below polls.”

Those polls aren’t evidence that Trump won anything: at best, they’re evidence of the political affiliation of the subset of each website’s readership that clicks on polls… at best.

They are – to put it nicely – what the bull deposits in the pasture after he’s eaten his fill of grass.

Neither Manz nor David Urban, Trump’s senior advisor in Pennsylvania,  responded to request to comment.

That we have a Presidential campaign that seriously conflates scientific polls with clickbait – and expects responsible reporters to peddle such garbage to American citizens – is a sign of just how far we’ve sunk this election.

Trump poll 3Why such a fuss? Because basic literacy in science and math is essential. American jobs increasingly require advanced science and math skills; that’s why schools in cities like Pittsburgh focus so intently on STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Our culture – from our smart phones to the doctor’s office – rests upon a foundation of sound science and math.

Americans must be able to distinguish between competence and a cow pat.

The greatest country on Earth cannot endure for long if its citizens are ignorant of basic science. America’s leaders – regardless of party – must foster such literacy or they will “lead” us into decline.

Yet Trump and his campaign promote clickbait as if it were science.

The Republican party should be deeply ashamed.

This was first posted Sept. 28, 2016 at 9:43 a.m.

Clinton produces ‘Trump Road Show’ for Pennsylvania


The Trump Road Show has come to Pennsylvania… at least in the form of a website that the Hillary Clinton campaign launched Thursday morning to highlight Trump business dealings they find questionable. is a clearing house of Trump’s history of job creation in foreign countries, which lists many of the foreign-made products he produces to further his brand and notes specific places in Pennsylvania where they could be made.

The roll-out criticizing Trump’s outsourcing comes the same day that Pittsburgh native Tom Vilsack, President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture, will tour rural Southwestern Pennsylvania to promote Clinton’s candidacy and outline Trump’s business record.

The campaign said Vilsack will “point to Trump’s failed business record and fraudulent promises as reasons why voters should reject Trump in November and instead back Hillary Clinton, who has real plans to boost U.S. manufacturing, crack down on corporations who ship jobs overseas, and support small businesses,” in an emailed press release.

The Clinton campaign – noting Trump tie clips, cufflinks, vodka, mirrors, suits and barware are all made overseas – says he cares more for his self promotion than American workers.

Clinton currently holds a comfortable 10 percentage point lead over Trump in Pennsylvania according to the latest Quinnipiac University battleground survey.

That lead comes as Trump has revamped his campaign for a third time, bringing in new leadership, an evolving view on immigration, what’s touted as outreach to the African American community and a more polished candidate on the stump.

Clinton faces growing unrest among the press as she has gone over 260 days without holding a press conference – despite new revelations the FBI found 15,000 new emails in its investigation of her and a federal judge’s order that the State Department hasten their release.

This story was first posted 11:45 a.m. Thursday, August 25 2016

A liquor law compromise, by any other name…

Kitty Kon of Robinson browses the selection of wines at the Settler's Ridge Market District on Friday, Aug. 19, 2016.  Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Kitty Kon of Robinson browses the selection of wines at the Settler’s Ridge Market District on Friday, Aug. 19, 2016. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review


In politics as in life, words are powerful.

How politicians or advocates phrase a pitch to voters can decidedly color how that idea is perceived. Consider, for example, the connotation of “gun control” versus “violence prevention” or “pro-abortion” versus “pro-choice.”

In Pennsylvania, we parse words over an issue near and dear to residents’ hearts:  booze.

In June, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a law that expands wine sales to grocery stores, allows state stores to be open longer hours and customers to get wine shipped to their doors as well as a host of other changes.

Act 39 is hailed by virtually all sides as the Great Liquor Compromise.

But if you look carefully, Republicans – who typically support fully turning over alcohol sales to private businesses – call Act 39 “privatization.”

Meanwhile Democrats, who tend to support state stores for the millions of dollars they pump into state coffers and thousands of union jobs they provide, proclaim Act 39 as “modernizing” state liquor laws.

A few examples from the last week:

“After more than 80 years of full government control, the Prohibition Era has ended and the Privatization Era has begun,” trumpeted House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, as the first grocery store wine sales launched in Robinson.

“We call it privatization — or at least steps toward privatization,” said Jenn Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Republicans. “We understand it’s not a total accomplishment, but it’s something where we wanted to take steps in the right direction.”

Wolf, a Democrat, cheered the new law: “This historic liquor reform package … enhances the customer experience by providing Pennsylvanians with greater convenience and satisfaction.”

And Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Centre County, said: “I know many of my constituents are happy with the liquor modernization efforts that have recently taken effect.”

So who’s right?

Well, everyone.

The new law does allow a private business, like a grocery store or restaurant, to sell bottles of wine directly to the consumer for the first time. That’s at least a modicum of privatization.

On the other hand, those businesses have to buy the wine from the state Liquor Control Board. And state stores aren’t going anywhere; in fact, they will be open longer and more days a week. Those changes are part of modernization proposals bandied about for years.

“I think it’s more than semantics,” said Gerald Shuster, professor of political communications at the University of Pittsburgh. “In both cases, it fits right into the political philosophies of both parties.”

The word choice reinforces to constituents what each side was fighting for in the compromise, Shuster said.

“They both claim victory without selling out and without being critical of the other side,” he said.

As for the agency tasked with rolling out the new law?

“It’s a debate,” Board member Michael Negra told WHTM-TV reporter Dennis Owens when asked recently.

“We’re not going to get into the political fray,” said LCB spokeswoman Elizabeth Brassell. “We are implementing Act 39 as it was enacted.”

This story was first posted at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, August 25 2016

Open Records Office requires appeals on full sheets of paper


Put down the Post-Its. Set aside the paper scraps. The state Office of Open Records only wants full sheets of paper.

The office dismissed an appeal for records this week that had been filed by state prison inmate David Dixon on a scrap that amounted to about 1/3 of a sheet of paper, said Erik Arneson, executive director of the office.

The Office of Open Records is the quasi-judicial state agency that enforces Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law. When public agencies deny information, say they don’t possess relevant documents, or don’t respond to requests, citizens can appeal to the office for free.

Seeking public records using a full sheet of paper might seem obvious, but it turns out, that’s a stipulation the OOR had to put in writing. Appeals must be filed on 8.5×11 inch or 8.5×14 inch paper.

“We put that policy into place last year because we were receiving a lot of inmate appeals on paper fragments and, given the volume of cases we deal with, it really slows things down when the paperwork can’t be scanned into the system using our copier/scanner,” Arneson said.

The OOR dispensed with a record 2,926 appeals in 2015, with 61 percent coming from inmates, according to the agency’s annual report.

Arneson said the OOR once received an appeal filed on the back of a soup can label.

State prison inmates are provided with a writing instrument, and indigent inmates are given stationery and writing instruments upon request, said Corrections spokeswoman Susan McNaughton. Otherwise, inmates can buy pens, paper, folders and other office supplies from the prison commissary, she said.

A commissary price list shows 200 sheets of notebook paper costs $2.11 while 200 sheets of ink jet computer paper totals $5.87. Both are 8.5×11 inches, which would be accepted by the OOR.

Dixon can file a new appeal as long as 15 days have not elapsed since his request to the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole was denied, according to the OOR Final Determination.

This is just the latest example of inmate requests and appeals shaping the state’s Right to Know Law, enacted in 2008.

The prevalence of inmate requests – which have sought everything from mundane records on prison policies to oddities like education records of singer Taylor Swift – spurred proposed changes to what inmates can seek from public agencies.

Senate Bill 411, approved by the Senate last fall and now pending in a House committee, would limit inmate requests to about a dozen categories related to inmates’ education, discipline and work; court procedures and sentencing; and information about the prison in which they’re housed.

This story was first posted Thursday, August 11, 2016 at 2:15 p.m.

Western Pennsylvania woman speaks hard truth to Democrats in Philly


It wasn’t the message they expected or even wanted to hear, but Pennsylvania delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia got an earful from Erin McClelland, of Natrona Heights on Thursday.

McClelland, who’s challenging Republican incumbent Keith Rothfus in the 12th Congressional District, delivered a fiery lunchtime speech exhorting her party leaders to focus more on rural areas and rural needs.

She said people from other states go saucer-eyed when they learn Pennsylvania has two senators, 18 congressmen and not one woman among them.

Female Democratic candidates, she said, labor under the weight of three words: “She can’t win.”

But McClelland didn’t chalk that up to sexism; instead, she said the Democratic party increasingly is pushing away its own rural voters.

Her district is majority Democrat, but increasingly votes Republican.

“These were Democrats. We’re just starting to lose them, and we’re losing more of them every year,” she said.

“The Republican party scares them, and the Democratic party insults them,” McClelland said.

McClelland said if Democrats want to win rural voters away from Donald Trump, they need to show them some respect.

“We call them stupid. They’re not stupid. They are working class people who understand the Constitution incredibly well, are devoted to their faith and work hard,” McClelland said.

Many are fed up with a government “that has lied to them and failed them,” she said. Trump is “saying what they’d like to say to the government.”

McClelland said, “They’re looking for nothing but a fair deal, and they can’t get even that.”

This story was first posted Thursday, July 29, 2016 at 6:31 p.m.

Rain drenches delegates as they enter last day of Democratic Convention

Dean Genth, 66, of Mason City, Iowa
Dean Genth, 66, of Mason City, Iowa


Iowa delegate Dean Genth’s blue button-down shirt was soaked when the final night of the convention began Thursday.

Like many convention-goers who ventured to Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center in the afternoon, Genth, 66, of Mason City had to make his way through pouring rain.

“No amount of rain is going to dampen my excitement about tonight,” said Genth, who used the ride-share service Uber to get from his Center City hotel to the arena in South Philadelphia.

Genth and his husband, Gary Swenson, hosted a Clinton campaign event at their house in May 2015. Genth and Swenson, the first gay couple to receive a marriage license at the Cerro Gordo Courthouse after the state legalized gay marriage in April 2009, supported Barack Obama when he ran against Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary.

“She was a great candidate then. Now she’s an even better one,” Genth said, pointing to the experience Clinton gained as secretary of State after that primary race.

This story was first posted Thursday, July 28, 2016 at 6:15 p.m.

Who ya gonna call? Trumpbusters!

Jason Bloomberg, 55, of Cheyenne, Wyo. sports an array of buttons as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Jason Bloomberg, 55, of Cheyenne, Wyo. sports an array of buttons as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.


Jason Bloomberg says he’s a “walking billboard” for defeating Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in November.

His vest was covered with political buttons Wednesday as he walked through a concourse at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center during the Democratic National Convention.

Jason Bloomberg, 55, of Cheyenne, Wyo. sports an array of buttons as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Jason Bloomberg, 55, of Cheyenne, Wyo. sports an array of buttons as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

More than a dozen of them were emblazoned with the word “Trumpbusters” and an image resembling the logo from the movie “Ghostbusters” – except that the ghost bore a remarkable resemblance to Trump, including his signature sweep of orange hair.

“Our democracy is facing the threat of a Trump presidency,” said Bloomberg, 55, a Hillary Clinton delegate from of Cheyenne, Wyo. “Nothing is progressive about Donald Trump. We need to bust him.”

Bloomberg drove 1,300 miles from Cheyenne to Philadelphia in an electric car, with a fellow Wyoming delegate riding shotgun. He said his car was adorned with anti-Trump messages.

During their 3½-day trip, the Wyoming Trumpbusters stopped many times and struck up conversation with people.

“It was wonderful. Even a lot of Republicans out there don’t like Trump,” Bloomberg said.

This story was first posted Thursday, July 28, 2016 at 10:50 a.m.

DePasquale calls Trump’s Russia request ‘Looney-Tunes’

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale addresses Pennsylvania delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 27.
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale addresses Pennsylvania delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 27.


“The world of crazy land, Looney-Tunes, Bugs Bunny,” said Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale at a luncheon for Pennsylvania delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia as he informed them of the latest Donald Trump statement.

DePasquale recounted how during a press conference earlier in the day, the Republican presidential candidate looked into the cameras and asked Russian officials, who American security experts believe to be behind the hacking of Democratic party computers, to look for Hillary Clinton’s emails.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said.

Clinton’s senior policy advisor Jake Sullivan responded: “This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent. That’s not hyperbole, those are just the facts. This has gone from being a matter of curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national security issue.”

The Associated Press reported members of the Republican Party leadership denounced Trump’s statement.

Former CIA director Leon Panetta told CNN Trump’s statement was “totally outrageous.”

“Asking Russia to engage in American politics,” he said, “that’s beyond the pale.”

“I wish I was making this up,” DePasquale said, characterizing Trump’s campaign as “a world of conspiracy theories and hate mongering.”

“It is up to all of us not to just be against Donald Trump – in my opinion, that’s easy – it’s also about being behind Hillary Clinton because it’s about moving the country forward,” he told delegates.

DePasquale said “it’s easy to forget January 2009 and January 1993,” when Democratic presidents had to begin cleaning up “major messes” left by Republican presidents, but cleaning up after a Trump presidency would be monumental.

“I just can’t imagine it,” he said.

This story was first posted Wednesday, July 27, 2016 at 2:11 p.m.


President to address convention Wednesday


President Barack Obama will headline the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia Wednesday.

He will have do well indeed to top the bar set by First Lady Michelle Obama Monday night; her speech won plaudits from Republicans as well as the Democratic faithful.

Vice President Joe Biden will also address the convention, as will vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine; other speakers include former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, retired Navy Rear Admiral John Hutson, and Jesse Jackson.

Actress Sigourney Weaver will speak, as will Angela Bassett, Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly. Lenny Kravitz will perform.

The theme for the evening is “Working Together: A Clear Choice.”

The roster of non-celebrity speakers includes Erica Smegielski, whose mother was the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary and was killed while trying to protect her students; Felicia Sanders & Polly Sheppard, two of the three survivors of the Mother Emanuel Church shooting; and Jamie Dorff, whose husband – an Army helicopter pilot – died while on a search and rescue mission in northern Iraq.

This story was posted Wednesday, July 27, 2016 at 10:37 a.m.