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Ahoy mateys

Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day: http://www.talklikeapirate.com/; http://www.yarr.org.uk/

Early Returns can think of no better way of honoring its spirit of plunder, waste and contempt for the rules of civilization than by talking about politics.

Lynn Swann takes a cat o' nine tails to Gov. Ed Rendell's record on property tax relief just as the incumbent is blanketing the airwaves boasting that he made a breakthrough on this issue when Harrisburg had failed to produce any results for decades. The challenger's ad tries to exploit the fact that the relief funded by gambling money has yet to show up in tax bills. Mr. Swann has his own tax plan that would freeze assessments and, in the years that it would take for that feature to take affect, fund a transitional relief program from the state's general fund.

The ad is, "Bold.'' If you don't want to sit by the television waiting for it to show up, you can view it at:

Here's the script:

"I'm Lynn Swann. Here's a simple test of who to support for governor. If your property taxes have been cut, then you're probably pretty content with the Harrisburg status quo. But if you are still waiting for the 30% reduction promised four years ago, it's time for fresh leadership. I've spent my life leading and bringing people together.

My plan will work. Pay raise politics as usual didn't work. With new leadership, we'll get it done."

Governor Ed Rendell, trying to appear above the campaign fray, will visit Wilkinsburg High School tomorrow to make "a major announcement" (is there any other kind?) on high school reform and the transformation of traditional classroom instruction. The Democrat will be there at noon. His day will also include some more overtly political stops, including the 139th Session of the Pittsburgh AME Conference, at 11:15 in the Radisson Hotel in Green Tree. Later, he'll speak at a conference of the Church of God in Christ, at 2502 Centre Avenue in the Hill District at 8 p.m

A group known as VoteVets.org. is targeting Mr. Santorum in a new television commercial that criticizes him for voting against a Democratic amendment that would have provided $1 billion in additional funding for equipment, including body armor, for the National Guard and Reserves. The ad features an Army reservist and Iraq veteran firing an AK-47 at two dummies, one with modern and another with less-protective, Vietnam-era body armor. The dummy with the Vietnam-era armor ends up with multiple gunshot holes, while the other does not. In the past, Mr. Santorum has rebutted similar criticism by noting that he has voted for every appropriation request made by the Pentagon.

A spokesman for the VoteVets said the aid would air in Western Pennsylvania but said he didn't have any information on how much they would spend on the commercials.

Here's the ad:

The Gallup Poll and USAToday find President Bush experiencing a measurable rebound from months of abysmally low approval ratings. The president's recent tough talk on terrorism is cited for this rehabilitation. Also moving the Republicans' way was the generic ballot test for congressional candidates -- good news for Sen. Rick Santorum, whose rhetoric has also been heavy on condemnations of "Islamic fascists,'' and for other GOP hopefuls. http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20060919/1a_lede19.art.htm

In a separate, automated poll conducted by SurveyUSA for Philadelphia's WCAU, the president's approval rating moved up in Pennsylvania., to 40 percent. Other earlier surveys have found his Keystone state approval rating in the mid- or even low 30s. The SurveyUSA findings are striking for the regional and gender differences they point to. The president is significantly more popular in the west that in the east, and women remain strikingly negative toward his performance.

If it's any consolation to the White House, even at his lowest points in recent months, the president was polling better than his Iraq War ally (poodle?) British Prime Minister Tony Blair. http://www.ipsos-mori.com/polls/2006/mpm060906st.shtml

And, of course, they're both doing better than the prime minister of Thailand, who was facing one of those pesky military coups today.

Pitt's Chris Briem, one of the most astute observers of local political and economic trends, does some ground work for commentary on the next mayoral election, whenever that may be, by breaking down the results of the last two mayoral contests according to council district. http://nullspace2.blogspot.com/

And speaking of the uncertain mayoral election calendar, Mr. Briem passes on this link to an article in the Pennsylvania Law Weekly, looking at some of the precedents.

PCN, the state's public affairs cable network is out with its latest election programming line-up. It includes a debate on Monday, September 25, at 1 p.m. between Sen. Rick Santorum, the Republican incumbent, and Carl Romanelli, the Green Party candidate, who depending on your point of view, is either trying to oust Mr. Santorum or, wittingly or unwittingly, providing a crucial tactical boost to the Republican's campaign by threatening to peel votes away from Treasurer Bob Casey. Mr. Casey, who shares the latter view, will not be participating.

That same day, Commonwealth Court will deal with litigation that threatens to bar the Green hopeful from the ballot. You can also tee up your Tivo to capture appearances by Mr. Rendell, Mr. Swann and a variety of congressional candidates. Check out the details at www.pcntv.com.

Oh, and if you're not comfortable peppering your speech with phrases such as "arrrgh,'' and "avast, me hearty,'' our colleague Mark Belko suggested one more way to obey the international admonition of the day:

"We saw some good things in our young players out there even though we lost. We kept it under 10 runs. I'd call it a good outing; we were in it right up until that rally in the ninth.''