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Extra-Patriotic Election Day Edition

Nov. 6, 2007

11:59 p.m.: It's almost midnight. Time for Early Returns, and all of you in reader land, to go to bed. Tomorrow is Another Day. A New Pittsburgh. The streets will be that much cleaner. The potholes, that much less damaging to your suspension. It's a liveable city. A city of, lessee, many bridges, the majority of which are NOT crumbling in disrepair, thank you very much, and even if they were, that's PennDOT's fault, am I right? The Pirates have a new manager. The Steelers, a new coach. The Pens, a new arena. We got a new casino. New I-beams and joists in our convention center. New condos all over the dang place. The mayor? Same old crew cut, but perhaps a new outlook, a new humility, a new maturity that will carry him though the next two years.

And if not? You get another crack at him in 2009.

11:42 p.m.: And from the AP:

HAZLETON, Pa. - Mayor Lou Barletta, a Republican who gained national prominence by targeting illegal immigrants living in this small city, easily won re-election Tuesday to a third term.

He defeated a Libertarian candidate, John Medashefski, a coffee shop owner who argued the city should drop its effort to push through a law targeting illegal immigrants.

With 82 percent of precincts reporting, Barletta had 2,593 votes, or 89 percent, compared with Medashefski's 323 votes, or 11 percent.

In the primary, Barletta also won the Democratic nomination as a write-in candidate, easily defeating a comeback bid by a former mayor and leaving himself with no Democrat to face in the general election.

Last year, Barletta pushed through a law that targeted landlords who rented to illegal immigrants and businesses that employed them in this city of 30,000. The law, emulated by dozens of towns around the nation, was struck down by a federal judge as unconstitutional. The judge said states and municipalities cannot regulate immigration.

11:36 p.m.: From Capitolwire.com:

Two years after southwestern Pennsylvania voters, joined by midstaters, made state history by leading the charge that defeated a Supreme Court justice seeking retention for the first time in commonwealth history, the southwest flipped.

The huge change in the vote from the state's second largest county appeared to guarantee the retention of the seven statewide judges seeking another 10-year term from voters. And to suggest that the pay-raise issue was losing force in statewide politics.

Allegheny County, where voters made a key contribution to the defeat of Justice Russell Nigro in 2005, and helped to nearly defeat Justice Sandra Schultz Newman that year, gave Justice Tom Saylor a decisive margin of victory in 2007.

Saylor along with Superior Court Judges Joan Orie Melvin, John Paul Musmanno and Corry Stevens and Commonwealth Court Judges Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter, Barney McGinley and Doris Smith-Ribner, had more than 60 percent of the vote for retention, according to unofficial and incomplete returns, with about 60 percent of the statewide vote counted.

Those returns showed Saylor with 67 percent of the vote, 602,830 to 296,475. The same returns showed Melvin just behind, also at 67 percent, Stevens at 64 percent, Leadbetter and Smith-Ribner at 63 percent, and Musmanno and McGinley at 62 percent.

11:26 p.m.: Sorry, computer problems. I know you've got to be torn up about the long silence as I am, supposing you noticed it.

Let's go cross-state:

Democratic mayoral nominee Michael Nutter easily defeated Republican Al Taubenberger yesterday, ending a quirky contest with two opponents who rarely disagreed and an outcome that was never in doubt.

With just over half of the vote counted, Nutter was outdistancing Taubenberger by a 4-1 ratio.

Despite a number of competitive judicial and city council races, voter turnout appeared light as morning rain and the widespread expectation that Nutter would win handily led many to stay away from the polls.

11:07 p.m.: ABC weighs/ weighed in on the Pittsburgh mayoral race:

Hype or no hype, if you're looking for polling numbers to indicate which way the mayor's race will sway, there aren't any.

Calls to local news desks indicated that because Pittsburgh hasn't elected a Republican mayor since 1930 people assumed the trend was not likely to change and no independent polling was commissioned.

Burn expects Ravenstahl's margin of victory to fall within the city's 5-1 Democrat-to-Republican ratio, but analysts indicate problems to come for Pittsburgh's Democratic bloc if he doesn't.

Taking the Democratic stronghold into account Madonna adds that winning isn't everything -- "how you win" matters just as much in shaping elections to come. Today's vote classifies as a special election to fill the last two years of O'Connor's term.

Ultimately, Jerry Shuster says the odds of a DeSantis win are "not impossible, but highly improbable."

Still, he said, "What was once perceived as steps to a [Ravenstahl] coronation has been dramatically changed to a legitimate political race."

"While I don't think Ravenstahl will lose, anything less than a 3-1 victory is a loss to Democratic victory in the city," Shuster said.

The professor cites weather conditions, Democratic fatigue and the Monday night Steelers-Ravens game all as factors that could come into play affecting voter turnout today for a race that may or may not turn the tide of the city, but has made serious waves.

10:53 p.m.: With 99 percent of precincts reporting:

LUKE RAVENSTAHL (DEM) - 42,190 - 63.31

MARK F DESANTIS (REP) - 23,173 - 34.77

P.S. Dan Onorato won, too.

10:50 p.m.: From the "Jeez, I Never Thought of That" file:

When your home is the open road, where do you register to vote?

A total of 286 people who live full-time in their recreational vehicles were dropped from the voter rolls in one Tennessee county over the past two years because they did not have a genuine home address, only a mailbox. That has left them unable to vote in national or local elections.

What happened in Tennessee may be an extreme case, but an Associated Press review of laws and policies across the nation found that election officials sometimes make it difficult for the nation's thousands of devoted RVers to cast a ballot.

10:38 p.m.: "Thank you, Pittsburgh," the Boy Mayor said just a few moments ago, saying he was honored to be elected Pittsburgh's mayor. He thanked Mark DeSantis for "a job well done," then said "today is when that new Pittsburgh attitude starts."

He got in a brief rabbit punch to the newspapers' kidneys, I suppose, saying he was "tired of the negativity and the criticisms."

I think that's code for "I'll golf as much as I want to, thank you very much. See you at the Toby Keith concert!"

10:27 p.m.: Luke's on the TV now, thanking everybody.

10:25 p.m.: Is it a landslide or isn't it? The Burgher, via e-mail, says no:

"I predicted 62-36 Ravenstahl. I thought that was pretty significant a rebuke in a city with a 5-1 registration advantage. Luke has put in one of the worst performances by a D in decades. I'm not sure what more you could hope for."

By "you," I think he means the blurghosphere, which will be crushed by this.

On the other hand:

Two things occur to me at this stage. First, do you think that any of us would have paid as much attention to this general election if there had been anything that approximated a primary contest in May? The one big effect that Peduto's departure from the primary may have been that so many of us shifted our focus onto the only contest available.

Secondly, this year's election will likely serve as our generation's lesson to the Republicans of Pittsburgh. It seems to happen every few years. Every once and while, they convince themselves that they have a hope. DeSantis raised pretty decent money, spent funds on advertising, and truly tried much harder than any Republican in living memory. And it really didn't move the needle very much.

I don't think we'll see much of an effort from Republicans again for quite some time. Maybe the next generation will delude themselves yet again.

Keep the e-mails coming.

10:20 p.m.: John C. Pettit heads to an early retirement. With 45 percent of precincts reporting, Republican challenger Steve Toprani leads six-term Democratic DA John C. Pettit by a whopping majority. Neither candidate has spoken out so far this evening, but it appears Mr. Pettit, 72, will not be able to make up lost ground tonight, reports Janice Crompton.

10:17 p.m.: Four vacanices, four Democrats: Cathleen Bubash, Michael E. McCarthy, Kelly Eileen Bigley and Jack McVay appear to have won spots on the Allegheny County Common Pleas. They defeated Arnie Klein, a registered Democrat who was forced to run as Republican.

10:10 p.m.: Mark DeSantis is giving his concession speech right now. Lots of stuff about taking the high road when he could have taken the low road, bold ideas, Not Taking No For An Answer, and so on. He's an immediate contender for the 2007 Trite Trophy.

Expect the incumbent to speak within the hour.

10:01 p.m.: Some updates from around the country:

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a Republican whose first term was dogged by a hiring scandal, was trailing badly Tuesday despite a last-ditch effort to woo conservative voters by ordering the Ten Commandments displayed in the state Capitol.

In Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour, practically the only politician to come out of Hurricane Katrina looking good, was heavily favored to win re-election after campaigning on his successful management of the recovery.

9:56 p.m.: Says Rich Lord:

Democrats are vanquishing their third-party foes in the other city races. With maybe one-third of the voters counted, Democrat Michael Lamb has 89.3 percent against Libertarian Mark Rauterkus for controller. Mr. Rauterkus is also losing his bid for City Council to Democrat Bruce Kraus, who has 86.2 percent to the Libertarian's 13.3 percent. Democratic council member Darlene Harris has 76.8 percent of the tally against Independent Dave Schuilenburg, whose 23 percent take looks pretty good compared to Mr. Rauterkus' showings. And Democrat Rev. Ricky Burgess has 87.6 percent against independent David Adams' 12.2 percent in the contest to replace Twanda Carlisle.

Keep checking here and the county Web site for updates.

9:45 p.m.: Everybody head over to Agent Ska (but come back to Early Returns right quick) for a peek at the polling-place photos of Luke that caused a mini-stir a couple of posts ago.

9:43 p.m.: With nothing to better to do now that the money race is over, may I suggest paying a quick visit to The Burgh Report to vote on why, precisely, Mark DeSantis was wearing those ridiculous superstar sunglasses? Your choices: 1) He got drunk and fought a cop at the Monday Night Football game. 2) His future is so bright, he has to. 3) To hide his evil Republican eyes. 4) So he can check out chicks without them noticing.

9:34 p.m.: What drove the Luke Landslide? Besides, you know, the huge Democratic registration advantage?

How about a Steelers blowout vs. the Ravens? Ravenstahl allowed as much this afternoon, saying (in response to a reporter proposing the theory) that a city that feels good about itself is a city more likely to vote for the incumbent. If the Ravens pummel Pittsburgh, perhaps voters feel a wee bit disgruntled.

Also, don't discount weather -- the weather was OK this morning, when the older, straight-ticket Dems were voting. But the weather got worse throughout the day. Maybe the opposite of a Republican rain at play?

But yeah, mainly it was the registration advantage.

9:26 p.m.: AP calls it for Luke:

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The city's 27-year-old mayor, elevated to the office after the death of the incumbent, overcame a series of missteps in his one year in office and on Tuesday won the election to finish out his predecessor's term.

Luke Ravenstahl fended off a challenge from Republican businessman Mark DeSantis to serve the final two years of the term won by the late Mayor Bob O'Connor. Despite an aggressive campaign by DeSantis, Ravenstahl easily won in a city that hasn't elected a Republican since the Great Depression.

O'Connor had been in office just eight months when he died last year of a brain tumor. As City Council president, Ravenstahl was next in line to temporarily fill the seat.

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato said Ravenstahl was on the verge of "a solid victory."

With 20 percent of precincts reporting, the 27-year-old mayor had 13,355 votes, or 64 percent, compared with Republican Mark DeSantis' 7,206 votes, or 34 percent.

Well that was anti-climactic, was it not?

9:25 p.m.: OK, a couple of posts ago, the DeSantis campaign cried foul when Luke and Wife entered a polling place, claiming an election code violation. Camp Ravenstahl responds:

"We acknowledge that he was at the polls," said spokeswoman Danika Wukich. "He did go inside. He has the right as a candidate to observe all of the operations and meet the poll workers." Any candidate can observe the voting machinery and general layout of any polling place, she said. Additionally, the mayor has a poll-watcher certificate, which entitles him to check the number of voters at any polling place.

She said it was "just the matter of his celebrity that attracted extra attention." And if there's anything wrong with Mrs. Ravenstahl wearing an "I Like Luke" campaign button, Ms. Wukich is unaware of it.

"Obviously, she's the wife of a candidate, and she's entitled to do that. ... If she was wearing a DeSantis button, that we'd have a problem with."

9:20 p.m.: Still early in WashCo (that's how they do it out east, MontCo and BerksCo and such), but with 16 of 184 precincts reporting, it looks like GOP candidate Steve Toprani could pull off the shocker of the year, leading six-term incumbent District Attorney John C. Pettit by two-to-one so far.

Pettit, 72, has been plagued by problems lately, including being the target of an FBI investigation, his office's loss of a controversial and high-profile murder case involving a man he owed money to, and personal issues, like whether he had a relationship with a 31-year-old woman with a history of drug and prostitution convictions. For the first time ever, his campaign invested in a Web page and television commercials.

The county has not elected a Republican DA in 44 years, reports the Pee-Gee's Janice Crompton.

9:16 p.m.: Hmmm .... some Election Day chicanery in the Deep South?

FORT WORTH, Texas -- The Tarrant County District Attorney's Office was investigating the distribution of a bogus election flier that told people to vote Saturday. The flier in English and Spanish featured the county logo and was marked "Official Notice." Texas voters on Tuesday were deciding on 16 proposed constitutional amendments and a range of local issues. The faulty flier mentioned the amendments and the Fort Worth City Council District 9 race."If the intent was to confuse people, then that was a despicable thing to do," Tarrant County Elections Administrator Steve Raborn said.

Clever ... but, yes, despicable.

9:11 p.m.: With 20,800 votes counted -- perhaps a third of the expected final total -- the Boy Mayor leads He Of The Stylish Eyewear, 63.6 to 34.3.

9:04 p.m.: Looking south to Washington County, where the big race is for the DA's office. Six-term Democratic incumbent John Pettit has faced sharp criticism during the past several years and an FBI probe. He has a Republican challenger, Steve Toprani, who at 28 has been a lawyer for just two years and never tried a case in front of a jury. Can he win? Early reports from the city of Washington's 7th ward show that Mr. Toprani won that precinct, 207 to 89. The city traditionally is Democratic, so if he's losing in the city, that could spell trouble for Mr. Pettit, who is from the area.

8:57 p.m.: Mark DeSantis' mayoral campaign is now charging that Luke Ravenstahl and his wife entered a polling place at Madison Elementary School, in one of what they say may have been numerous elections code violations by the Democrats.

"A candidate is not allowed to go within the area of a polling place," said Meghan Jones Rolla, a DeSantis campaign spokeswoman. A photograph of the occurence also shows Erin Ravenstahl wearing an "I Like Luke" button in the voting area, which is a violation, she said. People can wear campaign paraphernalia into the polling place when they are there to vote, but not when they're there for any other purpose, she said.

The DeSantis campaign "can potentially challenge the vote at that polling place," she said. "We heard things all day about different activities at polling places."

The corrective action would be to file a complaint with the county Elections Board, she said, but the campaign will wait to see the outcome of the voting before deciding how to proceed.

8:52 p.m.: Let's turn our collective heads toward Chris Briem's statistical wizardry and prognosticatory (not a word, sue me) skills:

I keep getting asked for predictions. I think I have put enough data out there for everyone to form their own prognostications. On the specific question of turnout and its impacts. There are several factors for how high or low turnout could impact the two candidates.. but looking at the core question: low turnout is to the advantage of Desantis. Why? Only if you get to a low vote count can you get a Desantis victory into the realm of possibility. When turnout is higher you will inevitably get straight Democratic party ticket pullers. Anyone who thinks that the coverage of this election rises to the level that would blunt that pattern is projecting ... which is a nicer way of saying delusional. In the 2006 general I counted over 40K straight ticket pullers in the city alone. If those people don't stay home, nothing else matters.

One curious point is that the [DeSantis] campaign claims it did not do any polling. Others have made that point to me. But read that DeSantis campaign quote carefully. It says they didn't spend any money on polls, which is a very different thing from saying they did not have polling data. I assure you that was not an answer to the question they were asked. Reporters don't ask how much money you spend on polls, they ask what your polls show. You can rest assured there was R polling being done ... either paid for by state of county party or wrapped up in in-kind contributions.. but they had it, just as there was D polling. Consider the possibility that they didn't do polling. To run a half million dollar campaign without any polling would be some form of malpractice, it's not that expensive to run a 500 person sample frame which would be more than enough for this kind of race. Trust me, they knew where there strengths and weaknesses were in detail and that info only comes from what we call polling, even if they choose to call it something else.

8:46 p.m.: Mike DeVanney, the strategic mastermind behind the DeSantis campaign, said he heard that turnout was around 35 percent in the city's biggest ward, the Squirrel Hill-centric 14th, where his man is believed to be strong. It was low most everywhere else. That said, he wasn't guaranteeing a win as of 8:20 p.m.

"I haven't said that it would be any rosier than it is," he said of running a Republican campaign in the Democratic city. "It's tough. ... I just felt it was going to be a very odd turnout model" with highly-motivated voters seeking change coming out for Mr. DeSantis.

8:44 p.m.: Rich Lord spent the afternoon gathering string on the mayor's race. Read on:

Out on Centre Avenue in the Hill District in the late afternoon, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said the vibe was positive. The Democrat's message of development, clean and safe streets, and financial responsibility was resonating, he said.

"I think the mood is good. We're just trying to make sure our voters get out and cast their ballots."

It had already been a long day. "I was up this morning, started early, just bouncing around the voting polls, dropping off some cookies, spent some time at the campaign headquarters, then came up here about an hour ago, just work the streets, and try to drum up some last-minute support."

He said he planned to "slow down around seven o'clock or so and get ready for the results to come in."

Drivers honked and shouted that they were on their way to vote for him, though one woman chided him for missing a community meeting. The Hill seemed, though, to be strongly in the mayor's corner.

"I liked how he got into office and set to work developing the Lower Hill," said Raukeem Hawkins, a 19-year-old voting in his first mayoral election.

"We need someone young and someone who's trying to clean up the city, especially with the vacant houses," said Linda Jordan, a retiree. She said the mayor gets credit for tearing down or boarding up several abandoned properties near her home.

Turnout at the Hill House, though, was abysmal. At 4:15 p.m., just 67 of some 318 voters registered there had bothered to show up.

On Mt. Washington, at St. Justin's Church, Republican challenger Mark DeSantis said people weren't just pledging to vote for him. "They're expressing confidence that I'm going to win," he said.

"In part it's the idea that we can do better," he explained. "In part, it's a reaction to Luke Ravenstahl. ... What I get is people that just want to try something different."

He said he's ready to be that something. "We've done some thinking about how we would do a transition," he said. For the first month or so, his team would evaluate the people in place in city government, and start planning their budget. They'd bring in a lot of outsiders to evaluate the function of government, much as Republican Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey did in 2000, when Mr. DeSantis was involved with the transition. "The challenge is going to be in simultaneously evaluating people for the position and evaluating the departments' performances."

Sheila Miller, a Mt. Washington benefits manager, wasn't going to give him that chance. "Having a young mayor trying to do more revitalization here would be extremely helpful," she said. She was "disheartened" that so much attention was given to Mr. Ravenstahl's personal use of a police vehicle paid for with federal Homeland Security money.

Retired state worker Joe Moore, though, blamed the Democrats for the fact that "this city is, like, deserted. You can roller skate down Smithfield Street. ... Has [Ravenstahl] done anything to improve this city?"

"I think the current mayor is a little too young," said Scott Jeffrey, a geriatric counselor. "Plus, too, he's a third-generation politician. ... I voted for DeSantis."

Again, turnout was tiny, with fewer than one-quarter of registered voters dropping by as of 5:30.

At the Market House on the South Side Flats, the DeSantis poll worker looked demoralized and was badly outnumbered. The Luke shirts were swarming in and out, Democratic slate cards were in abundance, and turnout was, of course, low, with 331 out of 1,220 registered voters having cast their votes by 6:00 p.m.

"I'm here to vote for a young professional who's leading this city in a great direction," said Chris Yanakos, a 29-year-old executive with an occupational health firm. He liked the fact that Mr. Ravenstahl was settling city workers' compensation claims, even though that might not be politically wise.

"I wasn't a big fan of how DeSantis set up his campaign," said another young professional, 24-year-old technology specialist Brian Bykowski. The Republican was "mudslinging" and "really had no issues on Ravenstahl."

Academic Advisor Adrian Gonzales, though, bought into the critiques of the mayor, and said the Homeland Security vehicle stories were the last straw. "I was tired of all of the ethical problems. I wanted to vote for DeSantis."

And architect Jennifer Jeffers said Mr. DeSantis' education, business and government experience, and debate performances swayed her.

"I have nothing against [the mayor]," she said. "I just don't think he's qualified to be mayor."

8:42 p.m.: With 200-some votes in, Luke Ravenstahl leads Mark DeSantis -- narrowly, 53 percent to 44 percent.

That's just one precinct, so take it with a shaker of salt.

8:30 p.m.: Welcome to Election Day Night (not to be confused with Election Day Eve). My name is Bill Toland, and it's a pleasure to be your cruise director for the evening. On our right is ace City Hall reporter Rich Lord. Across the cubicle are county development reporter Mark Belko and the Dean of Pennsylvania Politics himself, Jim O'Toole. It's like the Steelers 75th anniversary dream team here, without the athletic ability or loads of money.

The best part about Election Day, apart from communing in the great democratic blah blah blah, and going to the bar after hours, is the free pizza. It's something most non-reporters wouldn't understand, but truly, it's one of the high holy days on the journalistic calendar. Some editors (we won't name names) will stick around for hours past their traditional going-home time to grab a slice or five. Today's offerings at Pee-Gee headquarters: pepperoni, cheese, sausage, mushroom, pepper and onion, spinach, 30-some boxes in all. The pizzas are delivered precisely at 7 p.m., and if you're wondering what happens next, it's kind of like a hippo stampede. The reason we know what one looks like is because of the Discovery channel.

Some thoughts to make you feel terrible about not voting (and statistically, that's the majority of you):

Jane Auer: Voting is one of the few things where boycotting in protest clearly makes the problem worse rather than better.

John F. Kennedy: We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

Mohandas K. Gandhi: The spirit of democracy cannot be established in the midst of terrorism, whether governmental or popular.

H.L. Mencken: As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

Thomas Jefferson: A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.

Whoa, how did that one get in there?