Obama campaign ready to battle in Pennsylvania
Vice President Joe Biden works the St. Patrick's Day crowd, as well as his Secret Service contingent.
President Barack Obama drinks a Guinness Saturday with his ancestral cousin from Moneygall, Ireland, Henry Healy, center, and the owner of a pub there, Ollie Hayes, at The Dubliner Restaurant and Pub in Washington on St. Patrick's Day.
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So that's why they call it running for office.
Vice President Joe Biden jogged back and forth Saturday from curb to opposite curb, Downtown, shaking hands, hoisting babies and high-fiving his way along the route of the St. Patrick's Day Parade.
Revelers, packed six and seven deep, cheered as he pinballed from one side of the street to the other along Grant. At one point, as the parade turned onto the Boulevard of the Allies, he broke into a run, testing the stamina of his Secret Service contingent and leaving Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who had started the march with him, far in his wake.
The Republican presidential candidates will be in Pennsylvania soon enough.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks in Harrisburg next week. He and his remaining rivals will spend more time in the state in the next month as its April 24 primary approaches. But Mr. Biden's parade appearance was a vivid reminder that the Obama campaign is already here. In a sense, it never left.
As bagpipers skirled "Maury's Wedding," Mr. Biden began his high energy tour of the Golden Triangle outside the U.S. Courthouse. The re-election campaign that his visit highlighted was already well under way.
Mr. Biden greeted a crowd of Obama campaign activists as he passed Sixth Avenue. They crowded behind him, many carrying signs extolling the health care law whose first anniversary is approaching. As the march approached Smithfield Street, some boos began to mix with cheers, as the vice president encountered celebrants who were more politically outspoken, or simply overserved -- or both.
Mr. Biden saw more specific political messages near the parade reviewing stand at Stanwix Street. There, several demonstrators held signs protesting the planned closing of the 911th Airlift Wing in Moon. He came over to greet the 911 partisans.
"He just said, 'We're working on it,'" reported Peggy Teets, of New Sewickley, who works at the base.
Mr. Biden got another plea for the 911th's preservation shortly after he landed, as Sen. Bob Casey, according to his office, met him to restate his objections to the planned closing.
Earlier in the parade, as he was working the crowd pressed together on one side of the street, Bishop David Zubik greeted people on the opposite side. Bishop Zubik is one of the Pennsylvania prelates who have called for a day of prayer to protest the Obama administration's regulation requiring most employers, though not churches themselves, to provide contraceptive coverage in medical insurance.
Asked if he had any message for the vice president, Bishop Zubik passed up the chance to send a political message.
"Just grateful that he's here," he said.
Among those joining Mr. Biden on the reviewing stand later were Ambassador Dan Rooney and Gov. Tom Corbett, both veterans of the annual mix of ethnic pride, politics and partying.
After the parade, Mr. Biden attended the afternoon Syracuse-Kansas State NCAA tournament game at Consol Energy Center.
Four years ago Secretary of State and then Sen. Hillary Clinton was a political star of Pittsburgh's celebration of all things green. That visit was part of a campaign that brought Ms. Clinton a big victory in the Pennsylvania primary before she finally fell short in an epic nomination battle against then Sen. Barack Obama.
After Mr. Obama's general election victory, Democrats tried to preserve the core of his vaunted grassroots organization. Obama for America became Organizing for America, switching its sights from campaigning to the president's legislative agenda. Since the president's formal announcement last year that he was seeking re-election, the grassroots focus has shifted back to campaigning.
Thursday night, scores of Obama partisans filled a Strip District storefront, the campaign's Pittsburgh office, to watch the premiere of the Tom Hanks-narrated video commissioned by the campaign to argue for the president's re-election. Afterward, many of the Democratic activists lingered there, returning to the prosaic work of phone banking and voter outreach.
Sybil Thompson of Stanton Heights, retired from a career at the R.R. Donnelley publishing company, said she volunteers at the headquarters two or three days a week. The work is familiar. She was a volunteer in the campaign's East Liberty office in 2008.
"For myself, being an African-American, I was thrilled to see President Obama have the opportunity to serve," she said. "I think he has accomplished so many different things. He deserves a second term."
Hillary Darville, a 2011 Penn State graduate, said she left a job at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC to devote more hours to her volunteering.
She worked for the campaign on the State College campus the last time around. Her enthusiasm hasn't waned, but she acknowledges that for some of the voters she contacts, it's a challenge to rekindle the excitement of the 2008 campaign.
"The one thing I tell people who are discouraged is it takes a lot to get things accomplished ... he deserves a second term to accomplish his agenda."
The Pittsburgh office is one of 12 the Democratic campaign has opened across the state. So far, there are three offices in Philadelphia, two more in its crucial suburbs, and other offices in Allentown, Scranton, Harrisburg, State College, Johnstown and Erie. While the remaining GOP contenders are concentrating on one another, those offices are concentrating on the labor-intensive work of identifying voters and making one-on-one pitches to potential supporters. It's the low-tech end of a state-of-the-campaign-art operation that captures the information gleaned from such contacts as grist for sophisticated computer classification of their potential supporters.
One immediate goal of the effort, as the anniversary of the signing of the federal health care law approaches, is to focus phone banking, house parties and other outreach on education and promotion of the benefits of the controversial law, preparing the ground for the president's re-election argument. That effort was visible at the parade as Mr. Biden greeted the activists carrying signs extolling the measure.
Pennsylvania was one of the swing states targeted in a mass-mailing barrage last week that talked up the benefits of the law to female voters. In Pennsylvania and other states, the campaign has spotlighted "Nurses for Obama" campaigns with health professionals talking up the benefits of the law.
It's a head start the Obama campaign has asserted in states across the country. In December, as the GOP contenders crisscrossed Iowa, Democrats boasted that they had already established eight offices in the state -- more than for all of the current and past Republican contenders combined in the Hawkeye State.
The Democrats' logistical advantage relative to the preoccupied Republican contenders is clear. How lasting it will be, in a post-Citizens United era, with unfettered spending by outside groups, is less certain. American Crossroads, affiliated with former Bush adviser Karl Rove, has already aired one anti-Obama commercial in the state.
"Pennsylvania is certainly shaping up to be a key battleground state," said Jonathon Collegio, chief spokesman for American Crossroads. "Groups like Crossroads, party committees will be intently focused there. ... It's too early to talk about exact dollar commitment that Crossroads will have in Pennsylvania, but at this time I can say it will be significant."
Robert Gleason, the state Republican chairman, said of his opposition, "We see people already deploying, particularly in the Philadelphia area."
But he professed to be unconcerned with the early efforts.
"The average joe is not paying any attention to presidential politics right now," he said. "The real interest comes in October. So, I'm not a bit concerned about it, but we do expect a hell of a battle. We're down by a million [in voter registration.]"
A big part of the reason for the size of that GOP registration deficit is the efforts OFA made prior to the 2008 election. But the 2010 election demonstrated the limits of organization against an overwhelming political tide. In Pennsylvania and other states, OFA mounted a months-long campaign of grassroots preparation for that cycle of congressional elections. But in a state that Mr. Obama won in a landslide, the GOP captured the governor's mansion, a Senate seat, and switched five U.S. House seats to their column.
OFA and other Democratic groups made thousands of phone calls and voter contacts before those contests but couldn't head off the Republican sweep.
Since the president's re-election campaign began last year, by OFA's count, its volunteers and staffers have made more than a half-million phone calls to voters. The group planned a renewed voter registration push amid Saturday's St. Patrick's Day revelry.
In Pennsylvania, the numbers for the president have begun to rebound, although they still don't approach the soaring levels of 2008. Public Policy Polling, an independent but Democratic-leaning firm, reported last week that the president had an approval rating of 47 percent in the state, better than in any of the firm's Pennsylvania polls through the previous year.
That rating was well ahead of the approval ratings for any of the GOP presidential contenders. In trial heats in the survey, the president topped Mitt Romney, 49 to 42 percent; his margin over Rick Santorum, however, was only 48 to 46 percent.
The female voters targeted by Democrats in the recent mailings formed a pillar of his early advantage.
According to the polling firm, in a matchup with Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama was essentially tied among men, but carried female voters, by a margin of 50 to 38 percent. Men favored Mr. Santorum 49 to 46 percent, but Pennsylvania women favored the president over the former Pennsylvania senator, 50 to 43 percent.
While both Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly favored the presidential contenders of their own party, the president's stronger showing in the state was based in part on a shift in his approval ratings among independent voters.
In an Obama-Romney matchup, independents favored the president by 51 to 38 percent; against Santorum, independents favored the incumbent, 52 to 44 percent.
Another poll last week, conducted by Quinnipiac University, yielded similar numbers for presidential trial heats: Mr. Obama ran well ahead of Mr. Romney, 46 to 40 percent, but essentially tied Mr. Santorum: with 45 percent to the former senator's 44 percent.
First Published March 18, 2012 12:00 am