By PA Independent Staff
HARRISBURG — Five days before voters go to the polls, all eyes in Pennsylvania are on the coming election.
Even as the campaign season comes to an end, Pennsylvania may see a dramatic shift in the final week. Mitt Romney’s campaign and several national Republican super PACs are throwing money into the Keystone State in the hope of scoring an upset.
Meanwhile, the anticipated outcome of the state races suggests that the Republicans will maintain control of the General Assembly, and the Democrats will snag all three row office seats: attorney general, auditor general and state treasurer.
Superstorm Sandy forced the state to alter its rules for absentee ballots, after strong winds and rain forced many county courthouses to be shuttered.
Typically, the official deadline to apply to vote absentee is 5 p.m. on the Tuesday before the election, with the deadline for ballots at 5 p.m. that Friday.
But those deadlines were changed for counties where the election board offices were closed this week due to Sandy.
The application deadline was extended by one day for every day the office was closed, as announced Tuesday. Voters in those counties have to turn in their ballots by 5 p.m. Monday.
Additionally, the state was working to ensure that all polling places had power restored by Election Day.
The group, a United Nations affiliate with a department devoted to ensuring fair election practices worldwide, has monitored U.S. elections in the past. Though the group has not said outright where it will deploy its 57 observers, Pennsylvania’s high-profile voter ID law could draw their attention.
Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman said Pennsylvania welcomes any interested parties to watch elections, but made it clear that local officials determine what they’ll be allowed to see.
“The person at the precinct can do what they think is proper,” Ruman said.
There are more than 9,300 polling places statewide.
The judge of elections could permit observers to stand quietly and watch, but they also could decide to block allow anyone inside the polling place if they thought it would interfere with the process, he said.
OSCE monitors elections worldwide for fair practices, including the U.S. presidential elections in 2004 and 2008, and the midterm elections in 2010. It started this year’s U.S. mission in early October.
The state House has 203 districts, but control of the chamber will be determined in only a handful of them.
Nearly half of the districts have one candidate on the ballot, and many others are essentially one-party districts thanks to demographics and years of creative mapping by state lawmakers, who want to secure as many seats as possible for their party.
Democrats suffered historic losses in 2010 that saw them fall from a slim majority to a 112-91 minority after the GOP picked up 15 state House seats. Their percentage of the House chamber was at the lowest level since the 1950s.
This year, they hope to start digging out from under that landslide by targeting state Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, and other first-term Republicans who won swing seats in Democratic-leaning districts two years ago, including state Reps. Joe Hackett, of Delaware County; and Warren Kampf and Dan Truitt, both of Chester County.
State Rep. Brendan Boyle, chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, said they can make some progress.
“I think we’re certainly going to have a net pickup of seats,” said Boyle, D-Philadelphia. “But certainly this is no wave election; this is a return to normal.”
But without an electoral wave, Democrats will have a hard time picking up more than a handful of seats and fall short of reclaiming the majority, said Terry Madonna, a pollster and professor of political science at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster.
“I don’t know how they get enough to take over. I don’t see that happening,” Madonna said.
Democrats have opportunity in state Senate
A combination of retirements and failed redistricting efforts give Democrats in the state Senate an opportunity this November that may not come around again.
And while they are unlikely to erase a 30-20 majority held by Republicans, this could be the beginning of a “four-year strategy” that Democrats hope will lift them back into the majority for the first time in more than 20 years.
Even gaining just two seats in the Senate would be an accomplishment for a caucus that has not held more than 21 seats at one time since the past century.
Republicans are mostly playing defense this cycle, but their state Senate candidates are reminding voters that the Senate played a key role in restoring funding to higher education after Gov. Tom Corbett called for a second consecutive year of cuts. They are also playing up GOP policies that made Pennsylvania more attractive to businesses, said Senate President Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, who also serves as chairman of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee.
Half of the state Senate is up for re-election every two years. This cycle, Republicans are defending 15 of their 30 seats, including four districts where the incumbent is leaving office. Democrats have 10 of their 20 members on the ballot and all are seeking re-election.
Republicans have five candidates facing no opposition, while Democrats have four candidates running unopposed.
When the state Supreme Court rejected Republican-drawn redistricting maps that would have shored up vulnerable Republican districts, it gave Democrats an opening they might never see again.
“It gave them a better opening than they would have had, no doubt about that,” said Chris Borick, a pollster and professor at Muhlenberg College.
New York mayor’s super PAC influencing hot race in PA.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is taking some time out from running his flooded city to get involved in the race for Pennsylvania attorney general.
Independence USA PAC, a super PAC connected to Bloomberg, the billionaire three-term mayor of America’s largest city, bought $250,000 in television advertising in the Philadelphia market this week to support Democratic attorney general candidate Kathleen Kane and, in turn, attack Dave Freed, Kane’s Republican opponent.
The ad cites Kane’s support for closing the so-called “Florida loophole” that allows guns purchased in that state — with its looser permit restrictions — to be brought into Pennsylvania.
“Too dangerous for a gun permit here? Go to Florida where the laws are looser and, voila, you’ve got a concealed gun permit that works here,” the ad says.
Tim Kelly, spokesman for Freed’s campaign, said Freed is honored to have the National Rifle Association’s endorsement and the support of gun owners.
“For the billionaire mayor of New York City to attempt to influence a critical race here in Pennsylvania — while in the process alienating voters who support Second Amendment rights — is simply astounding,” Kelly said.
John Morrow, Kane’s campaign spokesman, said Bloomberg is an independent supporting Republicans and Democrats, including Kane, “because she’s the only candidate in his race who will be an independent watchdog as attorney general.”
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