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A rough week for Pa GOP

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Pennsylvania Republicans are probably happy this week is over.

In a week already marked by the GOP-led House being forced back to work by a budget screwup, questions about Gov. Tom Corbett's future, and another shuffle in the top levels of his office, the state party's chairman is trying to explain his assertion that the state's voter ID law "helped a bit" in cutting Barack Obama's winning margin in half last year.

What Gleason meant -- his spokeswoman told PoliticsPa -- is the heightened debate about voter fraud acted as a deterrant on illegal voters. They stayed home even though the law wasn't in effect last November, she argued, which depressed the Pennsylvania vote for Obama.

"[T]he debate in the state legislature, news coverage and public information campaign could have an impact on [voter turnout] the same as other issues do," spokeswoman Valerie Caras told PoliticsPA's Keegan Gibson.

Gleason took it a step further in comments to his hometown Johnstown TV station WJAC, highlighted by the liberal site Talking Points Memo: "It frightened a lot of people and when people are frightened about an election, they don't vote," he said.

Usually, voter ID supporters argue (like they did in court this week) that the law will not keep significant numbers of voters from the polls. And besides -- as Nate Cohn writes in the New Republic -- Gleason was also wrong: Obama's numbers were up in over 2008 in Philadelphia, and dwindled statewide probably due to waning support among conservative Dems out this way.

A state appellate judge suspended enforcement of the state's strict new voter ID regulations for both elections last year, and the challengers took the law back to the court Monday in a new effort to declare it unconstitutional. In advance of the trial, state attorneys defending the law (including those working for Democrat Kathleen Kane) stipulated that they knew of no evidence of in-person voter fraud occuring in either election last year.

Here's what Gleason originally said in an interview on the state's public affairs channel PCN, in response to a question about whether publicity about the law affected the presiential election anyway:

"Yeah, I think a little bit. I think we probably had a better election. Think about this: We cut Obama by 5 percent, which was big. A lot of people lost sight of that. He won, he beat McCain by 10 percent -- he only beat Romney by 5 percent. I think that probably Voter ID had helped a bit in that."

Those comments spurred outrage by liberal MSNBC commenter Rachel Maddow and others, spurring the explanations from the GOP team.

At the same time, Pa Dems baited at least one Republican leader into confirming Thursday that the party is against gay marriage.

It's no secret that some conservatives in the GOP are stridently in favor of the state's Defense of Marriage Act, which is now subject to its own legal challenge, but with polls trending in favor of LGBT rights the party's leaders had been largely silent, instead focusing on AG Kane's refusal to defend the state act. But then the Democrats' press office sent a blast email to party and conservative leaders around the state (blind cc'd to political reporters) challenging them to clearly state a position, which they eventually did:

"Let me be clear: the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, as stated clearly in our platform, supports traditional marriage," Pa GOP executive director Bob Bozzuto said in one of the exchanges.

Wrote Chris Brennan at the Philly Daily News: "The Pennsylvania Democratic Party successfully trolled state Republican Party executive director Bob Bozzuto yesterday."

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