Chainsaws, Shining twins and income taxes

Published by Mike Pound on .

Andrew McGill Scarehouse bunny

What's scarier: Andrew McGill and the Scarehouse Bunny or a Tom Corbett ad about his opponent's plans to raise taxes?

While we'd urge you to take a look at Andrew's video series on some of the region's best haunted attractions, we'd also suggest that you track down the latest ad from the campaign of Mr. Corbett – after all, it won't be around after Halloween.

Tom Corbett: Scary Movie

What's new: A political ad with a smart, timely approach? That's definitely something new.

What's not: Outside of the horror film references, this is still a knock on what the Commonwealth Foundation thinks it knows about Mr. Wolf's income tax plan, specifically, as the ad says, that the Democratic gubernatorial candidate would have to more than double the income tax rate to pay for his proposals. At least we're no longer calling it a secret plan.

Bottom line: "Tom Wolf: His higher taxes are so frightening, it even scares people who scare people for a living."

Random things we noticed: The substance of "Scary Movie" isn't especially exciting, but it's at least been couched in an interesting way. And if you're not sold on the ad's contention, you can at least count the nods to horror films written into the spot; the obvious ones, even for non-horror fans, are "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "The Shining" and "Halloween." Also, with this ad we've finally found an appropriate use for all of the ominous music that usually shows up in these.

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Wolf winning the Facebook engagement battle

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Can Facebook be an accurate predictor of the behavior of voters? We'll find out soon.

Facebook has created a Midterms Elections dashboard that tracks not polling numbers but the engagement of pages – the number of likes and how many people are talking about a candidate -- run by candidates.

At the top of the dashboard's home page is a national map that tracks races for governor, U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, with each state shaded to show how it leans in terms of engagement. Click on a specific state and you'll see a similar breakdown by Congressional district.

The dashboard, which was launched today, is a measure of engagement only, and isn't intended to predict the outcome of the Nov. 4 elections, Facebook told Politico. But Tom Wolf probably hopes it does anyway; on Pennsylvania's page, the race between Mr. Wolf and Republican incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett leads the way.

Mr. Wolf enjoys double-digit leads in most polls leading up to Election Day and his lead in Facebook engagement is about as commanding. Mr. Wolf's page has more than double the likes of Mr. Corbett's campaign page, and 14,600 people are talking about – commenting, liking, or sharing posts, but not, as we'd hoped, the number of selfies – Mr. Wolf while about 11,500 are talking about Mr. Corbett.

Two of our local Congressional districts – the 14th, held by Democrat Mike Doyle and the 18th, held by Republican Tim Murphy – don't have contested races; two others, though, will be decided on Election Day, and it's worth taking a look at what FB's engagement numbers say about those races:

Third District: U.S. Rep Mike Kelly, a Republican from Butler, shouldn't have a difficult time fending off a challenge from Democrat Dan LaVallee of Cranberry; the race is rated in Kelly's favor, and Facebook engagement tells the same story. Mr. Kelly's election page has 4,600 likes – an increase of 6.2 percent over last week – compared with Mr. LaVallee's 1,500. Facebook also says there are 1,300 talking about Mr. Kelly while just 300 are talking about Mr. LaVallee.

Twelfth District: U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, the incumbent Republican from Sewickley, also is favored to beat his Democratic challenger, Erin McClelland of Lower Burrell. But in this case, the two measures of engagement included on Facebook's Pennsylvania dashboard are split. Mr. Rothfus has a huge advantage in page likes – nearly 12,000 versus Ms. McClelland's 2,300 – but nearly 500 people are talking about Ms. McClelland's candidacy, versus the 100 talking about Mr. Rothfus.

We're going to check back with the dashboard about a week before Election Day, to see if the engagement numbers for the governor's seat and those of the two aforementioned Congressional seats have changed. And just for fun, we'll take a look again after the dust has settled to see what we can ascertain about Facebook engagement and voting.

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3 things for a Tuesday

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Seamus McCafferyPennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery

UPDATED at 5:10 p.m. with comment from Jason Ortitay.

While you guys were watching Da Beard execute the slowest interception return ever, things – three of them, specifically – continued to roll in Harrisburg and beyond.

McCaffery suspended from state's high court. Perhaps the only thing surprising about the suspension, with pay, of Justice Seamus McCaffery from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the language used by Chief Justice Ronald Castille is describing the reasoning – in his mind, at least – behind the suspension. Justice McCaffery had been implicated in the scandal over sexually explicit emails that were passed around the office of the state attorney general when Gov. Tom Corbett held that post; he was also accused by Justice J. Michael Eakin of attempted blackmail in connection with the scandal. Those two points – with the added bonus of alleged involvement in a ticket-fixing scandal – prompted strong statements in the opinion of Justice Castille:

It is more than a lapse in judgment – it has caused unmitigated turmoil in the justice system and has indirectly cost several state prosecutors and high ranking state officials their public careers. At least several of those individuals have had the decency to resign, whereas the instigator of the pornographic emails still draws a taxpayer's salary.

Justice McCaffery responded through his attorney that he is confident that he would be cleared of any wrongdoing, although it should be noted that he's already admitted and apologized for his involvement with the email scandal. We could get an official resolution soon – the court's order gives the state Judicial Conduct Board 30 days to decide whether misconduct charges against Justice McCaffery are appropriate -- although not even that is likely to ease the tense relationship between Justices McCaffery and Castille.

Wolf releases tax forms. Since the start of the campaign, opponents of Democratic nominee for governor Tom Wolf have called for Mr. Wolf to release his tax forms for 2013. After seeking an extension in April, the Associated Press got a look at the two-page 1040 filed last week (Mr. Corbett released his 1040 in April). The details? Mr. Wolf reported adjusted gross income of $1.3 million, a salary from the Wolf Organization of $342,000 (he stopped drawing a salary from the family biz in the spring), $180,000 in taxable interest and – drum roll, please – a tax bill of $287,000.

Marcellus Shale blog questions candidate's residency: Be sure to take a look at this investigative piece at Marcellus Monitor, which dug up documents that suggest that Jason Ortitay, the Republican candidate running against state Rep. Jesse White, D-46, may not have met district residency requirements. Mr. White and Mr. Ortitay are in the midst of one of the nastier races for the state house, complete with attack ads and accusations of lying.

Reached late Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Ortitay said he grew up and continues to live in the district. He offered to produce his signed and notarized affidavit, swearing his residency.

"Unlike my opponent who has impersonated constituents for his own vindictive purposes, I respect the law and the rules. This area is my home, where I grew up and live. There is no residency issue; I live in the district," Mr. Ortitay said.

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New ads rehash 'secret' issues

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We're two weeks away from Election Eve – which should absolutely be a holiday on par with Christmas Eve– and The Battling Toms are lining up their best shots at each other – and emptying the wallets of their respective campaign funds. Two new ads hit YouTube – and, presumably, televisions near you – on Monday. Let's take a look at what each of The Toms want us to keep in mind as the campaign winds down.

Tom Wolf: Forward

What's new: Besides Mr. Wolf's shirt? Not much.

What's not: The Wolf campaign seems to have settled on three now-familiar themes: the $1 billion in cuts to education, rising property taxes and the state's lagging job-creation figures. The headlines and some of the clips are recycled and even the music – ominous at the start, switching to something more upbeat when Mr. Wolf explains what he'd do for the commonwealth – is familiar.

Bottom line: "After all – it's time to get Pennsylvania moving again."

Random things we noticed: This is intended to be a tidy synthesis of Mr. Wolf's campaign, something for us to chew on for the last two weeks before we cast our votes. It hits the things that, according to Mr. Wolf, Mr. Corbett hasn't done well, before touching on Mr. Wolf's goals of improving manufacturing, fixing the state's corporate tax structure and using a severance tax to fund education. As usual, accuracy is in the eye of the beholder; we've discussed the tricky accounting when it comes to discussions of the education cuts, and the job-creation rankings, while correct, have a lot to do with comparing our growth rate to that of much smaller states. And is this the right ad for this point in the campaign? With Mr. Corbett narrowing Mr. Wolf's lead in the polls, it's probably necessary for Mr. Wolf to continue poking at the governor, rather than stepping above the fray.

Tom Corbett: Radio Silence

What's new: Waitwaitwait – Mr. Wolf has a "secret plan" to raise income taxes? How come we haven't heard anything about this before?

What's not: OK, we were kidding about that last thing. No matter what this spot says about exposing Mr. Wolf's secret tax plans, Mr. Corbett has been trying to make Mr. Wolf's tax-reform plans – and his lack of specifics about them – an issue for weeks.

Bottom line: "The good news? We found out – before Election Day."

Random things we noticed: As an attention-grabber, this is a good spot. But Mr. Corbett has been asking Mr. Wolf about his plans for state income taxes for a while now. The issue was discussed -- at length – during all three debates. It's been mentioned in ads supporting Mr. Corbett before. So we're not sure the tack here – a "secret" plan that we were lucky to "expose" before the election – really works. In fact, the spot works against itself a little bit; as the narrator mentions the plan's alleged secrecy, we see a KDKA headline from June – as in, four months ago – about Mr. Wolf raising taxes. The narrator begins this spot by saying it's critical we pay attention; for anyone who has been paying attention, this ad is old news. But that's probably not who Mr. Corbett is trying to reach.

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Perry on Politics: A muddled future for the GOP

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Mitt Romney campaigns at a campaign stop in Ohio in 2012. (Block News Alliance)Mitt Romney waves at a campaign stop in Ohio in 2012. (Block News Alliance)

By James M. Perry

Political pundits seem to be flocking to the conclusion that Republicans will capture the Senate and make gains in the House on Nov. 4.

Given the political climate (heated and sometimes hysterical), they probably should win, even though they have done nothing to deserve such a result. First of all, Democrats running for Congress, House and Senate, are faced with the uncomfortable fact that Americans have lost confidence in President Obama, and millions of them now despise him. That means that a vote for a Republican, unappetizing as the candidate may be, is a vote against Mr. Obama. Second, of the 36 Senate seats being contested, 21 are held by Democrats and only 15 by Republicans.

Republicans need to pick up six seats to take control of the Senate. If that happens, they will control both the House and Senate and will continue to have the benign support of a majority on the Supreme Court.

But that's the bad news for Democrats. The good news is that the Republicans are almost certain to make an unholy mess of Mr. Obama's final two years, alienating millions, and leading up to a landmark election in 2016. Mr. Obama will be gone and the Democratic standard-bearer will be Hillary Rodham Clinton, vying to be the nation's first female president. The latest Washginton Post-ABC News poll said she is supported by 65 percent of the Democrats.

The Democrats in 2016 will have a ready-made candidate for President and fewer seats to defend in the Senate, all of it being played out against two years of utter chaos brought on by Republicans in Congress (Benghazi! Obamacare! Ebola!) seeking desperately to take the nation back to the Calvin Coolidge era.

The GOP's biggest problem is they don't have a viable candidate for President anywhere in sight.

In the same poll that put Ms. Clinton ahead among Democrats, the front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2016 is -- ready? -- Mitt Romney, favored by 21 per cent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Second place, with 11 per cent, went to Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida (1999-2007). The rest of the field barely registers. Bunched together between 8 and 6 percent are Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Ben Carson, a conservative neurosurgeon, and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.

Mr. Romney's wife, Ann, says her husband is "done, done, done" with Presidential politics, and a somewhat lethargic Jeb Bush acts as if he believes two Bushes in the White House was enough.

So, even if the Republicans win the Senate on Nov. 4, there's always 2016. Wait until the year after next might work as their slogan.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, contributes regular observations to Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.

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