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P-G reporter lends a hand to new Obama biography

Published by Tracie Mauriello on .

Maraniss bookThere’s a touch of Pittsburgh in the new Obama biography released today.

As a research assistant for the David Maraniss book “Barack Obama: The Story,” former Post-Gazette reporter Gabrielle Banks secured more than 100 interviews and assisted with fact-checking over the last year.

She says it was “enthralling to work for a talented historical author on such a meaningful topic.”

Back at ya, Gaby.  Mr. Maraniss returned the praise on the acknowledgements page of the biography in which he calls her an extraordinary journalist.

“Gabrielle was tireless and skillful in finding people and gathering information from interview subjects and documents, unfailingly enthusiastic in our shared mission to figure out Barack Obama and his family, and invariably precise in her editing and fact-checking,” Mr. Maraniss wrote.

Gabrielle covered courts and criminal justice for the Post-Gazette from 2005 to 2010 and still freelances for the paper on occasion from her home in Los Angeles. She also is helping to research, edit and fact-check a book on the history of the Writers Guild of America.

She is in D.C. today to commemorate the Obama book’s launch during a celebration at the Washington Post, where Mr. Maraniss is an associate editor.

The 643-page biography delves deep into the president’s ancestry in Kenya and Hawaii. Mr. Obama himself doesn’t emerge as a character until the seventh chapter, long after readers have learned about his grandparents and grandparents.

The cover price is $32.50 but Amazon lists the hardcover at $18 and Barnes & Noble, $17. Electronic editions are a bit less.

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More on labor ground game

Published by Tim McNulty on .

As we know, both the AFL-CIO and the SEIU are targeting Pennsylvania for voter education/GOTV efforts this presidential year, while promising a load of grassroots work to counter-balance higher-spending SuperPACs and nonprofits attacking Democrats on the airwaves. Real Clear Politics has a nice story on the state of such organizing these days from an AFL source:

Instead of paying for ads, labor would like to organize people in the same social networks as potential new voters and get them to explain and rebut the content of attack ads. Recent experiments suggest that friend-to-friend conversations about negative information in political advertising increased skepticism by 20 to 30 points (compared with a control group that saw ads on TV, did not talk to friends and accepted the information at face value).

"We're working harder to get it up to scale," the source said. The technique, with trained activists, can work via personal contact as well as with Facebook, Twitter, email or other outreach to potential voters from people they know.

Politico also looks at labor targeting the midwest rust belt:

Labor's efforts on the ground in the critical swing states aim to buoy President Barack Obama and other down-ballot Democrats. But big losses could open the floodgates to Wisconsin-style union reforms in other states and further undercut Big Labor's power in a region it has long dominated. It could also impair Obama's reelection chances and boost presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney's prospects.

"This is a place that is a bellwether for all of our country," said Seth Rosen, vice president of the Communication Workers of America's District 4, which represents workers in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. "Other places are red states or blue states. These are purple states."

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Casey votes for EPA clean air rules

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Five Democrats crossed party lines to vote for a failed resolution seeking to roll back EPA clean air rules on coal-fired power plants, but Bob Casey was not one of them.

Casey voted against the measure by conservative U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, trying to block the EPA's Mercury and Air Toxic Standards rules, which opponents claim is part of a "war on coal" by the Obama administration. Supporters say the rules are necessary to combat mercury emissions that studies show are harmful to children.

Inhofe has made much of Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia supporting the rollback, who has called out the EPA for having a "job-killing agenda."

Casey's GOP opponent Tom Smith (a former coal company owner) blasted him for not supporting the measure. From the Smith campaign:

"I applaud Sen. Inhofe and his colleagues who supported the measure. Unfortunately for Pennsylvania and America as a whole that group did not include Sen. Bob Casey," said U.S. Senate candidate Tom Smith. "As the owner of several coal mining companies, I was on the receiving end of President Obama and Senator Casey's costly, job-killing regulations. I saw firsthand the damage that an out-of-control government can do to an American economy struggling to create jobs. The President's EPA has clearly declared a war on coal - an industry crucial to our economy and Sen. Casey has done nothing to support the energy industry and the Pennsylvania jobs it creates."

Even in West Virginia the vote was split, though. Sen. Jay Rockefeller today blasted EPA critics and the coal industry for scare tactics and ignoring science, notes Ry Rivard at the Charleston Daily Mail, just as coal supporter Robert Byrd did in 2009 before his death the following year. And a look at the roll call shows senators in fellow rust belt states Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio also broke on the measure along party lines (Sen. Toomney voted in support.)

Casey, of Scranton, is from anthracite coal country and released this statement on his vote:

"It is critical to continue to grow this economy and ease regulatory burdens whenever possible; it is also important that we do not do so at the expense of the health and safety of our children. Pennsylvanians know better than most the importance of balancing the economic benefits of coal with the safety of our communities. I voted against this resolution after talking to my constituents and after careful consideration in the best interest of the Commonwealth. I will continue to work to ensure that we strike an appropriate balance and that implementation of the rule protects the interests of Pennsylvania companies as well as its communities."

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Critz poll claims 10 point lead

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Internal poll results from Democratic incumbent Mark Critz's campaign shows his up 10 points over GOP rival Keith Rothfus, with a fifth of voters undecided.

It shows Critz up 46-36% in the PA12 congressional race. Almost 60% have an opinion of Critz and 21% have one of Rothfus, suggesting Critz will be working hard to define his opponent (via negative ads) before he can define himself.

UPDATE: From Rothfus spox Jonathan Raso:

"For an incumbent Congressman coming off an extremely high-profile primary and running against an unknown citizen-candidate, to be under 50% and have only a ten point margin in his own poll spells doom for the current liberal Congressman from Johnstown. As voters continue to learn of the liberal record of Congressman Critz and continue to feel the resulting pain of 40 straight months of over 8% unemployment, the contrasting vision of putting people back to work that Keith Rothfus has will close the margin rather quickly, and Congressman Critz won't be able to salvage his failing political career."

Poll memo below:

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Another set of budget two-a-days

Published by Laura Olson on .

The first round of state budget talks for today has wrapped up, and temperatures appear to be cooler -- and optimism higher -- this morning compared to yesterday evening.

"We do not have an agreement yet" on a spending figure, "but we're very, very close," said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi as he exited the governor's office suite. "We're getting much closer to a framework for a general fund budget."

Gov. Tom Corbett offered the gaggle of reporters a similar sentiment: "I would like to see us at least have a number of the budget, for revenues, by the end of the day. There will be discussions after that obviously, but I think we're getting closer."

Top Republican lawmakers and the governor's staff will be meeting again around 12:30 p.m., after using the break to do some internal number-crunching.

One related issue where negotiators appear to be nearing consensus is on a new approach for special-education and charter school funding. Sen. Pat Browne, who has sponsored a bill to create a special-education funding commission, said the House will be considering whether to include a provision that would create another commission to review overall funding to charter schools and cyber-charters.

Those two commissions could be created within his bill, while the other education reform items circulating in discussions -- such as the overhaul to teacher evaluations that the governor has sought and other charter-school reforms -- could still find a home in the education code that must be passed with the state budget.

"From my standpoint, the special education component, both within the basic education system and charter system is broken and it has been for some time, so focusing on that in and of itself is of tremendous value," Browne said. "Hopefully we get it done."