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Casey explains Blunt amendment vote

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Sen. Bob Casey has been distancing himself lately from the Obama administration on contraception, and today he took it a step further, joined just two other Democrats in supporting a GOP measure allowing employers to opt out of medical coverage against their moral beliefs.

The amendment from Missouri conservative Roy Blunt was only barely voted down, 51-48. Here's Casey statement on the vote:

"As I have made clear continuously, I strongly support contraceptives and have voted to provide funding for family planning but I also believe that religiously-affiliated institutions should not be forced by the government to violate their beliefs.  I appreciate the spirit of the Administration's announcement on contraceptives and the attempt to satisfy concerns on both sides of this issue, but it does not go far enough to ensure that this ruling doesn’t infringe upon religious liberties. I am hopeful that the Administration now recognizes the imperative of clarifying the rule to ensure that it protects religious liberties while making contraceptive insurance available."

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Ridge, Hart, others endorse Murphy

Published by Tim McNulty on .

The local GOP establishment is getting behind US Rep. Tim Murphy's reelection run, as national tea party groups and leaders have lined up behind his challenger Evan Feinberg in the 18th District primary.

Murphy's campaign today released a list of 30 Republican leaders endorsing him in the race, including former Gov. Tom Ridge, former congresswoman Melissa Hart, Allegheny Co GOP chair Jim Roddey, state Senate candidates Mark Mustio and D. Raja, and many others.

Feinberg responded:

"Murphy is releasing this list because of the groundswell of local and national support for my conservative message. It's unsurprising Murphy received the support of career politicians and former elected officials, but what's telling is the names not on the list, such as U.S. Senator Pat Toomey who refused to endorse an Arlen Specter Republican like Tim Murphy."

Full statement from the Murphy team after the jump:

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Daily Santorum: More women trouble

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Rick Santorum is in a tough spot.

The problems with women voters that supporters of Rick Santorum have long worried over indeed hurt him in Michigan, forcing him to consider whether changing his cultural war message, the WashPost writes:

Mitt Romney outperformed Santorum by large margins among women and men in Arizona, according to exit polls. But in Michigan, Santorum lost women to Romney by five percentage points, an edge that provided the former Massachusetts governor with his narrow margin there.

Although Santorum sought to spin the Michigan results as a tie, it is clear that the contest revealed a significant challenge for him. He has been outspoken about contraception, abortion and his wife’s decision to leave her career as a lawyer to home-school their seven children.

The campaign is pushing back about the cultural stuff being a media-driven caricature, and Tuesday night he was trying to concentrate more on his pro-manufacturing message. Columnist Roger Simon at Politico ain't buying it:

And I’ll bet you he wishes today that jobs actually had been his message. But it wasn’t.

Instead, his message was about Satan and how churches ought to be able to shape government policy and how people who wanted to send their kids to college were snobs.

And more. If you were out of work in Michigan and your unemployment benefits were about to run out, did you really want to hear Rick Santorum tell you how John F. Kennedy makes him want to “throw up”?

Because that would solve your problems, right? That would pay your mortgage and your car payments, right?

And his campaign's shoestring budget and limited organization is really hurting him, especially with 11 states in play next week. Santorum himself seems tired and his inability to get on the ballot in his (new home state of) Virginia will "cost him, big time," writes Larry Sabato at the UVa Center for Politics:

Because only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are on the Virginia ballot, Romney — who we expect to sweep the Old Dominion — starts off with a big lead on Super Tuesday courtesy of Virginia. That built-in advantage will make it exceedingly difficult for Santorum to finish the day with more delegates than Romney. In fact, we expect Romney to win more delegates on Super Tuesday than Rick Santorum, probably many more.

Sabato chart

The further problem? Santorum needs his social issues message to win. Sabato (see chart above) only projects Santorum to win Oklahoma and Tennessee next week due to evangelical support, and to lose crucial Ohio. He'll still pick up a good number of delegates though.

He's now fallen far back to second in Rasmussen's national GOP poll too.

Mitt Romney's been beating up Santorum as "an economic lightweight" and if/when Santorum tries to hit back with more criticisms of bailouts you can expect Romney to keep bringing up the steel bailout he mentioned at the Feb. 22 debate in Arizona. Santorum denied voting for a bailout, but FactCheck notes that is what the $400 million loan to steelmakers amounted to. Their study is worth reading in full here.

Graphic: UVa Center for Politics

Santorum's schedule below:

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"Stupid" elections move on

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Gov. Tom Corbett said it would be "stupid" to hold state House and Senate elections this year using 2001 lines, but Democrats and a Supreme Court majority are forcing that to happen.

The Democrats gained their latest legal victory last night when four justices (including the chief Ron Castille) used their King's Bench powers to force House Speaker Sam Smith to call special elections April 24 in six vacant House districts statewide that were due to move under the rejected 2011 reapportionment plan. Smith had been holding out, arguing state law allowed him to wait until another plan was approved, but the court ruled that would disenfranchise too many voters. (See the 9-page court decision here.)

Democratic lawyers -- including Pittsburgh's Cliff Levine, who won a big victory for the party in federal court -- say this should force the 2001 lines to stay in place through the next round of state elections in 2014.

In the short term, they say Smith should be free to issue a writ of election for the specials despite the fact that it is less than the normally required 60 days before the April 24 primary -- the ballots for many seats, including the 22nd District formerly held by Chelsa Wagner, are still in flux due to petition challenges and won't be settled for weeks anyway. (Challenges in the 22nd District race aren't scheduled until March 22.)

Justice Thomas Saylor filed a dissent (joined by Justices Eakin and Orie Melvin) saying the court's ruling were adding "much uncertainty" to this year's elections and Smith should be given discretion over his decision-making.

Five of the six empty seats could be taken by Democrats, notes PA Independent. PoliticsPA expects the Allegheny County Dem committee to again tap Marty Schmotzer of Baldwin as their interim nominee for the 22nd District seat.

Allegheny County exec Rich Fitzgerald and other Democratic county leaders had argued that holding the specials on primary day would save cash-strapped governments money, and he repeated that in a statement:

"I am relieved to hear that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ordered that special elections move forward. This decision will ensure that some citizens in Allegheny County are again represented in the PA House of Representatives. This decision will also protect the county from added costs to our budgets by allowing for the special election to be held at the same time as the primary, resulting in a smoother process and less confusion for voters.

"As I have said before, our constituents deserve, and our counties need, full representation in Harrisburg, especially during these difficult budget times. It is also important that their voices be heard in both the House and Senate and that our citizens have the ability to weigh in on decisions that will impact our communities and constituents."

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Capitol police bar disabled protesters

Published by Tim McNulty on .

From Angela Couloumbis at the Inquirer:

The relationship between advocates for the disabled and Gov. Corbett is nowhere near civil these days.

Earlier today, those advocates -- many of them in wheelchairs - were blocked during their rally in the Capitol over the administration's budget cuts from going anywhere near Corbett's 2nd floor office.

Capitol police erected a barricade in front of a bank of elevators on the side of the Capitol leading up to Corbett's office suite, and later also restricted access to the stairs leading up there. There are no other public elevators or stairs that lead to that area of the building.

Read the rest of the post here.