There were few surprises on Tuesday, April 24 as voters chose their party’s candidates for the November election. Typically, in this overwhelmingly Democratic city, local Democratic primary winners typically go on to win office in November.
Though the primary included a number of high offices, ranging from president and U.S. senator to state representative and attorney general, the vast majority of registered voters stayed home.
Turnout was recorded at 17.3 percent — almost exactly where it was in last spring’s primary.
“People weren’t too much concerned about the races going on,” said political consultant Maurice Floyd, noting that the national seats got all the attention, but with Rick Santorum’s withdrawal, the contest took on less urgency. “It just didn’t measure up in terms of generating a turnout.”
In low turnout elections, the support of a core bloc of dedicated voters is what delivers.
“The winners organized and they had a solid base going for them,” said Floyd.
As an example, he pointed to a much watched race – the 197th District – where J.P. Miranda won over Jewel Williams, the daughter of Sheriff Jewell Williams.
Miranda won 40 percent of the vote with 2,977 votes. That compared to 38 percent for Jewel, which translated to 2,519 votes.
“The ward leaders and the street organizers, they were able to outmaneuver and out-organize her,” he said.
Jewel’s campaign in the North Philadelphia district raised eyebrows because she seemed to rely largely on possible voter confusion between her and her father, who held the seat until January when he resigned to assume the post of sheriff. Jewel campaigned little. Her campaign office was reportedly empty most days.
Miranda had a history of political involvement. He worked for Council President Darrell Clarke and state Sen. Shirley Kitchen. In addition, in 2004 he worked for the John Kerry campaign. He also worked with the administration of Mayor Michael Nutter as it worked to help federal officials with the U.S. Census.
“I’m ecstatic,” Miranda said Wednesday. “North Philadelphia united against a lot of disgraceful acts by my opposition. People were very disgusted with some of things they were seeing.”
Miranda will now run against Steve Crum, the Republican, in the Nov. 6 election. Miranda is confident he’ll win.
“I’ve stayed on the pulse of the community,” he said, noting that his real focus will be on getting out the vote in November for himself, and for President Barack Obama.
In addition to choosing in the primary, voters in the 197th District had to select someone to serve for the remainder of Jewell’s term and decided on Gary Williams over former state senator and perennial candidate for mayor T. Milton Street.
From a party stand-point, perhaps the biggest was an upset was in race for state House in the 182nd Legislative District, which covers much of Center City. State Rep. Babette Josephs, who has held the seat since 1985 lost to newcomer Brian Sims, who will be the first openly gay member of the general assembly.
The vote was close, with Sims netting about 52 percent of the ballots to Josephs’ 48 percent.
Josephs was co-vice president of the city’s delegation in Harrisburg. She faced frequent challenges in recent years but managed to hang onto her seat.
That changed Tuesday evening.
According to preliminary results, Sims won with 3,661 votes. Josephs had 3,428.
“We set out from the very beginning to run the largest, cleanest, most involved campaign that we could,” Sims said in published reports. “We reached out to all four corners of this district for volunteers, for support, for help, and we were blessed to get it.”
Barring a write-in challenge from a Republican, which is extremely unlikely, Sims should take the seat in the fall.
That too was largely due to the loyalty of a bloc, Floyd said, noting that gay voters flocked to Sims rather than Josephs.
“They were the group that would normally put her over the top,” he said. “But, they basically went with the gay candidate.”
Another widely watched race was the 186th District, which was wide open, with three contenders seeking to fill the seat vacated by City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson.
Former Youth Commission won in a landslide victory – the widest margin seen in the city – with 76 percent of the district’s voters behind him.
“It’s just starting to sink in,” Harris said early Wednesday morning. “We put in a lot of hard work to get our message out to the community. The community has spoken loud and clear on the direction they want to go in. I’m just humbled and honored my community has that faith in me.”
With no Republican in the 186th race, Harris should sail through on Nov. 6.
Like Miranda, he said he plans on making sure voters hit the polls in November pushing the button for himself and for Obama.
Attorney Damon K. Roberts came in second with roughly 20 percent of the vote. He sought the seat before, and lost to Johnson. A third candidate, community activist Timothy Hannah came in third with about 5 percent of the vote.
Roberts’ biggest surprise of the evening was not his loss, but an incident that happened at around 10 p.m. at his Dickinson and South Broad streets headquarters. Roberts was forced to call police after he tried to pay staffers with checks rather than cash. When he ran out of checks, the crowd got ugly, and a melee started, forcing him to call police for his own protection.
He could not be reached for comment Wednesday. A police spokesperson said police arrived for a disturbance at 9:57 and remained on the scene until about 11 p.m. Poll volunteers were apparently promised $100 each, which Roberts was paying with the checks.
Voters in the 186th also participated in special election, choosing someone to fill out the remainder of Johnson’s term. They chose former state Rep. Harold James, who will return temporarily to his statehouse seat.
In most other races across the city, incumbents prevailed – including a contested three-person race in the Northwest section of the city where state Rep. Rosita Youngblood held on against Malik Boyd and Charisma Presley.
“People always underestimate Rosita,” Floyd said. “With her, there is not a lot of fanfare but she serves that district in a way that she’s entrenched.”
Youngblood got 47 percent of the vote compared to Presley’s 28 percent and Boyd’s 24 percent.
“Every time she’s run, she’s had a challenger or more - but ultimately she had been blessed again and again and again to come back and represent the people of the district,” said campaign spokeswoman Thera Martin-Milling.
In West Philadelphia, in a race that drew a lot of media attention and large political donations, challenger Fatimah Muhammad was still unable to beat incumbent Jim Roebuck.
“It didn’t matter,” Floyd said. “Roebuck has a solid core of supporters, and that’s what puts him over the top.”
Election results remain unofficial until the Pennsylvania State Department verifies them.
Philadelphians are giving less to President Barack Obama this time around than they did in 2008, according to new campaign finance reports filed with Federal Elections Commission.
According to new filings, Obama has collected $2.8 million from donors in Philadelphia zip codes. That’s far less than the $4 million he collected from the same area at a similar point during the 2008 campaign. In 2008, Obama ran against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primary, while he is unopposed this year for the Democratic nomination.
But, said one local political consultant, the numbers will rise when the president starts to campaign in the city and across the state.
“As we start to close in on the election, and he starts to put out the effort — I think that the fundraising will start to rise,” said Maurice Floyd.
He added that because of the historic nature of Obama’s 2008 campaign, it was difficult to compare donations this time around with those from the previous presidential campaign cycle.
“It may not hit where it hit last time, but if you look at those numbers, they were very incredible numbers,” he said.
By the completion of the 2008 campaign, Obama had collected $14.8 million from Pennsylvanians. That compared to $5.2 million for then-candidate Sen. John McCain.
It’s a trend that is being repeated — at this point — again.
In terms of donations to his campaign from within Pennsylvania, Obama has managed to stay ahead of Mitt Romney — they brought in $4.3 million and $3.2 million respectively.
The finance reports back up recent polling that shows Obama with a lead in three swing states, Pennsylvania among them. A Quinnipiac poll released last week showed Obama leading in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.
In Pennsylvania — where Democrats have carried the last five presidential elections — Obama leads Romney, 45 percent to 39 percent. He also enjoys a similar lead in Ohio, where numbers showed him with the support of 48 percent of voters to Romney’s 36 percent.
However, mirroring national trends, Republicans in the Keystone State have amassed a significantly larger war chest, which, in the wake of the Citizens’ United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that allows private groups and corporations to fund political ads, gives the GOP a formidable financial advantage. Republican fundraising was reported at $6.3 million for Romney and the party, compared to $4.3 million for Obama and the party.
The president was in the area last month on a fundraising trip, and Floyd was confident that Democrats from the city, region and state would open their wallets as Election Day nears.
“The tighter it gets and the closer it gets to the election, those resources will start to come in,” he said.
That doesn’t mean the president is poised to sweep Pennsylvania. The same Quinnipiac poll that gave Obama an edge showed that voters are evenly split on the question of who would do a better job on the economy.
Both candidates have been busy pitching their economic message to voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The president kicked off a two-state bus tour Thursday, visiting Ohio and western Pennsylvania with three stops in northern Ohio on Thursday, and a visit to Pittsburgh today. It’s his first bus tour of this campaign cycle, and comes close on the heels of a bus tour by Romney that made several stops in Pennsylvania last month.
At a national level, the Obama campaign has far more cash on hand than Romney.
However, when money from Republican political action groups is factored in, Romney has the cash advantage with $266.7 million given to the party and its allies. That compares to $255.2 million to Obama and Democratic PACs.
Again, Floyd. while acknowledging the president’s position, said he felt the Democrats would still be able to run an effective campaign.
“He’s still going to have what he needs,” Floyd said of Obama. “He’s not going to be lacking in any way from running a good, successful campaign for lack of money.”
Nationally, the largest share of Obama’s campaign donations – approximately $154.7 million, has come from donors giving less than $200. The reverse is true for Romney, with donors giving more than $1,000 contributing a larger share at $89.5 million.
Experts say the public should expect a more aggressive President Barack Obama in tonight’s presidential debate, as he works to recover from a widely panned performance in the first one and tries to reverse the gains made by Mitt Romney.
“He has to give a good performance tomorrow,” said political consultant Maurice Floyd. “There was just a big disappointment in his [first] performance.”
That Obama performed miserably in the first debate is one of the few things not up for debate – the president himself apologized to supporters after the Oct. 3 event.
“I think it’s fair to say I was just too polite,” he told radio host Tom Joyner last week, adding that he would not make the same mistake in the next debate. “We’re going to take it to him.”
How well Romney was served by his win remains less certain. He did see a slight increase in his poll numbers in the days following the debate, but as the second one approaches, that bounce appears to be receding.
Both men have two remaining chances to deliver their messages through debates before voters head to the polls on Nov. 6. The first is at 9 tonight. That will be followed by the final debate at 9 p.m. Oct. 22.
Each of the three politicos who spoke to the Tribune used the word aggressive to describe how Obama has to appear. But,he has to do it in a balanced way, all three agreed.
“Romney’s strategy was very calculated in the first debate, but in the second debate he’s going to have to be prepared for a more aggressive Obama,” said Vincent Thompson, owner of Thompson Mediaman Communications.
Inevitably, this meeting will be compared not just to the first presidential debate, but also to last week’s vice presidential debate in which Vice President Joe Biden flayed Paul Ryan in a way that cheered Democrats but evoked ridicule from many Republicans.
Obama has to be similarly aggressive, but must also be careful not to evoke comparisons to the “angry Black man” and possibly alienate wavering independents.
“That was part of the problem that he had in his last performance,” said Floyd. “He has to show that he is strong, but he has to be more presidential.”
During tonight’s debate and the next, both men will have to focus on wooing independents.
With the heavily partisan atmosphere of this election season, most voters – polls suggest – have already made up their minds. Most estimates indicate that roughly 7 to 9 percent of voters remain undecided.
“The central focus of this debate isn’t his base,” said Seitu Stephens, adjunct professor of political science at Cheyney University. “He has to convince independent voters that came out for him in 2008 that he’s still the correct pick for them.”
The format for this week’s event differs from the first one in that it is a town hall-style debate, meaning that the questions will come directly from the audience. That will change the candidates’ approach and interest as well.
“The questions are from actual voters so you’ll see the American public will be more focused on it than on the last presidential and the vice presidential debate,” Stephens said.
That may help Obama, who typically polls higher in likeability than Romney, added Thompson.
For undecideds, the final debate, coming so close to Election Day, will likely have the most influence, Stephens said.
“The third debate has more influence on independent voters and on who best riles up their constituencies,” he said.
Floyd and Thompson pointed out that for many voters who have already made up their minds, it will be political entertainment.
Thompson noted that in 32 states voters are already voting – Ohio and Florida, two crucial swing states, among them. That changes the dynamic on Election Day, as many votes will have already been cast, and highlights the importance of voter turnout.
Thompson had a few words of advice for the Obama campaign in terms of local turnout.
“My recommendation is to pay the street money,” he said. “They need to make sure that the party operations are galvanized and organized.”
It is something the Obama campaign declined to do in 2008. Failure to do so again – in the face of increased voter apathy – could change the results on Nov. 6, Thompson said.
“If you lose because he didn’t want to spend money … what’s the point?” he said.