Yesterday Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson, Jr. refused to suspend the pernicious Pennsylvania voter id law that could stop as many as 10% of the voters in the state from casting a ballot this November, handing a traditionally blue presidential state to Mitt Romney. Right now, President Obama's lead in Penn is not wide enought to outstrip the result of this disenfranchisement. A lot of what's going on in the Romney campaign looks like unhinged floundering, but I believe, coupled with attempts at voter suppression in Penn, Ohio, and Florida that it's part of a very real and calculated strategy.
Fire up the base. Suppress the vote. And steal it.
First off, I love Pennsylvania. I spend all week working in DC and living in a matchbox apartment in Maryland and when Friday rolls around, I cannot wait to get home to my real home in southern Pennsylvania. I live right down town in a wonderful old former "Rust Belt" city that's starting to find it's way in the new post industrial economy. It's a reliably blue urban small city floating in a sea of rural red. It seems like a great new small business is opening every week - it's the kind of place I like to call home and where I want to invest my money. I'm from Texas and as a 'transplant Yankee' - withholding all jokes about southern Penna being "Pennsyltucky" - the place just feels like home to me.
But Pennsylvania has a peculiar voting dichotomy. If you highlight the map with the voting breakdown by county, you'll see that in terms of geography it's largely a red state. What makes it blue is the massive population of voters found in the big cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh on either side of the state. If you take those two cities and their urban, reliably Democratic populations offline, then Pennsylvania becomes solid red. And it's precisely voters in those regions of the state that the new voter id law seeks to target.
For the latest news on the law and where it stands in the courts, please see this article from the Philadelphia Inquirer:
The law has now been sent to the State Supreme court which, because one of its justices is under investigation, now has a 3-3 split. A tie ruling would allow the law to stand. Here's the money quote:
Republicans pushed the law through the legislature with a party-line vote, and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) famously declared that the law would help GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney win the state. Democrats pounced on that, contending it proved the law was concocted for political reasons.I don't think it's conspiracy mongering to be genuinely concerned about voter suppression as a path to GOP power this year. As I have diaried in the past, half the nation has passed some form of voter ID law since 2008 and those laws target President Obama's base voters: urban liberals, African Americans, and Latinos. In addition, these laws also target a portion of the GOP's reliable base: the elderly. But with Paul "Kill Medicare" Ryan on the ticket, that voting bloc appears poised to swap to the Dems.
If the high court splits 3-3 on the issue, Simpson's ruling would remain intact. For the Supreme Court to settle the case, one justice would have to buck his or her party.
Observers are particularly focused on the role Chief Justice Ronald Castille, a Republican, could play.
Castille irked some Republicans when he delivered the majority opinion this year that threw out a plan by GOP lawmakers to redraw Pennsylvania's legislative map. His role in the voter ID case could burnish his party bona fides or burn them.
"We already had one political test case, and he was the swing vote," said G. Terry Madonna, who directs the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College.
It's with this knowledge in hand that we can begin to understand Mitt Romney's "unhinged" (the Obama campaign's words) campaign style. Romney insulted the NAACP as a dog whistle to racists, he insulted our European allies as a dog whistle to xenophobes and American exceptionalists, he's the most anti-immigration GOP presidential candidate in 20 years, he's embraced the extreme anti-women policies of the fringe of his party - in short, formerly "moderate" Romney has, in his own words, come out as a "severe conservative." Naming the darling of the Tea Party Paul Ryan to the ticket is merely the icing on the cake.
And everyone in the Beltway is asking the same question - WHY? Why is a candidate for national election working so hard to anger moderates and swing voters? Why is he appealing to fans of Ayn Rand instead of grandma's on Social Security? Why is he working so hard to widen his party's gender gap? Surely, they say, this is a losing strategy - by trying to appeal to the fringe of his party, he's handing Obama the election, right? RIGHT???
Under ordinary circumstance, that would be "right," but this year that's not the case. If you look at these actions as a part of a concerted strategy it all makes sense. Basically, the strategy is the mother of all "Hail Mary Passes" - but it very well could work. It goes like this: do everything you can to fire up your base while at the same time, by hook or by crook, suppress the other guy's base. Then you only have to rely on a squeaker win in a couple of counties in a couple of states to shift the whole nation your way. It allows you to target resources very narrowly, and for election officials in control of only a couple of pivotal precincts to have tremendous power in our admittedly very partisan, very divided country.
I bring this issue up because - with a few exceptions in the liberal media - this story is hovering at the fringes of the news. And, honestly, it's the most important story of this election cycle. I think it's pretty clear that the GOP is turning this into the ultimate base election - their strategy to this point makes perfect sense in that light.