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Could ‘Scranton Joe’ Really Lose Swing State Pennsylvania?

When pollsters like Siena College and Emerson College want to take the temperature of voters in swing states, they inevitably stick a political thermometer in Pennsylvania. And as of late, those polls show “Scranton Joe” Biden trailing Donald Trump in the incumbent president’s home state.

Biden won Pennsylvania in 2020, and Democrats had strong showings here in 2022 and 2023. So, are Democrats really in danger of losing Pennsylvania in the 2024 White House race? Political pros say current polling is interesting — but not predictive.

“It can be somewhat dangerous to compare different polls that have different methodologies that were in the field at different times.” Republican political consultant Christopher Nicholas of Eagle Consulting Group told DVJournal. “That can get a little dicey…the usual disclaimers apply about polls being a year away, and Trump is looking like the presumptive nominee, but he’s not. No one has cast a vote yet.”

Fellow Republican political consultant Charlie Gerow of Quantum Communications agrees. He compared the early Biden-Trump polls to watching the stock market because “you never know what you’re going to get.” Gerow saw the polls as a “snapshot in time” and one that can’t be taken seriously until “you begin to see consistent patterns — which we’re not.”

If Republicans are urging caution, how do others feel?

“We have to be careful to not say that one poll is ‘the one,’” said Jeff Jubelirer of Bellevue Communications Group. He prefers looking at all data before deciding which candidate leads the race.

Recent polls in Pennsylvania show Trump leading by an average of a point and a half, according to RealClearPolitics. It is a significant swing from earlier this year when RCP found Biden leading by about four points.

There is still a feeling that voters appear desperate for candidates not named Biden or Trump. Both are deeply underwater with the electorate, though for different reasons. A Franklin & Marshall College poll found that 84 percent of Pennsylvania voters thought that Biden was too old for a second term.

Trump, on the other hand, is viewed as a “threat to democracy” by many independent voters who would like an alternative to the elderly Biden.

“People are dreading that being the choice again,” commented Nicholas, who compared the 2024 election to the 2016 election between Trump and Hillary Clinton. “It’s almost to the point of parody now: ‘Trump is the only Republican that Biden could beat’ and ‘Biden is the only Democrat that Trump could beat.’”

Why won’t both parties jettison Biden and Trump off the ballots? Fear, according to political strategists.

“[I]f all of sudden one of them went away, that party would become a surefire loser,” said Nicholas. “That’s how people view it now. Maybe it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Gerow is full steam ahead on the Trump train. “The people that don’t want Trump dislike him for other reasons other than his age and mental acuity,” Gerow said. “Let the chips fall where they will.”

Jubelirer said he believes Biden could be vulnerable if he had to run against a Republican not named “Trump.” He called the other candidates “very formidable,” with the exception of Chris Christie.

He’s not sure who the best Biden replacement might be. “Kamala Harris isn’t much more popular – if at all – than Joe Biden,” he told DVJournal. “I do think…[California Gov.] Gavin Newsom…could engender more support than Joe Biden.”

The only Democrats officially challenging Biden are Minnesota U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips and author Marianne Williamson. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. dropped out of the Democratic primary to launch an independent presidential campaign.

As for Newsom, accusations of running a shadow campaign against Biden have dogged the governor for most of 2023. He has made multiple foreign trips and visits to other U.S. states. However, Newsom hasn’t formally declared a presidential run.

A potential wild card is Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro. The extremely popular Democrat gave essentially a stump speech to New Hampshire Democrats in September, portraying his administration as a “get sh-t done” one.

That doesn’t mean that he should run for president in 2024. Nicholas quipped that “in [Shapiro’s] mind, it’s an inevitability.”

Jubelirer thinks it is too early for Shapiro to seek national office. “His name’s been out there a little, but the country doesn’t know him yet, except those of us who are in the know.” He thinks 2028 is a better time for Shapiro.

As for next year’s presidential election, voters may enjoy gobbling up poll numbers instead of doing research into more important areas.

“The public remains interested in the ‘horse race’ aspect of the election,” said Jubelirer. “Who’s winning? Who’s losing? It draws more interest than a candidate’s positions on issues and other angles.”

Casey Increasingly Breaking With Dems as Biden’s Approval Fades

Many Democrats in Washington are trying to present a unified front ahead of what is expected to be a bitter 2024 election season. 

Bob Casey apparently disagrees. 

The Pennsylvania senator is increasingly breaking with President Joe Biden, voting against legislation championed by the Democratic president in what analysts say is a bid to protect the vulnerable Senate seat next year. 

Casey has reason to be nervous. At present, the usually reliable swing state of Pennsylvania barely went for Biden in 2020, with the Democrat claiming victory there by less than 1.20 percentage points. Recent polling shows Biden and Trump virtually tied in the state, suggesting a possible shift in Trump’s favor for the state’s critical 20 electoral votes. 

Casey has historically enjoyed far more comfortable margins in his Senate races. He has won two of his three contests by double-digit margins and the other by nearly that much. Still, data show him breaking from mainline Democratic party-line votes increasingly as the year has gone on. 

A FiveThirtyEight analysis shows Casey voting nearly 20 percent less in favor of Biden-backed bills in the 118th Congress as compared to the 117th, having voted 98.5 percent with Biden in the latter and just 78.6 percent in the former. 

“While most Democratic senators still agree with Biden over 80 percent of the time, these declines are significant,” FiveThirtyEight’s Cooper Burton wrote. “As a whole, Democratic senators are voting Biden’s way 11 points less than in the last Congress.”

Jim McLaughlin, president of the strategy and consulting firm McLaughlin & Associates, pointed to a recent Quinnipiac poll in which Biden’s numbers, he said, were “horrible.”

“He had a 58 percent unfavorable rating and a 57 percent  disapproval rating, and among the all-important independents, 68 percent disapproved of President Biden,” McLaughlin said, “not to mention, Donald Trump was beating Biden in the presidential race.”   

“The failures and corruption of the Biden administration have turned Scranton Joe into Swampy Joe,” McLaughlin continued. 

“Casey is scared to death,” he said.

Casey’s seat is one Democrats cannot easily afford to lose. Republicans are just a few seats away from a majority in the Senate. Losses in Pennsylvania and other Democratic-vulnerable states, including Montana, Arizona, and West Virginia, could easily push control of that chamber to the GOP, dealing a serious blow to Biden’s legislative ambitions should he win again in 2024. 

The national GOP has taken note.

“From the southern border to crime to inflation, Bob Casey is out of step with Pennsylvania voters on every issue,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Philip Letsou. “Throwing inconsequential votes won’t be enough to cover up Bob Casey’s career of rubber-stamping Democrats’ agenda.”

Casey may very well cruise to re-election, nonetheless. A Franklin & Marshall poll in April showed him enjoying a healthy lead over potential GOP challenger Dave McCormick, 42 percent to 35 percent. 

Still, the weight of slumping Democratic numbers could take its toll on Casey’s prospects. In addition to Biden’s slumping approval rates, Casey’s fellow Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. John Fetterman is also seeing cratering opinions among voters. 

The Quinnipiac poll showed 50 percent of voters holding an unfavorable opinion of Fetterman, who, after being sworn in, spent a protracted in-patient stay in a hospital for treatment of depression and who has constantly struggled with basic speech and communication stemming from a stroke he suffered in 2022.

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Fetterman, Dean Endorse ‘Frivolous’ 14th Amendment Debt Ceiling Scheme

Montgomery County Rep. Madeleine Dean and Sen. John Fetterman are urging President Joe Biden to invoke the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and unilaterally raise America’s debt ceiling. It is a move many legal scholars dismiss as both unserious and unconstitutional.

As America’s national debt approached $32 trillion, a 1917 law requires Congress to increase the amount the federal government could borrow if it were to keep issuing debt. As has happened in the past, Congress — the GOP-controlled House in particular — wants to use the debt ceiling vote to leverage a deal on political policies they support. Republicans want spending reductions in future budgets and work requirements for able-bodied adults receiving some welfare benefits.

After weeks of insisting there would be no negotiations and demanding a “clean” debt-ceiling bill, Biden is negotiating with Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy. progressive Democrats like Dean and Fetterman are outraged. They want Biden to invoke the 14th Amendment and issue new debt without congressional approval.

The 14th Amendment says in part that “the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law … shall not be questioned.” Progressives have occasionally argued, without evidence, that this provision means the president has the power to raise the federal debt limit without consulting Congress.

Fetterman recently publicly urged Biden to utilize this theoretical measure amid stalled debt ceiling talks. It has never been attempted before and would doubtlessly be subject to considerable litigation and a likely rebuke by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This is the whole reason why the 14th Amendment exists, and we need to be prepared to use it,” Fetterman said. “We cannot let these reckless Republicans hold the economy hostage.”

Seemingly anticipating a negative Supreme Court reaction to the plan, Fetterman added. “And, if our unelected Supreme Court Justices try to block the use of the 14th amendment and blow up our economy, that’s on them.”

Dean, meanwhile, this month signed onto a letter from the Congressional Progressive Caucus urging Biden to “invoke the 14th Amendment of the Constitution” and “refuse to reward Republicans’ reckless refusal to raise the debt ceiling without preconditions.”

Neither Dean nor Fetterman responded to queries regarding their support of the plan. But one key opponent of their approach is Biden’s Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen.

“What I would say, it’s legally questionable whether or not that’s a viable strategy,” Yellen said.

The issue is so far out on the legal fringe many constitutional scholars queried by DVJournal declined to speculate on the proposal’s feasibility.

“Not my area of Con Law, unfortunately,” one wrote.

“Sorry – beyond my expertise!” said another.

“Sorry, don’t know. Good luck!” wrote a third.

One exception was Michael Dimino, a professor, and expert in constitutional law at the Widener University Commonwealth Law School in Harrisburg, who has very clear views on the matter.

“The Fourteenth Amendment gives the president no authority unilaterally to raise the debt ceiling,” he told DVJournal.

“All the amendment says is that debts (except those incurred by the rebellious states) are valid,” he said. “It says nothing about how they are to be paid, and it certainly gives no authority to the president to override Congress’s decision about when or how to pay debts.”

“I do not know of any particular situation where it’s been used to this effect,” he said. “It seems like an absolutely frivolous argument.”

Other experts have weighed on the matter, with different scholars coming down on different sides of the constitutional question.

Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at the George Washington University Law School, wrote during the 2011 debt fight that then-President Barack Obama stood a good chance of successfully using the 14th Amendment in such a way.

Rosen argued the Supreme Court would likely decline to hear the case at all, and the White House stood a chance of winning if it did.

“[T]he possibility of a lopsided victory should certainly embolden a constitutionally confident president to … throw down the gauntlet,” Rosen wrote.

On the same day, Rosen wrote those words, Dean of the UC Irvine School of Law Erwin Chemerinsky argued there was “no plausible way to read [the 14th Amendment] as providing the president the ability to increase the debt ceiling without congressional action.”

“The power of the purse — including the authority to tax, spend and borrow — is quintessentially legislative,” Chemerinsky wrote. “Not even a dire financial emergency would allow the president to take this over.”

The U.S. national debt on Tuesday stood at around $31 trillion, or about $250,000 per American taxpayer.

The only time since the nation’s founding when the debt balance was paid off was 1835 when President Andrew Jackson oversaw the successful termination of the national debt.

The government financed that achievement through land sales and tariffs.

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Law Enforcement Affronted by Thin Blue Line Flag Removal

In his years 55 years in law enforcement no one ever said they wanted to become a police officer to shoot someone, said Mike Chitwood.

Whenever he interviewed an applicant for the police force, he asked them why they want to be a police officer. Almost all said it was to help people, said Chitwood, the former Upper Darby police chief.

In a speech Monday for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President Joe Biden said, “We have to retrain cops. Why should you always shoot with deadly force? The cat is, if you need to use your weapon, you don’t have to do that.”

Chitwood defended the practice, saying it was necessary to shoot to kill an armed attacker for an officer’s protection.

All officers are trained to use deadly force, he said.

“If you need to defend your life or someone else’s, you use deadly force,” said Chitwood. Otherwise, officers are likely to be killed or seriously injured themselves. “You don’t try to shoot someone in the hand,” he said.

Biden’s remarks are the latest blow to law enforcement officers, who seem to be under siege across the country and in the Delaware Valley.

Last week, in Springfield Township, Montgomery County, the township commissioners voted to ban the thin blue line flag– which represents law enforcement protecting the community and honors fallen officers–from township premises, including not allowing any tattoos to be visible during work hours. Critics of the symbol say that some white supremacists have adopted it therefore it’s offensive.

However, the thin blue line American flag is a symbol used by the Springfield Police Benevolent Association (PBA), which twice voted to keep it after being approached by the commissioners and asked to change their logo.

Springfield BOC President James Lee did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. A lawyer representing the PBA also could not be reached, and the PBA did not respond to requests for comment.

Days later, the Los Angeles police chief also banned the thin blue line flag after just one person complained.

Tom Hogan, a former Chester County prosecutor, said, “There was a war on cops. It is mostly over. The other side won. It will take about a decade to begin to recover. Welcome back to the ‘70s.”

Frank Clayton, a retired Trenton detective, said on Facebook after the Springfield vote, “I am so offended…It will never end. They let the genie out of the bottle.”

The former Yeadon police chief, Anthony “Chachi” Paparo, said, “It’s a symbol of camaraderie amongst the police. It’s a cherished symbol amongst the police. It’s an identifier for us. At the end of the day, it’s sad. We’re losing humanity among ourselves. There‘s much more to be worried about than taking a flag away. We need to bring humanity back into our lives.”

Chitwood called the removal of the thin blue flag “a disgrace.”

“There is nothing racist about that flag,” Chitwood said. “It shows support for the police. Look at the number of officers shot, and (they’ve) got to cancel that flag? It’s an absolute disgrace.”

In the U.S., 229 officers died in the line of duty in 2022 and 669 in 2021, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. 

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