Karen Heller: Of election tactics and odd smells

Come back, Mitt! Last week, the Republican presidential candidate returned to Pennsylvania for the first time since mid-July. Thanks for stopping by!

At a morning Union League fund-raiser, Romney said it would be a "shock" if Pennsylvania "actually did come our way." By the time he arrived at Valley Forge Military Academy, the former governor was feeling triumphant, promising, "We're going to take Pennsylvania." Clearly, Romney embraces change, in the span of an hour going from shock to awe.

President Obama's been equally elusive. He hasn't bothered visiting since early July. Instead, he sends surrogates, busloads of surrogates, actresses and local politicians, an airport lounge cover band equivalent of surrogates.

Four years ago, we were the swingingest swing state around. The candidates camped on our lawns and televisions. Oh, Barack, back so soon? But that door has long swung shut.

That's because the president leads by as much as 12 points in the polls. In Ohio, Fox News has Obama winning by 7 points, yet the candidates have basically moved to Toledo, spending roughly the GDP of several small nations on airtime there. Why, oh why, Ohio? Precedence. No Republican has ever lost Ohio and won the presidency.

Obama is charging ahead in Pennsylvania even while our voter-ID law, lovingly designed by state Republicans, continues to get diced, sliced, minced, parboiled, and macerated through the courts and the creative election stylings of Pennsylvania's secretary of state.

Recently, you may have received a card from the commonwealth with a photo of a driver's license that said in emphatically large type, "If you want to vote, show it."

Uh, isn't this the whole problem in a nutshell (or plastic-laminated card)? To confound and deter the old, poor, young, and disabled non-drivers, and, dare we add, Democrats of Pennsylvania who don't drive? (Well, at least lawfully.) The mailing's flip side lists other acceptable IDs but confusion and consistent bungling do seem the general leitmotif of the law's implementation.

A few years ago, a Harrisburg official described a politician as having "Fumo stink," the stench of associating with the incarcerated former state Senate powerhouse. At the time, I found it hard to think of a stronger aroma.

But, no. Now, along comes "Mumia stink." That's what robocalls funded by the National Republican Congressional Committee have sprayed on Bucks County Democrat Kathy Boockvar. They want to link cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal to the candidate, even though she was 13 at the time of his conviction.

"Tell her that's she too radical for Bucks County," the calls suggest, while an Internet ad asks "What's Kathy Boockvar's connection" to Abu-Jamal?

Well, nothing. She's never met him. She's never spoken with him. Her husband and law partner at the time once defended the murderer's literary agent during a protest in support of Abu-Jamal. On Thursday, the prosecutor equated the arrest to getting a parking ticket. Boockvar labeled the false claims "the atomic bomb of distraction." In this flimsy context, almost anyone who met anyone who knew someone who knew Abu-Jamal has Mumia stink.

Asked by The Inquirer's Jonathan Tamari whether these ads were fair or whether he would denounce them, Boockvar's Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick said, "I've read the legal documents. They're troubling. It's up to my opponent to provide the background on if it's accurate."

Now, I would argue, for such lousy equivocating and refusing to condemn gutter tactics, Fitzpatrick carries Mumia stink, too.

The Mumia claim comes after the Republican State Leadership Committee in Washington, not to be confused with the National Republican Congressional Committee, ran an ad suggesting Kathleen Kane, the Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania attorney general, was "soft" on plea deals for two rape cases she never handled.

The RSLC continued running the ad for three days even after it was condemned for its inaccuracy by both the father of one rape victim and Kane's former supervisor with the Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office. The nonpartisan website FactCheck.org, which reports the RSLC plan to spend more than $1 million against Kane, deemed the spot "one of the most blatantly false attack ads of the season."

Now an opposition researcher is trying to unseal court records in 93 juvenile rape cases that Kane handled as an assistant district attorney, the Philadelphia Daily News' Chris Brennan reported. It's unclear who is funding the work. On Friday, Kane asked her challenger, David Freed, who lags in all polls and who has been largely missing on the campaign trail, to condemn the ad and the attempt to open cases covered by confidentiality.

Any time you think we're making progress, remember that political operatives are sliming candidates by using a cop-killer convicted 30 years ago and violating the privacy of young rape victims.


Contact Karen Heller at 215-854-2586, kheller@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter at @kheller.