Shhh… It’s Pennsylvania

Lot’s of craziness popping up all over the place. Howard Dean dumps the 50 state strategy for the 48 state strategy – trading Florida for Utah and Michigan for Wyoming. Sex and hypocrisy emerge in the precincts of Albany. Obama is dealing the race card again in Mississippi.

We’ll keep our eyes, not on the distractions in the side rings (entertaining as they are), but on the main show: Pennsylvania. Phone calls, donations, campaigning – Pennsylvania:

Even the Easter Bunny has given a thumbs-up endorsement of the Democratic presidential candidate.

Clinton will speak at Scranton High School at 6 p.m. today, making the city her first Pennsylvania campaign stop. The senator’s family – the Rodhams – settled in Scranton more than 100 years ago and the former first lady was baptized in Scranton.

A source close to the Clinton campaign said the senator will visit her family’s old neighborhood near Weston Field either prior to, or after her speech. The source said Clinton will go door-to-door in the neighborhood along Diamond Avenue. The Secret Service has issued an order to have Scranton City police clear the area for the senator’s visit, the source said. [snip]

Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty will serve as master of ceremonies at today’s program. The mayor said he is proud to have his city selected as Clinton’s first Pennsylvania campaign stop.

“Of course we’re very proud to have her here and have our city be the focus of the nation,” Doherty said. “But beyond that, this is a rare opportunity for any city or region to have a presidential candidate that knows your area intimately. She knows the city and its streets. She knows the Hill section and Nay Aug Park. This is not a fake relationship; it’s the real deal.”

Doherty said Clinton was baptized in the Court Street Methodist Church, the same church her father was buried from and her niece was recently baptized there. The mayor said Hillary and her brothers – Hugh and Tony – still own the family home at Lake Winola.

“She’s one of our own,” Doherty said.

At the Steamtown Mall, shoppers were eager to talk about Clinton’s visit and her candidacy.

“I like her; she’s a smart woman,” said Eliza Burke, of Nanticoke, who was shopping with her husband, Joe. “I like (Barack) Obama too, but Hillary has more experience.”

The Burkes said they go to a lot of political events, like debates, and feel more people – especially younger voters – should get involved with the process.

“I think it’s time for a change,” said Joe Burke. “We always vote for who we think is the best person for the job and we think it’s Hillary.”

The Burkes’ granddaughter was visiting with the Easter Bunny, who gave Clinton a thumbs-up endorsement.

“I’m glad she’s coming here,” said John Marko, of Nanticoke. “I really think she will make an excellent president. She’s the most qualified candidate.”

Most of the people walking the mall thought Clinton’s visit was great news for the area.

“It’s great,” said Susan Griffiths, of Clarks Summit. “I feel comfortable with her. With so much unsettled in the world, I think with her knowledge she will be a great leader for the country.”

For the next several days, or weeks, expect Big Media to erase Hillary from broadcasts. We won’t be distracted. Phone calls, donations, campaiging – Pennsylvania.

When Mrs. Clinton comes to Pennsylvania on Monday, her first visit to the state after winning Ohio and Texas last week, her first stop will be Scranton, where her familial ties extend deeper than they do in Park Ridge, Ill., the Chicago suburb where she grew up. Look for the image shapers to link the values of this gritty region — where her grandfather, descended from Welsh coal miners, raised his family — to her character and especially her perseverance.

“She’s tough,” Christopher Doherty, Scranton’s mayor, said in an interview. “That’s a real Scranton trait. That’s an anthracite trait.” [snip]

The region is a major Democratic stronghold. Ed Mitchell, a Democratic consultant in nearby Wilkes-Barre, said it is central to the Clinton strategy for winning the state. “They need a big, big turnout here to offset the turnout for Obama in Philly and the upscale suburbs,” Mr. Mitchell said.

He said that even if Mrs. Clinton did not have local ties, the region would probably vote for her because its demographics closely match those of voters in other states who have supported her: white, female, over 50, Catholic, blue collar and on the lower end of the scales measuring education and affluence. Polling suggests that those voters favor her in part because of her goal of providing universal health care, her blueprint for the economy and the better economy during Bill Clinton’s administration.

Her supporters here hope that her local roots will help her do something she rarely does on the stump: connect the dots between those policies and her life.

The Clintons, who highlighted their connection to Pennsylvania only glancingly when Mr. Clinton was running for president, have been regular visitors here. During the eight years of the Clinton presidency, they gave 10,000 tickets to local residents for VIP tours of the White House, 1,000 tickets to Easter egg rolls on the White House lawn and 1,000 tickets to their two inaugural balls in 1992 and 1996, according to Jamie Brazil, 48, a longtime family friend and political consultant who owns a local ski resort.

Mrs. Clinton’s brothers, Hugh and Tony, return often to their grandfather’s lake cabin (with Tony becoming involved in a skirmish a few years ago that drew local headlines). A few days ago, Hugh Rodham held a reception here for Clinton volunteers.

Mayor Doherty is among those fired up by the possibility of having a president who “knows the difference between Bulls Head and Weston Field,” he said. “And the Rodhams embrace Scranton. It’s part of who they are.”

He added: “People here, we don’t live by home runs, we live by singles. And we take it day to day. We watch our pocketbook. We care about small-town things.” He said people know each other going back three generations; Mr. Corbett said they are bound by “tribalism.” [snip]

And once he had a family, he brought them back regularly, for holidays and summers. They spent parts of every August at Lake Winola, 20 miles north of here, at the cabin that her grandfather built by hand in 1910 or 1921, depending on who is telling the story. For a long time, it had no heat and no indoor shower, and the future first lady loved it, playing pinochle on the porch and learning to fish and even use a gun. “My father taught me to shoot a gun behind the cottage, and we practiced aiming at cans or rocks,” she wrote. [snip]

While the region is Democratic, it is conservative and strongly against abortion rights. But Mr. Mitchell, the political consultant, said he thought voters here would overlook this issue with Mrs. Clinton, just as they have with Gov. Edward G. Rendell, Senator Arlen Specter and Mr. Clinton himself.

“Given their druthers, they’d prefer a pro-life candidate,” Mr. Mitchell said, “but she’ll be O.K. on that. She might have more of a problem with men on gun control.”

But perhaps, in the way that political campaigns have, the detail will emerge that Mrs. Clinton herself learned to shoot with her father behind their house at the lake.

It’s Pennsylvania. Five weeks will fly by fast. It’s Pennsylvania.

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