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Where is Joe Sestak?

One of the most important things in Public Relations is that you stay out in front of problems. Make sure that you’re the first one to define your brand, the competition’s brand and the debate. When trouble strikes, make sure you’re the one who is out there first explaining things. In general, make sure YOU’RE the one who creates the first impression in the minds of consumers, because it makes it much easier to keep customers on your side.

This is particularly true in politics. And it’s playing out in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate election.

This week, Republican Pat Toomey, a former Congressman from the Lehigh Valley region of the state and President of the Club for Growth, ran these ads on Philadelphia television defining himself, Democratic nominee Joe Sestak and the debate in terms favorable to him:

There were no ads in response from Sestak. Why not?

This is not the same situation that Sestak had in the primary, where he held off on a TV ad blitz (including one very devastating ad) until the very end and still easily won. Incumbent Arlen Specter was very unpopular already and primary voters were simply waiting for Sestak to give them a reason to vote for him.

Other than Republicans (Toomey narrowly lost the GOP Primary for Senate to Specter in 2004) and his former constituents, most Pennsylvanians don’t know Toomey. And even fewer Pennsylvanians know Sestak, a two-term Congressman from Delaware County. A big part of this race is going to be which candidate can paint the other one as least mainstream in his views. Toomey has beaten Sestak to the punch on this. And it means that Sestak is going to be fighting an uphill battle to redefine both he and his opponent in a favorable manner.

That’s no easy task, especially for a Democratic candidate this year.

Oh Canada indeed

I just returned from eight days of vacation in Canada. I visited Toronto for two days, Montreal for four days and Quebec City for two days. I had been to all three of those cities more than 20 years ago (I was 8 at the time), but barely remember anything. So it was great to visit this part of Canada again.

Toronto isn’t that exciting for an American tourist, or at least not me. It doesn’t have the historic buildings that Quebec City does, nor does it quite have the vibrancy and exoticness that Montreal, as a French-speaking city, brings to the table. But I got to see a friend from college and saw a Red Sox game against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, formerly known as Sky Dome. The last time I was in Toronto, the stadium was barely a year old and was still considered revolutionary. The Blue Jays were also contenders and packed that stadium on a regular basis. Now, in 2010, the stadium is behind the times, and the Blue Jays are forever mired behind the Yankees and Red Sox (and now even the Tampa Bay Rays) in the AL East.

I really liked Montreal. It has plenty of history in Vieux Montreal, fabulous dining and nightlife for those interested in such things, and great parks for people who like the outdoors (one of the better ones, Parc Jean Drapeau on Ille St. Helene, was the site of the picture at the top of this post). If you go in mid-July, as I did, you can also partake in Montreal’s version of the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival, which features shows (both in English and French) all over the city.

One place I recommend that you eat at is Schwartz’s, at 3895 Rue St. Laurent. Smoked meat (beef) is one of Montreal’s culinary specialties, and Schwartz’s, founded 80 years ago by a Russian Jewish immigrant, is considered among the best. Get the “Regular” variety (not the “lean,” which is really nothing more than glorified corned beef) and, if you must go during lunch hour, go to the take out room one door further up the street. It has the same menu, is less crowded and there is seating available.

I’m something of a history buff, so I expected to enjoy Quebec City. And I did. You can spend hours and hours just walking through the streets of the old city – both the part up on the bluffs (Upper City) and the part down by the riverfront (Lower City). Also make sure you take a walk along the city’s original wall (the only one still remaining in North America) and take a tour of the Citadel. It is still an active military installation, and is home to Canadian Army’s 22nd Battallion. If you really want to, you can go there at 10 a.m. daily during the summer for the Changing of the Guard ceremony. But having seen the Buckingham Palace version in London, I found it to be rather dull.

My only major complaint from the trip was the costs. The Canadian dollar’s exchange rate against the U.S. dollar has improved dramatically in recent years, to the point where it’s almost 1-to-1 now. Plus Canada has a national sales tax, in addition to the individual province’s sales taxes. So you end up paying a 13-15% sales tax on everything, and costs add up quickly. The old city in Quebec City was particularly costly, probably since much of everything there is oriented towards tourists.

So long Cleveland

LeBron James finally ended the ridiculous, shameful suspense Thursday night and announced that he is leaving the Cleveland for the Miami Heat, where he’ll join fellow All Stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

Great night for the Miami Heat. Bad night for the Knicks, who spent the last two seasons clearing out players in anticipation of winning the LeBron sweepstakes. Downright horrible night for Cleveland, which now adds yet another chapter to its 46 years of sports heartbreak (and a lot of heartbreak having nothing to do with sports) since the Browns won the city’s last title in 1964.

But the biggest losers were the media, which shamefully gave LeBron what he wanted by going along for this ride. After allowing LeBron to get his own primetime special to announce his decision on his terms and sucking up to him all the way, ESPN can no longer claim to be a real news source (if they still could anyway). They turned the news into a reality TV show.

So now our long national nightmare is over. It’s about time.

Happy 4th of July

Happy 4th of July!

Today is a day for celebrating all that is great about our country. It’s natural beauty. It’s freedoms, and those who put so much on the line to defend those freedoms. The opportunity it provides for success.

Whether you’re on a beach (as I am while writing this), hiking in mountains, attending a barbecue or watching fireworks, be grateful for what makes this country so wonderful and what has kept it going for 234 years.

Happy Birthday America!

A pleasant evening on the Piazza

Sorry for the long absence. It’s been a busy first half of 2010 for Philly Phoughts. I started a new job at the beginning of February. I also completed another two semesters of grad school, along with a summer session course that ended Monday. I finally have some down time, so I’m back at this, hopefully for good this time.

Tonight, I’m writing from The Piazza in Northern Liberties. This neighborhood just northeast of Center City has been the site of a great deal of urban renewal the last few years that has turned it into one of the city’s rising star neighborhoods. Among the construction projects is The Piazza, a set of new apartment buildings next to the old Schmidt’s Brewery with a courtyard in between. This courtyard includes restaurants, shops, picnic tables, a concert stage and a large video screen.

In other words, it’s a great place to spend a gorgeous summer evening such as this one.

The rest of this neighborhood is laden with a number of nice restaurants and small shops. Revitalized neighborhoods such as Northern Liberties will only help Philadelphia become a more popular city to live in.

MERRY CHRISTMAS

Philly Phoughts Management wishes all of you a Merry Christmas!

Time for Reid to ditch Lieberman, save health care reform

Photo credit Talking Points Memo

Enough is enough.

The news last night that Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is threatening to filibuster health care reform with a Medicare Buy-In,  a compromise spurred by Lieberman’s threats to filibuster the public option, is the last straw. It’s time for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to strip Joe Lieberman of his commitee chairmanship, maybe even kick him out of the Senate Democratic Caucus, then go through moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe (ME) or some other means to get Health Care Reform passed.

Enough trying to figure out a member of the Democratic caucus from a very blue state who won’t keep his word. Enough trying to placate a senator who seems content on wrecking his caucus’ most important piece of legislation this Congress, specifically a component of it that, according to a Quinnipiac University poll, 56% of his constituents in Connecticut FAVOR. It’s time for Reid to drop the hammer on this guy and move on before the Democratic party gets destroyed next year.

I don’t know if Lieberman is still bitter about being primaried out by Ned Lamont in 2006 or what. But ever since he won re-election as an independent that year (Connecticut allows primary losers to do so), Lieberman has increasingly gone against the Democratic Party and, therefore, most of his constituents back home. He endorsed and campaigned for Republican John McCain for President last year. Reid let him keep his chairmanship and caucus spot after that, knowing that he’d need him to avert Republican filibusters and get the party’s agenda passed this year. And that gamble has backfired big time, to the point that it is now seriously threatening the legislation that will play a huge rule in determing the party’s electoral fortunes next year and possibly in 2012 as well.

First, Lieberman threatened to filibuster the public option. He wouldn’t even accept one with a trigger, the way Snowe has. Realizing they didn’t have the votes to pass a public option along the lines of what is in the House version, Reid and a group of his fellow Democratic senators composed a compromise that replaces the public option with a Medicare buy-in. But even before the new proposal was scored by the Congressional Budget Office (the CBO report should be in by the middle of this week), Lieberman said yesterday that he’d filibuster that too. Not allow to go to a vote and simply vote against – filibuster.

If Reid strips Lieberman of his chairmanship and/or kicks him out of the caucus, it’s not like the Republicans are going to welcome Lieberman with open arms. Lieberman remains pro-choice and has other liberal view points that won’t help him with the Republican leadership. And at this point Lieberman isn’t going to get re-elected in 2012 no matter what party he runs on. I suppose he could resign in a snit and leave Jodi Rell, Connecticut’s Republican Governor, to appoint a Republican replacement. But that Republican wouldn’t be much more damaging to the Democratic party’s cause than Lieberman has.

As for what alternatives Reid has without Lieberman, he could work with Snowe, who won’t state her position on the compromise until the CBO report comes back but at least has been relatively consistent. If Reid had Lyndon Johnson’s you-know-whats (which he doesn’t), he could twist the arms of other Democratic senators (like Nebaska’s Ben Nelson and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu) to get on board. But at least Nelson is consistent – he represents a very conservative constituency.

Reid could also try to do what Trent Lott and Co. famously tried to do in 2005 and invoke the “nuclear option” – change Senate rules to end debate with only a simple majority of the Senate, as opposed to the current 60 votes needed. The Republicans would certainly howl for blood if that happened, but they tried it first.

Using budget reconciliation (which only requires 50 votes plus Vice President Joe Biden) to pass the more controversial parts of the bill is probably not an option either. The bill is too complex, the Republicans would force the caucus to hold together through even more objections than it is now and if it was going to happen, Reid needed to do it already.

Whatever Reid does, health care reform needs to get through the Senate, go through conference committee and pass both chambers again. It MUST get done, or the normal losses the President’s party suffers in his first midterm elections will be catastrophic ones. Republicans are going to be motivated to take down the other party next year as it is. If health care reform doesn’t get passed, the Democratic base will stay home as well.

Health Care Reform must get done. And at this point, that means telling Lieberman to leave.

Let the debate begin

What a wild, fun day of action we had yesterday on Championship Saturday in College Football. It left us with five undefeated teams and the debate that will take place almost every year unless the NCAA finds it financially worth its while to institute a Division I-A football postseason tournament – who should play for the BCS National Title.

No. 4 TCU got to sit and watch as four other teams finished the regular season undefeated. No. 5 Cincinnati came from 21 points down to beat No. 15 Pittsburgh on the road, 45-44, to win their second straight Big East title, scoring the winning TD with 33 seconds remaining. No. 6 Boise State demolished New Mexico State to finish 13-0. And No. 2 Texas, despite being stymied all night by Nebraska’s defense and making Eagles coach Andy Reid look like a clock management genius in the final minute, got a 46-yard field goal as time expired to escape  with a 13-12 victory in the Big 12 championship game.

The big game yesterday, of course, was the SEC Championship Game, where No. 2 Alabama ended Tim Tebow’s hopes of winning a third national title at Florida with a resounding 32-13 victory. Since I don’t care much about either team, my favorite part about this result was that it spared us having to sit through the inevitable four-hour Tim Tebow ass-kissing session that would have been ABC’s broadcast of the championship game on January 7.

Speaking of that game, Alabama is definitely in, and in light of its performance yesterday will likely be a pretty big favorite. Since all Texas needed to do last night was win, no matter how close or how ugly, it too should be in. But that leaves TCU, Cincinnati and Boise State having done everything they could do and were supposed to do yet still having no shot at the national title. Worse yet, it’s very likely that TCU and Boise State could be pitted against each other in the Fiesta Bowl. Imagine that – you work all year to get into the BCS and presumably have a crack at college football’s big boys, yet instead you get another Mid Major.

And just imagine the chaos and complaints today if Texas had lost last night. Would the BCS honchos have allowed TCU to play for the national title? Would they have jumped Cincinnati above TCU? Or would have Florida, despite getting blown out, still had enough to jump back to #2 and get a title game rematch with Alabama?

Something for everybody: Obama lays out Afghanistan case

Proving once again that he is a very compelling speaker, President Obama had something for everybody last night in laying out his case for sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. In a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Obama gave conservatives what they wanted by sending in more troops, eased the worries of independents and moderates by explaining what he was doing and why he took the length of time he did to make the decision, and threw liberals a bone (or at least tried to, anyway) by setting a goal of starting a withdrawl by July 2011.

President Obama is correct in putting in some kind of exit strategy, even a general one, so we have an idea of how to finish this thing. But I, like a lot of people, am wary of Hamid Karzai and his ability to hold Afghanistan’s notorious factions together solidly enough to have a stable central government. The controversy over his re-election earlier this year didn’t assuage those concerns any. Yes, Karzai is much better than the alternatives (The Taliban or total anarchy), but will only one year with all of the additional troops there be enough? Is Karzai capable of keeping Afghanistan together at all long-term?

Obama would be well-advised to be flexible with that withdrawl date. If Karzai’s government is not capable of defending itself at that point, we need to stay until they are. The last thing the United States (and Obama) need, after all of the billions of dollars spent on this war and the questions about Obama’s leadership, is a repeat of the end of the Vietnam War. The last thing we need is the Taliban and Al Qaeda simply waiting us out under the guise of a “truce,” much like the Viet Cong did (knowing we didn’t have the stomach to fight a guerilla war indefinitely), then overrunning Karzai’s government as soon as the last troop planes take off.

Finally, Obama makes decision on Afghanistan

It took him longer than I (and many others) believe it should have. But President Obama has reportedly ordered 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan to hopefully finish off Al Qaeda, neutralize the Taliban and finish the war that the 9/11 attacks wrought – the war that Candidate Obama rightly said was the justifiable war, the one that we had to win.

Obama will address his Afghanistan decision in a nationally televised speech from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point tomorrow night.

The number of troops is slightly less than what General Stanley McChrystal requested, but it is close enough. The bigger issue, in my opinion, is why it took so long for him to make this decision. I’m all for thinking through decisions carefully to make sure you get them right. I certainly don’t believe in the “shoot now and ask questions later” philosophy that the previous administration took to many of its foreign policy endeavors. But you can’t take over a month to decide whether or not to send more troops to a conflict that you criticized the previous administration for neglecting. This delay certainly won’t help the perception that Obama can’t lead.

Now we better hope the delay won’t hurt this country’s chances of victory.

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