Costello’s withdrawal leaves GOP in a tough spot

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By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Well, okay, then.

By now those of you following local politics know that U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello announced he would not seek reelection and then withdrew from the May 15 primary. He’s been on TV and offered print interviews blaming President Donald Trump, liberals, redistricting and so on as being to blame.

Whatever.

Regardless of the why, Costello’s departure puts local Republicans in a complicated situation, which is why doing so seemed so doubtful in recent weeks. Pennsbury attorney Greg McCauley is the only other Republican to file petitions for the seat and barring his withdrawal or some very coordinated write-in campaign, he will be the GOP nominee for the Sixth Congressional District and will face Democrat Chrissy Houlahan. Had Costello stayed on the ballot through the primary, won it and then withdrew, the party would have been able to pick any candidate — County Commissioner Michelle Kichline among others had been floated.

McCauley — or frankly any Republican thrust into the race, Amber Little-Turner, the GOP state house candidate from Coatesville has apparently also been mentioned — faces the challenge of quickly raising enough money to compete with Houlahan’s large cash stash (which will likely grow as she morphs into a favorite to win the seat) and boosting name ID — although Kichline or Little-Turner would have had more of a leg up on both fronts.

McCauley is a self-described fiscal conservative — he’s a local tax attorney and has owned a number of franchise restaurants, according to published reports. We reached out to him via social media, but did not get a response before press time. I know a number of people who have had nice things to say about him, so I look forward to speaking with him.

But McCauley isn’t really the issue, per se.

With top of the ticket candidates such as Scott Wagner (my sense is that he holds off Paul Mango for the GOP nod to run against Gov. Tom Wolf) for Governor and U.S. Rep. Lou Bartletta for U.S. Senate, Chester County Republicans may be in for some trouble. While both Wagner and Barletta hold appeal to many in the central and northern portions of the state — the “T” — it’s an open question how both will fare in Chester County. As both have a lot in common with Trump — who lost to Hillary Clinton by more than nine points in 2016 in Chester County — losing Costello, who frankly would have been in trouble even with the old 6th District map, may hurt GOP turnout across the county.

Without excitement at the top three slots on the ticket — two candidates that don’t seem to fit with Chester County Republicans (one of whom told me this week he missed seeing the likes of Tom Ridge and similar candidates on the ballot) and one who, at this point, is little known — will GOP voters turn out this fall?

It’s a safe bet that Democrats — fired up by Trump scandal du jour — will come to the polls in droves. One only needs to look at the 2017 election — an odd year when Democrats typically never show up — to sense how big Democratic turnout will be around here.

So does this changing dynamic put what once were safe state House and state Senate seats at risk?  At this point, it is an open question — but you have to think that Costello’s move did no favors for folks like State Reps. Eric Roe, Becky Corbin, Duane Milne and Warren Kampf, all of whom are expected to face tough challengers this fall.

Two big factors will decide those races: how independents break (which right now doesn’t look good, but that could change radically between now and November) and the combination of Republican voters staying home or voting for Democrats to send their party a message. Both are unknowable at this point, and will likely be driven by national headlines.

But it is safe to say the last week didn’t make things easier for county Republicans.

***

While much attention is being focused on Facebook and how it handled personal data (and it’s potential impact on the 2016 elections), I’ll want to point out something that might hit a bit closer to home: Google.

While many of us use the search engine — or in the case of this site, use their network advertising platform — many other people use Google Docs. As a free platform that offers collaboration and easy sharing, it has become a choice for many over old-school applications such as Microsoft Office.

But, as we’re beginning to learn, there’s always a price to be paid somewhere. Google isn’t just offering Docs out of the goodness of its heart, it is likely mining data. Is it mining the content of your documents? I don’t know, but it might be time to ask.

For adults, obviously, we can weigh the cost/benefit of such a platform.

There is, however, a more concerning fact: most area school districts use Google Docs for required assignments. Does that mean our kids are having their homework, essays and so on, sucked into Google’s personal profile of them — to be used to sell to them or worse, sold off to a third party? And did we as adults sign off on this?

Yes, Google has promised not to sell student data. I’ll note Facebook promised not to sell personal data, too, and we know how that worked out. Based on Google’s predatory behavior in other realms — from search to digital ads — it’s not a far stretch to imagine the company selling data from your kids’ history projects to help marketers get a head start on targeting them.

While nobody — except maybe the European Union — seems interested in checking Google’s unlimited power, there could be collateral damage.

This issue creates some interesting liability problems for schools that standardized on Google Chromebooks — will districts be liable if student data is used/sold without the express permission of parents?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but it is one that we need to see addressed by Congress in the coming weeks. As much as a threat as Facebook appears to be to privacy, Google may well be worse and it could be our local school districts — and taxpayers — that literally pay the price.

***

It takes a certain gift — a skill, even — to be able to say exactly the thing that gins up furor in one’s opposition. Some Republicans seem to either be oblivious or so desperate to pander to a shrinking and radical base that some just don’t care how angry and mobilized their comments make Democrats and even some independents.

In the wake of the nationwide March For Our Lives, Republicans — who mostly should have kept quiet or suggested that while they disagree with the students, support their right to make their voice heard — instead, seemed to make every effort to fire up the opposition and look both clueless and callous.

To be clear, the marches around the county — 1,500 and former Tonight Show host Jay Leno showed for the march in West Chester — were well attended, yet peaceful.

While attacks on kids — whose basic message was “we don’t want to be shot at in school — or anywhere” — might have played well for a shrinking segment of the audience (those in the market for walk-in-tubs and reverse mortgages), they probably hurt the Republican brand in the long term.

Let’s start with known GOP associate, the National Rifle Association, which ripped into the students from Parkland, Fla. and said, if their friends hadn’t died in the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman High School “no one would know your names.” The NRA then went on to suggest that had an armed resource office intervened, comparing it to a more recent shooting in Maryland, the shooting would have been prevented and the media would not have covered the event.

A couple problems here. First — at Stoneman, there was a resource officer. He was so badly outgunned by the shooter — he had a handgun and the shooter an AR-15 style rifle — that he chose not to engage. Second, in the Maryland shooting, the resource officer didn’t stop the shooting, the shooter shot himself after he shot and killed his ex-girlfriend. Third, it shows a complete lack of sympathy for shooting victims, who I’m betting would prefer to still be anonymous and have their friends and teachers still alive.

If you wonder why the NRA is rapidly becoming as popular as a three-day hangover, look no more. They come across as mean-spirited hacks seeking nothing but increasing market share for the gun industry at any cost.

That brings us to Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania’s former U.S. Senator and a one-time presidential candidate. Santorum suggested that instead of protesting gun violence, students should learn CPR. This ham-handed comment was ultimately walked back — Santorum seemed to be arguing that learning CPR would save more lives than preventing gun violence — but it sounded like he was arguing that CPR might be of help in saving bullet-ridden classmates. Another problem, many schools offer CPR now — both of my kids are freshly certified — so it shows Santorum’s disconnect with the real world.

And then finally, we have Laura Ingraham.

The Fox News Channel host went to war with Stoneman senior David Hogg, who has become one of the faces of the March For Our Lives movement — who didn’t get into some University of California schools, despite a 4.2 GPA and 1270 on the SAT (which, frankly, is nuts — if we wonder why our kids are stressed-out messes, hearing that a kid with a 4.2 GPA not getting into any non Ivy League school tells us the entire university system is broken) — and taunted him about it on Twitter.

Seriously?

Although Ingraham apologized — and lost 13 sponsors — it is the headline that sticks in people’s minds, mean, petty and low rent.

Attacking kids for having the temerity to suggest that they don’t wish to shot to death is just awful politics and worse morality. Rather than accomplish the goal of defending gun rights, such messaging is more than likely going to lead to the opposite — self inflicted wounds, as it were.

Again, forgetting ideology, we’re seeing some of the worst political tradecraft in recent memory from Republicans. If they don’t get their house in order — and quick — they could find themselves in a political wasteland for a generation.

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