PhillyDeals: Bucks voter interest surges post-debate

U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.) says calls were an antidote to feared voter exhaustion.
U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.) says calls were an antidote to feared voter exhaustion. (RICH SCHULTZ / STAFF)
Posted: October 07, 2012

Corporate America was watching the watchers Wednesday, spying on news blogs and social networks and other public forums to see what might be learned from the millions watching the Mitt Romney vs. President Obama debate.

"The mainstream media message was that Romney did a very good job establishing himself, better than in the past. But what we're seeing in social media is that people remained unswayed," Craig Downing, director of marketing at Newtown Square-based business-software giant SAP America, told me from his office in Silicon Valley.

SAP measured "traffic and sentiments across Facebook, Twitter, microblogging services, media sources and comments on media sources, Fox, CNN," and other networks, Downing said. Twitter alone claimed 10 million messages posted during the debates.

"The negative sentiment toward Romney far outweighed the positive, whereas Obama had more positive sentiment," Downing told me, after counting keywords. The Philadelphia region was more pro-Obama than the nation as a whole.

But what does that prove? Long before his recent stint as Obama's "regulatory czar," law scholar Cass Sunstein (currently at Harvard, and a cousin of Comcast boss Brian Roberts) famously observed that the Internet, instead of enlightening Americans to new ideas, was too often an "echo chamber" we use to make us more comfortable with our personal prejudices.

Maybe social media, for all its energy, is even more static than the Web, as a means or an indicator of change: a mirror, not a window.

Or maybe those undecided voters who saw a confident Romney and an irritated Obama didn't bother registering their new views on the smallest screen.

Out in the real world, Romney backers took comfort from their candidate's more coherent performance.

U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.), who says he's been worried about voter exhaustion and indifference as he wages another tight fight for Bucks County's swing seat in Congress, told me Thursday morning that "my office got a whole lot of calls today" volunteering to help, from people citing Romney's "energizing" debate appearance.

"I'm very pleased," said Ralph Badmann, a retired contractor in Southampton. He told me the day before the debate that he will back the first candidate who credibly promises a roads-bridges-infrastructure repair campaign to make more work for builders like his son.

Though he is a Republican, Badmann sees Democratic Franklin D. Roosevelt's Depression-era public-works projects as the obvious model for ending the slump.

Badmann didn't get that promise from either candidate Wednesday. But Romney's talk about working with Massachusetts Democrats made Badmann see the ex-governor as the man more likely "to find a way" to get America building again, he told me Thursday.

Recycling threat

Moody's Investors Service has threatened to downgrade the bonds of Delaware's state landfill monopoly, currently rated A2, because the state isn't dumping nearly as much trash (or collecting as much in fees) from local towns at the towering Cherry Island dump on the Delaware River or its other sites.

Delaware dumps have suffered "substantial declines in tonnage since 2007, from over one million tons, to 675,000 tons in fiscal year ending June 30, 2012," wrote Moody's analyst Maria Matesanz. Solid-waste authorities from Harrisburg to Montgomery and Camden Counties have registered similar declines, worrying investors who bought waste-project bonds on the promise of endless trash burial.

"A large part of the decline since 2010 is due to increased recycling efforts" through a state law that reserved curbside pickups to private companies, Matesanz added.

If Delawareans don't start throwing out more garbage, the authority could end up owing more than it brings in, forcing it to raise cash through a real estate tax, or higher dumping fees.

On the upside, Matesanz concluded, there's plenty of room in Delaware's landfills.

I asked Gov. Jack Markell's spokesman, Brian Selander, if this is a case of do-gooders provoking unintended consequences.

No, said Selander, the governor is happy that new and expanded trash contractors are hiring private-sector workers to haul, sort and resell what might otherwise get buried by the state.

Markell, Selander concludes, "is a free-market governor."

That'll work - just as long as the people's landfills can still pay back what they borrowed.

Contact Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194 or or follow @PhillyJoeD. on Twitter.

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