Monthly Archives: July 2009

CLIPS: More than 20,000 enthusiastically welcome Obama to Penn State (03/31/08)

BY DANIEL VICTOR
Of The Patriot-News

As Barack Obama emerged in front of an estimated crowd of 22,000 in front of Old Main on the Penn State University campus, Ashley Sims shouted the kind of welcome usually reserved for pop stars.

“Oh, my God! Oh, my God! I love you, Barack! Look at me! Hi!”

This from a 24-year-old graduate student who customized her cell phone’s ring tone as the Obama Girl tune, “I’ve Got a Crush on Obama.”

When speaking about Obama, she has a dreamy look in her eyes, clasps her hands to her chest, and pauses in the middle of sentences as if she just can’t find the words.

“I didn’t know that he was possible,” she said.

Yep, this was comfortable territory for Obama.

The Democratic presidential candidate usually plays well to young voters, and students at Penn State were fired up. A line to enter the rally spanned almost a mile, snaking around campus sidewalks.

At 11:45 a.m., Hershey High School alumni Cayla Rasi and Andrew Mackay arrived at the back of the line. Two hours later, they got in just in time to see the beginning of Obama ‘s speech, but there were people behind them who never made it in.

“It’s really amazing everyone got up after a Saturday night at Penn State,” Rasi said.

Sean Perugini, a junior from Harleysville, Montgomery County, partied late Saturday, but Obama was worth waking up early for, he said. That’s quite an honor in his book.

He even bought an Obama T-shirt after the speech. That’s something he would not have done four years ago, he said.

At a time when he doesn’t feel like his government is listening to him, Obama has affirmed his faith in democracy, Perugini said.

“This is what we need, someone to uplift us, someone to get the young people involved,” Perugini said.

Obama also won favor from the crowd by discussing a plan for a $4,000 tuition credit, which he said would be given to students only after they’ve performed community service.

His critics like to poke at his talk about hope, but it’s a welcome message, freshman Nicole Lee Ritschel of Sunbury said.

“He says he needs people behind him the whole way, not just to the voting booth,” Ritschel said.

And, she said, she believes him.

Obama stayed at the Nittany Lion Inn on Saturday night and shot hoops with Sen. Bob Casey at the Bryce Jordan Center on Sunday morning.

Obama filled the “insert-local-reference-here” portion of the speech by accepting a football jersey from Penn State cornerback Lydell Sargeant and telling the crowd that he had a talk with football coach Joe Paterno.

“We decided after we get this whole thing settled, I’m going to have to come back and watch a football game,” Obama said.

CLIPS: Kerry’s back in state that aided him in ’04 to stump for Obama (04/07/08)

BY DANIEL VICTOR
Of The Patriot-News

Nearly four years ago, Sen. John Kerry stood outside the Capitol in Harrisburg, telling an estimated 20,000 supporters why they should make him their president.

Sunday’s return visit to the midstate, which included two stops in Carlisle and one in West Hanover Twp., was a bit different.

Stumping for Sen. Barack Obama , his appearance at the Local 520 union hall in West Hanover attracted about 50 people, most of them union members and Obama volunteers. Earlier in the day, Kerry, D.-Mass., had stopped at Obama ‘s Carlisle field office and mingled with supporters at a luncheon at Cumberland County’s Democratic headquarters.

“We try to do these smaller events on purpose so people really have the opportunity to talk with them,” said Debbie Mesloh, an Obama spokeswoman.

Now a surrogate for Obama ‘s presidential campaign instead of the Democratic nominee for president, Kerry is making his pitch without the spotlight that followed him in 2004.

Entering the plumbers’ and pipefitters’ union hall unceremoniously from the back of the room, Kerry greeted the crowd with a relaxed, “Hi, everybody.”

He spoke without a microphone, as his voice traveled easily enough to the back of the five rows of chairs, several of which were empty.

ABC-27 and WGAL-TV Channel 8 were the only television stations to show up for the day’s final appearance.

“With your help, I won the primary here in Pennsylvania,” Kerry said of his 2004 victory. “With your help, I won the general election here in Pennsylvania.

“And with your help, we’re not going to break this winning streak now.”

While Kerry spent much of his hour listing reasons that voters should support Obama , he praised Obama ‘s Democratic opponent, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

She has every right to continue fighting, he said.

“As long as we all agree that no matter what happens in this, we’re going to come together at the end of it,” he said. “And we are going to guarantee that as Democrats, we’re going to vote a Democrat into the White House.”

He wasn’t so kind, however, to Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

In response to a question about torture from a Vietnam War veteran, Kerry accused McCain of being inconsistent on torture of enemy combatants, climate change and tax cuts.

“There are two John McCains,” he said. “One was Senator McCain up until 2004. Now you have Nomination John.”

Kerry said he chose to endorse Obama because he believes Obama can better unite the country.

Gary Zohn, 57, a federal worker from Enola, said he heard lots of similar promises in 2006, when his vote helped a Democratic takeover of Congress. He said he hasn’t gotten what he wanted.

He became agitated during a back-and-forth with Kerry during the question-and-answer session. Despite efforts by campaign and union officials to move to the next questioner, Kerry kept his cool and continued to engage Zohn.

“I’m happy to have this conversation with Gary,” Kerry said.

“You still don’t understand what’s happening with this country,” Zohn said.

“Yes, I do,” Kerry countered.

Kerry said he, too, is frustrated by the issues Zohn brought up — earmarks, the Iraq war and the culture of politics.

“That’s why I’m here, man,” Kerry said. “I’m here to elect Barack Obama so we can make that change.”

CLIPS: Democrats shift campaign focus to small towns (09/14/08)

BY DANIEL VICTOR
Of The Patriot-News

Where, in a state such as Pennsylvania, could the Barack Obama
campaign place 65 offices?

How about Mansfield, a town 45 miles north of Scranton that in 2007 had a population of 3,223?

Or Montrose, about 50 miles north of Williamsport and home to 1,547 people?

Both small towns now have a full-time paid organizer, sent by the Obama campaign, to give direction to the volunteers on the ground. This week the campaign launched 35 offices, including ones in Lebanon and Carlisle. There are already offices in Harrisburg, York and Lancaster.

“It’s unprecedented in Pennsylvania, especially in the central part of the state, because we Democrats have tended to focus on Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, the northeast, where we have reliable voter blocks,” said Andrea Mead, Obama spokeswoman. “That’s absolutely not the case this time. We’ve made a point to go into communities that Democrats have not bothered with before.”

By comparison, Republican nominee John McCain has 17 state offices, including ones in Harrisburg, York and Lancaster. The rest are in the more traditional, high-population areas.

Both campaigns are considering Pennsylvania one of the nation’s most important battleground states, and the money spent here bears that out.

Spending differences

While Obama is spending money on offices, McCain can focus on other areas, most likely television advertisements, said Chris Borick, a political analyst at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

Democrats are “hell-bent on not being outperformed in the ground game this year,” Borick said. That’s because Democrats have historically lagged behind Republicans at getting out the vote, he said.

Usually the campaigns would have 10 or so offices in Pennsylvania’s big and midsized cities, Borick said. But Obama appears to be applying his 50-state strategy to the individual states, trying to have a full presence in the state.

“The Democrats want to really try to outperform Republicans, or at least equally perform,” he said. “And that means having a structure in place that can yield voters from every corner of the state.”

Among the new sites is the Lebanon office, which has a full-time campaign coordinator and a level of organization that has county Democrats raving.

Leading the operation is Andrew Claster, who moved to Lebanon from Washington, D.C., for the job. He previously worked for a political polling and consulting firm.

Claster organized record-setting voter registration drives in the county; volunteers registered 250 voters during Labor Day weekend, and a one-day record of 110 people have been registered since then.

“We’re doing something pretty remarkable in Pennsylvania and Lebanon, and that’s thanks to the work you’re doing,” he told volunteers gathered at the office’s official opening Tuesday.

The campaign for John Kerry and John Edwards wasn’t nearly as organized as this campaign, said Jackie Grumbacher, who ran the county’s Democratic effort in 2004.

“We were making things up as we went along, because we didn’t have the strong infrastructure this campaign has.”

Lebanon County has long been a Republican stronghold. After Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was introduced as McCain’s running mate, local Republicans have had their own spike in enthusiasm, said Faith Bender, chairwoman of the Republican committee in Lebanon County.

The county doesn’t have its own McCain campaign office, but Republicans are doing the same kind of grass-roots work out of their party’s office, Bender said.

Offices are great, but it’s a matter of what work comes out of them, said Mike Barley, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

“I’m not sure what kind of inroads they’re going to make in Lebanon or any of these other red counties,” Barley said. “When it comes down to it, these voters align themselves a lot more with what John McCain and Sarah Palin believe, and there’s not much that’s going to change that.”

Craig Schirmer, the state director for Obama , said there are 569 neighborhood teams working for Obama .

The state’s volunteers have expanded the voter registration edge by 100,000 voters since the April 22 primary, he said.

CLIPS: Can McCain win in Pennsylvania? (10/17/08)

BY DANIEL VICTOR
Of The Patriot-News

To analysts and pollsters watching the presidential campaign, it’s a no-brainer: Pennsylvania’s deeply blue.

Some said Republican presidential candidate John McCain should heed polls that give his Democratic rival, Barack Obama , solid double-digit leads in the state, abandon ship and divert spending to more competitive states such as Ohio, Florida, Nevada and Colorado.

But neither campaign sees it that way.

Republicans said the state is still for grabs and Democrats said it’s no time to ease up. McCain and Michelle Obama spent Thursday in Pennsylvania, while McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, will visit Lancaster on Saturday.

More visits from both sides are sure to follow.

“We have our own polls, and we have much closer numbers,” Pennsylvania GOP spokesman Mike Barley said. “I’m obviously not making that up. Otherwise you wouldn’t see John McCain and Sarah Palin in the state so much.”

Nor has the Obama campaign begun a victory lap.

“We’re not paying attention to the polls, just like we weren’t paying attention to the polls when they were saying it was neck and neck,” said Andrea Mead, an Obama spokeswoman.

A Muhlenberg College/Morning Call poll released Wednesday had Obama ahead 52 percent to 38 percent in Pennsylvania. A Real Clear Politics average of polls has Obama with a 13.6 percentage point lead here.

Though recent presidential elections have been close, the state hasn’t voted for a Republican candidate since George Bush in 1988.

Yet the campaigns are continuing to battle here.

From Sept. 28 to Oct. 4, McCain spent $1.6 million on advertising in Pennsylvania, his second-highest total in a state. Obama spent $2.2 million, his third-highest total. The figures are the most recent available from the Wisconsin Advertising Project.

In that time, Harrisburg was McCain’s seventh-most-frequent target market in the country, ahead of even Philadelphia.

Barley said that was to ensure high voter turnout in the base and to harness the enthusiasm that was ignited when Palin joined the ticket.

Palin has visited the state several times, including an appearance at a Philadelphia Flyers game to drop a ceremonial first puck.

“The more we see John McCain and Sarah Palin here, the better off our numbers are,” Barley said.

Meanwhile, Obama has been in Pennsylvania seven days since June, and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, has made four visits.

Analysts have questioned the wisdom of both campaigns using money and time in what appears to be a signed, sealed and delivered state. McCain recently pulled his resources out of Michigan after the chances of winning appeared slim.

“I do not think Pennsylvania is up for grabs,” said Shirley Anne Warshaw, a Gettysburg College political expert. “I think Pennsylvania is absolutely a solid blue state.”

Warshaw cited the Democrats’ 1.1 million lead in registered voters. That resulted from aggressive registration during the primary, leaving the party with an excited electorate likely to show up on Election Day, she said.

“Pennsylvania is the last place the Republicans should be putting their money,” Warshaw said.

Christopher Borick, a pollster at Muhlenberg College, said McCain must gain ground soon or it’ll be time to shift resources away from Pennsylvania and into states such as Ohio and Florida.

“He’s down 10 points at least. He’s low on money,” Borick said. “How long do you keep putting money into Pennsylvania when it’s such an expensive place to play?”

G. Terry Madonna, director of Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs, said it’s unlikely that McCain will win Pennsylvania. Madonna said he’s never seen a candidate overcome a 13-point lead this late in a campaign.

Even so, pulling out of the state would carry too much symbolism and would demoralize McCain’s nationwide supporters, he said. He can’t give up on what has historically been a very competitive state.

“Just to pick up and call it a day here would send an extremely negative message to Republicans all over the country,” Madonna said. “It would be a psychological blow that I don’t think the campaign is willing to accept.”

CLIPS: A must-win state / McCain, Palin to hit area again together (10/24/08)

BY DANIEL VICTOR
Of The Patriot-News

When a presidential candidate visits a town just two weeks before an election, that suggests it’s a pretty significant area.

To visit the same region again just a week before Election Day, well, we must really be important.

Republican presidential nominee John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, will hold a rally at the Giant Center in Hershey on Tuesday. McCain spoke at The Forum in Harrisburg this week, after Palin visited Lancaster Saturday.

For McCain, that’s two of the final 14 days spent making midstate appearances. The campaign is hoping a strong central Pennsylvania turnout can offset what’s expected to be a big lead in Philadelphia for Barack Obama , the Democratic presidential nominee.

“You’re seeing a historic level of commitment from the candidate to Pennsylvania,” said Peter Feldman, a McCain campaign spokesman.

Strategists could draw up scenarios that put McCain in the White House without Pennsylvania, but winning here could be necessary given McCain’s struggles holding on to several states President Bush won in 2004.

Meanwhile, despite Gov. Ed Rendell’s public pleas, the Obama campaign has not announced any plans for Obama or his running mate, Joe Biden, to visit the state.

To maintain what most pollsters said is a double-digit percentage lead, the Obama campaign has relied on an active grass-roots network, visits from surrogates and a money edge to air more TV ads.

“We hope to have Senator Obama and Senator Biden back,” said Andrea Mead, an Obama spokeswoman in Pennsylvania. “But there are a lot of states in play in this election, and he’s running a 50-state, unprecedented campaign here.”

Both campaigns have said they’re ignoring the polls, most of which suggest Pennsylvania is safely Obama country. The Big Ten Battleground Poll, released Thursday, has Obama leading 52 percent to 41 percent.

A Real Clear Politics average of several polls has Obama up by 10.7 percentage points.

For McCain to make up that kind of gap this close to the election would be historic, analysts said. Some called for McCain to divert time and resources to more competitive states, such as Ohio, Florida or Nevada.

If McCain loses some of the states Bush won — he now trails in Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia — he could negate some of that damage by taking Pennsylvania.

“He needs to roll the dice in some big places,” said Christopher Borick, a pollster at Muhlenberg College. “And one of the big jackpots out there that you can still somehow pull off would be a place like Pennsylvania.”

It’s a risky strategy, since such an investment in Pennsylvania pulls him away from other battlegrounds, Borick said.

“What you can do is motivate those who are already committed to you to actually turn out to vote,” said Tony May of Triad Strategies in Harrisburg.

May, a former press secretary for two Democratic governors, said McCain has more incentive to visit the midstate than Obama because of the strong Republican backing here.

“McCain has to try to wring out every last vote out of York and Lancaster and Cumberland County that he possibly can to offset what is likely going to be a huge advantage for Obama coming out of southeastern Pennsylvania,” May said.

With McCain making several visits to the state, it begs the question: Should Obama visit, too?

“Maybe I’m just thinking as someone who lives here, but I wouldn’t neglect Pennsylvania if I were Obama ,” said Jeremy Plant, a political science professor at Penn State Harrisburg. “He can’t afford to take it for granted yet.”

Obama was in Indiana on Thursday and then flew to Hawaii to visit his ailing grandmother.

Rendell said this week that he has written Obama ‘s national campaign, urging the Democratic nominee to return to Pennsylvania.

Chuck Ardo, Rendell’s spokesman, said the governor has not heard back but expects “a positive response.”

CLIPS: Now, it’s all about winning Pennsylvania (11/04/08)

BY DANIEL VICTOR
Of The Patriot-News

No more punditry, no more polls, no more advertisements and no more robocalls.

Today it’s finally out of everyone else’s hands, and into your own.

We’ll know tonight whether Pennsylvania was the state that tipped the election, or whether strategists will second-guess those dozens of visits that candidates paid to our state.

We’ll know tonight whether the frantic push by Sen. John McCain to court the midstate will dilute Sen. Barack Obama ‘s edge in Philadelphia and trigger a pundit-defying victory.

We’ll know tonight if we’ll have the first black president or the first female vice president in American history.

Unless, of course, there are lawsuits and recounts. Then we’ll wait longer.

No matter what happens, Pennsylvania stands to be at the center of it all, and analysts say McCain probably can’t win without it.

“This has become ground zero,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs. “It’s become the battle at the OK Corral. This is it. It’s all about winning Pennsylvania, or I don’t think McCain can win the presidency.”

To McCain, the midstate might be the ground zero of ground zero. If he’s going to win the state’s crucial 21 electoral votes, he needs strong turnout from this heavily Republican area.

From Oct. 21 to 28, McCain aired more ads in Harrisburg than anywhere else in the state and in all but six cities around the country, according to the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project.

And while Obama hasn’t visited the Harrisburg/Hershey area since the primary season, McCain has made two visits in the past two weeks. GOP running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin also stopped in Dauphin Borough on Friday night to take her daughter trick-or-treating.

All of McCain’s campaigning in the state appears to have tightened the state polls, as a Real Clear Politics average of polls has dropped Obama ‘s lead from 11 percentage points on Oct. 21 to 7.6 points on Monday.

“I think that’s impressive, given that they’re going into one heck of a head wind in Pennsylvania,” said Christopher Borick, a pollster at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

That said, Borick said he would be very surprised if McCain wins Pennsylvania.

“Their effort has been incredible, but I see so many things that are going against them in winning Pennsylvania,” Borick said.

That includes a 1.2 million voter registration edge for Democrats.

Obama has spent twice as much as McCain on advertising in Pennsylvania and boasts a stronger grass-roots network. Many homeowners in the Harrisburg area last weekend found door hangers with instructions for first-time voters and personalized information on the location of their polling places.

A day before the election in 2004, Real Clear Politics showed Democratic Sen. John Kerry with a lead of about 1 percentage point in Pennsylvania. Kerry ended up winning 51 percent to 49 percent.

Though a lot of signs point to an Obama victory in Pennsylvania, no one — in the campaigns or among the pollsters — dare pronounce it over until the voters have their say.

“This is such a strange election,” Madonna said, “and we’ve all been flummoxed before on a number of occasions.”

DANIEL VICTOR : 255-8144 or dvictor@patriot-news.com

INFOBOX:

Days spent in Pennsylvania since June: John McCain: 25, Barack Obama : 9

Money spent in Pa. on advertising from Oct. 21 to 28: John McCain: $1,388,000, Barack Obama: $2,742,000

Pa’s registered voters: Republicans: 3,243,391 Democrats: 4,480,691

Sources: The Associated Press, University of Wisconsin Advertising Project

CLIPS: Obama’s strategy pays off in Pennsylvania (11/05/08)

BY DANIEL VICTOR AND CHARLES THOMPSON
Of The Patriot-News

Barack Obama ‘s strategy of spending his campaign time in emerging battlegrounds — instead of old battlegrounds like Pennsylvania — was vindicated as he easily carried our 21 electoral votes despite John McCain’s repeated visits.

Turns out we weren’t as much of a swing state as McCain needed us to be.

McCain placed his hopes on Pennsylvania by spending far more time campaigning here, hoping to steal a state that pollsters felt was safely Obama ‘s.

Obama campaigned mostly in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but spent a whole lot of money on TV advertising statewide.

With 98 percent of the precincts reporting as of press time, Obama had a double-digit lead in Pennsylvania, 55 percent to 44 percent, based on unofficial returns. If that holds, it will be the biggest winning margin for a presidential candidate since Richard Nixon in 1972.

“There was nothing in a sense unpredictable about this,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs in Lancaster.

Good night for Democrats

Democrats generally enjoyed a good night here.

In Congress, U.S. Rep. Tim Holden, D-Schuylkill County, easily won re-election, defeating Republican Toni Gilhooley.

Two longtime Democratic incumbents — Reps. John Murtha and Paul Kanjorski — kept their seats despite tough challenges. Murtha kept his seat despite controversial comments about his district. Kanjorski held off Lou Barletta, the Republican mayor of Hazleton who gained national attention for pushing tough laws against illegal immigrants.

Two Democrats took row offices: Auditor General Jack Wagner won re-election, and venture capitalist Rob McCord was elected state treasurer.

Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett won re-election, beating Democrat John Morganelli in a close race.

McCain’s effort falls short

But the presidential contest wasn’t close.

McCain’s loss wasn’t from a lack of effort. He spent 25 days in Pennsylvania since June, compared to just nine from Obama . McCain advertised in Pennsylvania more than every other state except for Florida.

But McCain lost Philadelphia and its suburbs by a greater margin than President Bush did in 2004, and won the predominantly Republican midstate and ‘T’ regions of the state by far smaller margins, with some noticeable losses in places like Dauphin County.

Cities like Scranton, Erie and Pittsburgh broke heavily for Obama , taking away any chance for the Arizona senator to make up significant ground in the surrounding northeastern, northwestern and southwestern regions.

Still, several strategists from both parties reached Tuesday night didn’t fault McCain’s initial strategic decision to try to win Pennsylvania.

They said he just got overtaken by an incumbent president whose approval ratings are at historic lows, an economy that may be headed toward recession, and an opponent with a record war chest and a history-making story.

“I’m convinced the people wanted a change,” said William Green, a Pittsburgh public relations consultant who has worked for state Republicans. “They didn’t care what it is. They just wanted something different. … I think this was a very anti-George Bush vote.”

“The idea to play for Pennsylvania was good,” agreed Larry Ceisler, a Philadelphia-based public relations and political consultant. “Unfortunately, he ran a campaign for the reddest of red states to please the right wing of his party … and Pennsylvania is too moderate a state for that.”

But other analysts questioned McCain’s decision, as some have been for quite awhile, wondering why he’d spend time in a state seemingly out of reach when there were closer races elsewhere.

“It was absolutely a waste of time,” said Shirley Anne Warshaw, a political expert at Gettysburg College. “He wasn’t going to turn Pennsylvania.”

But it wasn’t really about Pennsylvania, she said. It was a public relations tactic for the rest of the country; if he gives up on Pennsylvania, the rest of the country sees it as giving up on the election.

As for Obama , some criticized him for not spending more time in Pennsylvania. Gov. Ed Rendell urged him to visit more often.

But Obama proved he had the right strategy, said Christopher Borick, a pollster at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

“Obama folks never seemed to really panic,” he said. “They must’ve felt comfortable here all along, and they were vindicated.”

What it means

There was disagreement about what it all means for the future of presidential politics in Pennsylvania.

Ceisler said 2008 goes into the books as a Democratic year because of the economic problems. But looking at Pennsylvania’s history, he believes the state is still very much in play for either party.

“In two years, we could be having a completely different conversation,” Ceisler said.

But Green disagreed, arguing this may be the last cycle that Pennsylvania plays such a starring role for some time. With five straight wins for the Democrats in presidential races, at least for national candidates, Green said, “this is no longer a swing state.”

“This is a blue state,” Green said

CLIPS: Alumni want state to save the school that saved them (02/08/09)

BY DANIEL VICTOR
Of The Patriot-News

Of the ways Deborah Griffin’s life wouldn’t have been the same without her eight years at the Scotland School for Veterans’ Children, chief among them is that she would have never known what a fishing rodeo was.

You don’t see ponds in inner-city Philadelphia, where in her early years she struggled through public school and a dangerous neighborhood. Nor do you see ducks or rows of blooming flowers or the grassy hills of central Pennsylvania or an abundance of teachers who make students believe they care deeply about them.

Now she has a love of fishing, a strong network of alumni friends, a college degree and a job as a housing inspector for the city of Philadelphia — none of which she thinks would have been possible without the taxpayer-funded school.

So the thought of the Franklin County residential school being axed because of the state’s budget crisis was devastating for her.

Shutting its doors would save the state $10.5 million. The Rendell administration says it simply can’t afford the costs. The state spends $45,000 per student at Scotland each year, compared with $11,000 per child in public schools.

But the possibility of the school closing is heartbreaking for its alumni and the parents of Scotland’s children.

“They gave me a chance to succeed and become somebody,” said Griffin who graduated in 2000. “This is our life. This is our family. There’s no way they can close it.

“Oh, my God, it hurts. I was in tears the other day when I was told they were closing. That’s all I knew, and that’s all a lot of us knew. They were our rock. There’s no way we can do without it. There’s no way the community, that Pennsylvania, can live without it.”

Alumni and parents are fighting to save the school, which serves at-risk children of veterans. Dozens of alumni called The Patriot-News to describe how the school instilled discipline, gave them a family and saved them from wreckage.

Many of them said they wanted to someday send their own children there. Unless the school finds money soon, its 114th graduating class will be its last, and 186 employees will lose their jobs.

Why it could close

The school’s $13.5 million budget comprises $10.5 million from the state, $2.4 million from school districts and $500,000 from the federal government.

Under Gov. Ed Rendell’s proposed budget, about $1.4 million would be redirected to veterans programs, said Joan Nissley, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The rest of the savings would be absorbed into the general budget.

“It’s too great a cost for too few students who are actually enrolled in the school,” Nissley said.

There are 1.1 million veterans and active-duty service members in Pennsylvania and 288 children at the school, Nissley said. In light of the growing deficit in the state, Rendell had to look hard at every program, she said.

Scotland is one of the last remnants of what was once a national trend.

Heidi Goldsmith, the executive director of the Coalition for Residential Education in Washington, D.C., said most states built similar schools after the Civil War.

Only two remain: Scotland and the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home. That, too, is fighting for its life in the Indiana state budget process.

Scotland costs a lot of money, but Goldsmith has urged state officials to seek improvement or better efficiency instead of closure, calling it a “treasure that most states do not have.” Having to fight the battle is why she urges new residential schools to seek private money, like the similar Milton Hershey School, which is paid for by the $5.9 billion Hershey Trust Co.

“I say do not rely on public funding because when times get tough, the poor children get cut,” Goldsmith said.

The town’s identity

Who will buy Little Vince’s pizza?

For the 15 years Mike Anzalone has been in business in tiny Scotland, it’s been the teachers, the students ordering in, the parents visiting their children. There’s not much business elsewhere.

Take that school away and you’re not just cutting into his business; you’re also losing much of the character of the town.

“When you think of Scotland, that’s what you think of,” said Lisa Keefer, 28, who arrived from Chambersburg three years ago to find a quieter place. “It’s the only big thing in this town.”

Ten minutes northeast of Chambersburg, Scotland has a few mom-and-pop shops on Main Street, a community center, a post office, a township office and an elementary school. Otherwise, it’s mostly filled with houses, where people have planted themselves for generations or moved to so they can enjoy the peace.

The school, with its 183 acres and 70 buildings, takes up a huge chunk of the town but largely remains tucked away by itself. Most residents said they rarely interacted with the students, except when they watched the renowned sports teams. Some would congratulate the players when they were spotted in the nearby Chambersburg Mall.

Martha Whitsel, working at Scotland Automotive, said the school adds more than business to her town.

“Maybe a little prestige,” she said. “That you can extend the education to those who need it, that they have the chance to have a good education. I’m just proud.”

Robert Smith, the postmaster of the local post office, which features a mural of the school in its lobby, said he aches for the many people he’s met who attended or worked for the school and fears what will happen to the campus.

“It’s hard to believe they’re actually closing it,” he said. “That just really shows how bad the times are. It’s really hitting close to home.”

The impact on students

Most of the students come from difficult urban environments, with about 70 percent of them from Philadelphia.

Scotland School alumni said they often think about where they’d be had they never gone to the school.

Randell Williams, a 2004 graduate, thinks he would have never gone into the Army, he said just weeks before he’s due to ship out for a year in Afghanistan.

Shirlee Patterson, a 2005 graduate, thinks she’d be fighting like the girls on her street where she grew up, or she’d be in jail. “That’d be the total opposite of the person I am now,” she said.

Daniel Woodlin, a 1996 graduate, doesn’t see his Columbia University diploma, his job as a manager for the Vanguard Group, his wife or his two kids without the school.

“You grow from a boy to a man, fast,” said Marcus Spence of Philadelphia, who graduated in 2007.

Melanie Nichole Pollard-Alford’s father was a Marine, serving two tours in the Gulf War. She said he developed emotional issues that left him unfit to care for her, and she ended up in the foster care system in Bucks County.

There, she said, she had no support system. It’s difficult to think of how she would have turned out if she hadn’t spent her high school years at the Scotland School, she said.

“I probably wouldn’t have gone to college. I probably wouldn’t be married. I probably would have had children early,” she said. “To say that I would have graduated from high school would have been a stretch.”

Now she works in financial aid at Mercer County Community College, and her job feels meaningful. She’s giving back to the community — something she learned at the Scotland School, she said.

When Gerald Robinson came from Philadelphia, he said, he had low standards. He rarely attended school and was getting in trouble.

But the Scotland School atmosphere turned him into a B student. He went on to college, is getting a degree in business administration, and works as a retail manager.

“It forces you to really find out who you are, as opposed to just staying in Philadelphia,” Robinson said.

Dozens of alumni said they learned discipline and structure. They felt loved by their teachers and classmates. Some said it kept them out of prison. Some said it saved their lives.

They knew they’d get at least one Christmas gift per year, something like a Barbie doll, an alarm clock or a lamp.

Diallo Daniels was just happy he was allowed to bring books home with him to read, which he couldn’t do at his Philadelphia school.

Kimberly Duncan thinks back to the big prom night, when a line of classmates would watch everyone else emerge in their fancy dress.

“That’s how they treated you,” she said, “like a big red carpet.”