Pennsylvania politics and our coverage are heating up

What happens in Texas and Ohio this week, politically speaking, will determine what happens in Pennsylvania in the weeks ahead.

All eyes should be on those big-state primary elections on Tuesday.

If the spirited Democratic battle for president stays a battle — meaning that Barack Obama doesn’t sweep the two to continue his impressive streak of 13 states — we’re likely to see both candidates make stop after stop in Pennsylvania leading up to the April 22 primary.

We’re rooting for that in a big way. Who wouldn’t want to see Hillary Clinton and Obama, and John McCain and Mike Huckabee on the Republican side, here debating issues and meeting voters?

That’s an unlikely scenario every four years, knowing that the state’s primary arrives so late in the campaign season, but it would be fantastic this time with Pennsylvania essentially the only game in town for weeks in a hotly contested and historic battle.

Given all this, we’ve been asking readers to send in 250-word letters to the editor covering what they’d tell the candidates if they could meet them. We intend to publish those letters the day one of the main contenders visits Happy Valley.

If we get a group of letters but don’t get a visit, they’ll work their way into the paper in March.First, it’s up to you.

Submissions should be original material, follow normal guidelines and be sent to cdtletters@centredaily.com.

Beyond the top-ticket race, however, we have a vibrant political campaign that’s in full swing covering Centre and 16 other counties, and what happens in Ohio and Texas will not impact it.

We’re talking about the race for the 5th Congressional District seat, the only wide-open contest for a U.S. House seat in Pennsylvania. Twelve candidates are out in the field, from one end of the sprawling district to another, including four from Centre County.

Our coverage is about to expand in a big way, with weekly question-and-answer features with the candidates. We sent them eight questions, and we appreciate each candidate spending time on their answers.

You’ll read those answers starting Tuesday, and look for new questions and answers each Tuesday and also in the Voters Guide, which will be published close to Election Day.

Republicans in the race are Chris Exarchos, John Krupa, Lou Radkowski, Keith Richardson, Matt Shaner, Jeff Stroehmann, John Stroup, Glenn Thompson and Derek Walker; Democrats are Bill Cahir, Mark McCracken and Rick Vilelo. Exarchos, Shaner, Thompson and Cahir hail from Centre County.

Here’s the first question: “What would you do as a congressman to help provide for job-creating economic development in the 5th Congressional District? What are the key elements of your manufacturing policy?”Other issues covered by the questions range from tolling Interstate 80 to No Child Left Behind and what should become of it.

In addition to the weekly questions, senior reporter Mike Joseph’s politics column will cover this race as well as others. That column moves to Sundays starting today, reflecting the regional interest in the battle for the House.

Our coverage will be packaged on a new 5th Congressional District race Web page on CentreDaily.com, and we invite readers beyond our print circulation area to visit us online and keep up with the candidates and issues.That’s happening to a great degree already, as we again recorded more than a half-million unique Web visitors in February, marking the second straight month at that level.

The new online congressional package, along with our Decision 2008 Web page covering the national race, will make it easier for everyone, particularly as we get closer to the April 22 primary.

In the meantime, I’ll be watching — like you— for the Texas and Ohio results this week. An interesting Pennsylvania primary in these parts could become one for the ages, very quickly.

As always, please contact me with concerns you have about anything in the Centre Daily Times or online at www.centredaily.com.

Executive Editor Bob Heisse can be reached at bheisse@centredaily.com or 231-4640. His blog, “Back in Happy Valley,” is on the Web site.