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Early Returns Blog

The Huffington Post's Sam Stein reviews the demonstrations against this weekend's NRA convention, which will include a full-page ad in tomorrow's PG urging the group to consider changes to background check procedures.

One of those taking part in the main demonstration Saturday outside the convention center will be Patricia Maisch, the Arizona woman who wrestled away the ammunition clip from Jared Loughner after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' shooting Jan. 8 in Tuscon.

Here's Laura Olson's breaking news story on the Marcellus Shale impact fee proposal unveiled by Senate leader Joe Scarnati:

HARRISBURG -- Unveiling his much-awaited proposed local impact fee on gas drillers, Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati said he believes his plan, or an adaptation of it, should be passed with the state budget in June.

The proposal would assess a base fee of $10,000 per well, a figure that would rise based on production and natural-gas prices. Revenue would be collected by the state Public Utility Commission, and distributed to local governments, conservation districts, and for statewide environmental and infrastructure projects.

While the breakdown for each of those recipients is still rough, he told reporters this morning that he would like to see 60 percent go back to drilling-heavy communities. The top Senate Republican also said his fee would be retroactive, accounting for drilling activity last year when lawmakers failed to agree on a severance tax plan.

Gov. Tom Corbett opposes a state severance tax, but has said he will consider a local fee to alleviate impacts from drilling.

Mr. Scarnati said that there is "political pressure" on lawmakers to approve a fee to end a debate that has been on-going for more than two years.

"I cannot see how we get a state budget done with the cuts that are occurring in so many lines without addressing an impact fee for this industry," said Mr. Scarnati, of Jefferson County.

He said he talked with the governor earlier this week about gas drilling impacts, and said he tried to craft his plan around Mr. Corbett's opposition to any money going to the state's general fund.

"I have a caution light" from the governor, he said. "I don't have a red light; I don't have a green light."

Mr. Scarnati and other Senate Republicans last year supported a state tax that would have assessed drillers at 1.5 percent for the first five years of a well's production, and 5 percent after that. Mr. Scarnati described his new proposal as a "much better plan" that would bring in significantly more revenue.

Estimates from his staff showed the fee raising $45 million from wells that were producing last year, $76 million this year and $103 million in 2012. Last year's Senate GOP tax rate was projected to raise $56.8 million in 2012, which Mr. Scarnati said was lower due to a number of exemptions for capital costs.

Of the portion that will go to local government, he is proposing this distribution: 36 percent to counties with producing Marcellus Shale gas wells; 37 percent to municipalities with wells; and 27 percent to municipalities with no producing sites but are in a county with wells.

He also would prohibit municipalities, like Pittsburgh, that have adopted zoning ordinances prohibiting drilling from receiving funding from the fee. The PUC would be required to publish a "model zoning ordinance" with certain standards to be laid out in his bill, as a comparison to determine if a municipality has a prohibitive ordinance.

Peter Urban of Stephens Media put together a handy-dandy Xcel spreadsheet (see below) on the fundraising totals for 87 GOP House freshmen through April -- and topping the list with more than a half-million in the bank is West Virginia's David McKinley.

Pat Meehan ranks sixth with $314,000 cash on hand, but his fellow freshmen weren't nearly as prolific in hauling in dough. Mike Fitzpatrick comes in 45th, Lou Barletta is 66th, Butler's own Mike Kelly is 79th and Tom Marino is No. 80 with just $37,000 on hand. Freshman Gop Funds

Joe Manchin's reelection chances are looking pretty good so far, reports Public Policy Polling:

Joe Manchin's popularity is holding up well almost six months after his election to the Senate and if he had to stand for reelection today he'd be in pretty solid shape, even against his toughest potential opponent in popular Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito.

55% of West Virginia voters approve of the job Manchin is doing to 31% who disapprove, putting him in the 80th percentile for popularity out of Senators PPP has polled on in the last couple years. Manchin's numbers have improved a little from our January poll of the state when his approval spread was 52/32.

Manchin's numbers continue to show some unusual but unsurprising patterns. With Democrats he is less popular than most Senators are within their own parties, at a 61/24 approval spread. He actually has his lowest approval rating of any ideological group with voters describing themselves as 'very liberal' at 43%. He's at 60% with moderate and 'somewhat liberal' voters, 54% with 'somewhat conservative' voters and 47% with 'very conservative' voters. He's definitely the only Democratic Senator in the country whose lowest level of popular is with 'very liberal' voters.

He more than makes up for that lack of enthusiasm for him from the base with his appeal to Republicans though. 45% of them approve of him to 41% who disapprove. There was a lot of question about whether Manchin could maintain his crossover support as he shifted from an executive position to a legislative one but so far, so good for him on that front.

Manchin would lead Capito 48-40 in a hypothetical match up, a margin pretty similar to what he won over John Raese in November. Democrats have a huge registration advantage in West Virginia so for a Republican to win takes holding pretty much all the GOP vote while winning over a lot of Democrats. Manchin though is winning almost as many Republicans (20%) as Capito is Democrats (21%). Capito really would need to take about 20% more Democrats than Manchin gets Republicans to beat him and that's why she trails by 8 despite a very impressive 57-22 advantage with independents.

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In a couple hours, Rick Santorum will take a brief respite from his early-primary-state jaunts to address the Beltway Elites at the National Press Club, where he'll be talking foreign policy. As detailed in our pages before, Rick fancies himself an expert on foreign policy from his time in the Senate -- and is using that to distinguish himself in the muddled GOP presidential field. Talking Points Memo, while graciously linking to my piece, takes a jaundiced look at a few greatest hits of Santorum foreign policy pronouncements, including his "D'oh" moment when he said: "We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons."

An AP preview of the speech shows Santorum blasting Obama's "militant socialism" -- changed from the even creepier "godless socialism" -- while offering many criticisms of the president's foreign policy outlook. We will have full coverage of the speech in tomorrow's dried pulp edition of the Post-Gazette and on Your Daily Santorum.

In other Santorum news, he and wife Karen gave a joint interview to the Christian Broadcasting Network, in which Karen addressed the loud -- and sometimes icky -- criticism leveled at her husband, and the difficulty of whistling Kumbaya through it all:

Ephesians Chapter 6: verses 10-20. I love that. Put on the armor of God and everyday I say that. We’re going out and it’s all about doing what you believe God wants you to do, fighting that fight and you put on the armor of God and it’s okay. One of the hard things as a Christian is to love your enemies. I pray for those people. I pray for them and did I love them after the 2006 race? (Laughs) I can’t say I did but I tried.


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