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The left-leaning Public Policy Polling has a new Pa survey out showing Barack Obama with a 6-point lead over Mitt Romney in the state, a tad less than the 8-point lead the Democrat enjoyed in their last poll in May.

Obama leads the Republican presidential contender 49-43% largely due to a big lead with women and holding his own with white men. But his approval numbers are still underwater. From PPP:

Despite his lead Obama's approval numbers in Pennsylvania continue to be a little bit worrisome. Only 46% of voters approve of him to 50% who disapprove. His numbers are better in Michigan where he has a 51% approval rating to 44% who are unhappy with him. Romney continues to have personal likability issues in both states. In Pennsylvania his favorability rating is 39/51 and in Michigan it's 38/55.

The automated poll of 758 Pennsylvania voters was conducted between July 21st and 23rd with a MoE of +/-3.6%.

More results here.

Fights over Pa's Voter ID bill get a lot more serious today with the opening of legal arguments in Commonwealth Court -- the state appellate court that deals with government/election issues.

Karen Langley previews the proceedings today, including the stipulation that there will be no evidence presented of election-day voter fraud (and related arguments on what that means):

"What you're not going to hear about very much is voter fraud in this case," said Jennifer Clarke, an attorney for the challengers and executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.

Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for the attorney general, declined to comment on the July 12 stipulation. But in court filings, attorneys for the state argue that legislators need only a conceivable purpose for the legislation -- not known cases of voter fraud -- for the law to meet its constitutional burden. They also write that the opponents have shown no credible reason that people without an acceptable ID cannot obtain one in the three months before the election.

"Voting, like so many other constitutionally protected activities, does not occur without each person sharing the responsibility to exercise that right," the brief says.

You can follow Karen's updates (where court rules allow) here on Twitter. Here's the decorum order posted by Judge Robert Simpson, a Republican who joined the court in 2002:

Order Filed 07/24/2012
Simpson, Robert E.
Document Name: DECORUM ORDER AS AMENDED : It is ordered and decreed as follows: Seating for preliminary injunction scheduled to begin on Wednesday, 7-25-12, 10:00 am, CR 3002 on the third floor of the PJC shall be limited to 108 persons in the gallery on a "First come, first seated" basis. There will be no reserved seating. Additional seating will be available for hearing on Petitioners' Motion another 108 persons in the gallery of CR 3001, where the proceedings will be viewable through live audio and video feed. No electronic devices may be used in the courtrooms during the hearing, except those used by the Court and by the attorneys representing parties in this suit. No laptop computers or backpacks will be allowed in either courtroom. Cell or smart phones may be carried into the courtrooms, but must be turned off at all times. A media room shall be available on the first floor of the PJC. See order filed. No cameras will be allowed inside the PJC at any time during the hearing. See order filed. The courtrooms will be unlocked and available for seating approximately 30 minutes before the opening of court. See order filed.

Pittsburgh religious leaders will protest the bill at a 1 p.m. rally at Freedom Corner (Centre & Crawford) today in the Hill District.

Chris Potter at Pittsburgh City Paper has a different take on the stipulation from the state Attorney General's office stating it has no evidence of election day voter fraud.

Chris notes the AG has only admitted it won't argue the matter in court, and he goes to other court filings to show the state indeed believes fraud exists:

As the stipulation agreement notes, the state's "sole rationale for the Photo ID law," is contained in a response to written questions filed by the ACLU. And in that answer, the state makes quite clear that it has plenty of suspicions that Voter ID does take place ... and that one purpose of the law is to ferret out such cases.

State officials "are aware of reports indicating that votes have been cast in the name of registered electors who are deceased, who no longer reside in Pennsylvania , or who no longer reside in the jurisdiction where the vote is cast," the state's answer asserts. And without some proof of ID, the state contends, "there is a risk that votes may be cast in the names of registered electors who are dead or who have left [the area] by a person other than the registered voters ... Requiring a photo ID is one way to ensure that every elector who presents himself to vote [is] the person that he purports to be, and to ensure that the public has confidence in the electoral process. The requirement of a photo ID is a tool to detect and deter voter fraud."

Democrat Larry Maggi's campaign announced today that it has reserved $495K in Pittsburgh air time this fall, the most of any Pgh-area congressional challenger. (The only other main challenger is Republican Keith Rothfus, who has reserved $357K in airtime in his battle against Mark Critz.)

Maggi, of Washington County, last week reported $407K in cash for his PA18 challenge of incumbent Tim Murphy of Upper St. Clair, who reported $1 million on hand.

The Democrat's campaign looks to be making the argument that its challenge should be taken more seriously than Murphy's past challengers, who rarely went on TV -- in 2010, Democrat Dan Connolly only spent about $80 grand on TV spots. Murphy thus far hasn't made an ad buy, but he surely will (he did to defend his seat against GOP rival Evan Feinberg in the April primary). Outside spenders are also getting into the fray, from the DCCC ($1.5M) NRCC ($1.2M), House Majority PAC ($350K) and SEIU ($161K) -- though they may all be spending on Critz/Rothfus as well as Murphy/Maggi.

With the DOJ looking into whether the state's Voter ID bill violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (discrimination on basis of race, color or membership in minority group), here's the letter from the department's top civil rights official seeking data from the Corbett administration.

(Note: The ACLU's court challenge notes how 120,000 Pa citzens from Puerto Rico can't get the birth certificates necessary to obtain acceptable ID.)

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