“Pennsylvania, since the 1960s, has become a quintessential television state. It’s big and too hard to do retail campaigning. You get into six television markets. For $10 million to $15 million you can do a decent race. For $20 million to $25 million, it can be exemplary. In 2008, Pennsylvania was second in most money spent on television. From Labor Day to Election Day, it was $25 million.”

On truth-squadding campaign ads:

“I am a big fan of constant evaluations by the media, fact-checking commercials. I would like to see every single commercial reviewed. Whether it’s on their station or not, stations ought to do this routinely. It’s rare to find a commercial that’s 100 percent accurate.”

How much voters care about money in politics:

“Not nearly as much as they should. What’s fascinating in Pennsylvania: The biggest reaction was not to Bonusgate where there were more than 20 convictions. That didn’t matter much to them. People will decry it, but there’s not a lot of trust. It’s a plague on both [parties’] houses. After the [late night pay hike] vote in 2005, 54 new members [of the General Assembly] were elected. It was the biggest turnover in modern history. That mattered.”

How a scholar should engage in the political process:

“I have a role to provide balance, history, and perspective. History is retrospective; it’s not about the future. I’m always cautious. When I do speeches, they’re filled with historic analogies and polling data. I’m not partisan.”

Still, standing so close to the political fire also makes Madonna a person likely to catch a few sparks. And he caught a few earlier this year when Santorum called him a “Democratic hack” after the professor reported polling showing former Gov. Mitt Romney had caught Santorum in his home state.

“If a candidate is running 20 points behind, I have an obligation to say why they’re 20 points behind,” said Madonna, who noted Factcheck.org’s favorable evaluation of his accuracy and record. “My job is to explain. I understand I can become part of the story. I have to live with that and be scrupulously independent.”

Ken Knelly served as metro editor at The Times-Tribune in Scranton and as senior editor for government and business at The State in Columbia, S.C. He owns Clearberries, a communications consulting and training firm, and works for a Christian college in Northeastern Pennsylvania.