An Insiders’ Guide to the GOP Nominee Selection for the PA-10 Special Election
With Congressman Tom Marino (PA-10) resigning his seat to join the Trump Administration, the process to select the Republican nominee to replace him is, by state law, determined by internal party rules that control delegate selection and allocation. The Republican nominee will ultimately be chosen at a nomination conference by vote of conferees from each county in the district.
Typically, in other districts, candidates will strongly rely on home county advantage with the most successful candidates often coming from the largest county by population. However, as applied to the 10th district, the geographic advantages that are usually created by the rules are out the window – and it will be the candidate who can best build coalitions across counties during the nomination process that will come out on top.
With the current list of rumored and potential candidates, none has a path to winning the nomination outright without venturing significantly outside of their own turf. The candidates therefore will have to make themselves familiar with this complicated collection of disparate county bylaws in order to survive the inevitable runoff at the nomination conference.
Whichever candidate best masters the county-by-county rules is best positioned to be selected as the Republican nominee.
In each county, conferees are selected per their individual county party’s bylaws. There are 15 counties that comprise the 10th District. Accordingly, there are 15 different sets of rules for selecting the county conferees. Knowledge of these varying county processes is critical because there is a mixture of conferee selection methods, which will determine the level of time and effort candidates will need to expend to secure conferees.
Most counties use some variation of direct appointment by the County Chair or appointment by County Executive Committee. However, some counties have different rules altogether, like Perry County’s secret ballot by the entire county committee.
Knowing who controls the process in each county will assist candidates in determining who they have to win over to their side. This could mean wooing solely the county chair, or having to woo an entire county committee made up of hundreds of precinct committeemembers – potentially for only a handful of conferees!
Aside from “how” conferees are selected, it is critical to know “how many” each county gets in order to calculate which clusters of counties are critical to win the nomination.
Conferee allocation is determined by the number of votes cast for the Republican candidate in the preceding presidential election – in this case, votes for Donald Trump in 2016. Each county is guaranteed one conferee and an additional conferee for each 1,000 (or majority fraction thereof) of voters for the Republican presidential candidate in that county or portion of that county which falls within the congressional district.
Based on the above arithmetic, no single county holds a decisive portion of the conferee vote share. Lycoming comes out with the most conferees – 36 of the 204 – but that is still less than 18% of the vote share.
With numerous candidates already examining the potential of running for this seat, a multi-candidate field would result in rounds of voting where candidates with lower numbers of conferee votes are eliminated until someone finally reaches a majority of votes, similar to the statewide Republican endorsement procedure.
Given the projected numbers above, 103 conferee votes would earn a candidate a majority of votes and the nomination. With a potential multi-candidate field, it will be key for a successful candidate to cobble together a cross-county coalition of conferees that will keep them from being eliminated and will stick with them during early voting rounds.
Numerous potential names to replace Marino have already been floated. However, of those names, none currently represent a constellation of counties that would add up to the majority threshold.
Specifically, the current rumored candidates for the seat are State Representative Fred Keller (R-Snyder), Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko, Lycoming County Commissioner Tony Mussare, State Senator Mario Scavello, and State Representative Jeff Wheeland (R-Lycoming).
Assuming regional loyalty where each official captures the entirety of their own “home turf” (which is impossible because they overlap), Keller receives 23 votes from Union and Snyder; McLinko receives 18; Mussare receives 36; Scavello receives 11 from Northampton and Monroe; and Wheeland receives 36 from Lycoming.
Interestingly, Senator Gene Yaw would theoretically receive 80 conferees from Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan, Union, and part of Susquehanna – again, this is assuming full home turf capture, which is impossible due to overlap.
Accordingly, no candidate has a clear path to capturing a majority of the conferees. To be successful after multiple rounds of voting, candidates must familiarize themselves with the byzantine collection of differing bylaws regarding the selection of conferees across 15 counties.
Alex Egner is the Chairman of the Lancaster Young Republicans. He has worked multiple campaigns at all levels from borough council to U.S. Senate.
Jake Sternberger is an attorney at Morgan & Morgan and a veteran political consultant. He most recently worked as the campaign manager for former Congressman and Senate candidate Adm. Joe Sestak.