By Keegan Gibson and Brittany Foster
A Republican plan to change the way Pennsylvania allocates its electoral college votes in Presidential elections has rapidly gained steam over the past few days, turning a once long-shot reform into a likelihood.
PA Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi wants PA to distribute electoral college votes not on the current winner-take-all system, but instead base it on congressional districts (the presidential candidate gets one vote per district, the statewide winner gets a bonus two for the state’s U.S. Senators). It quickly gained public support from Governor Corbett and PA House Majority Leader Mike Turzai.
Pileggi’s Chief of Staff Erik Arneson says the bill will move forward, even without a single Democratic vote.
“In the end, we think it’s what’s most fair for the state and we think it would get done,” said Arneson. “I can’t control what the Democrats do. If it comes to that, and a majority of the House and a majority of the Senate are supportive and that happens not to include any Democrats, that’s certainly possible and would not stop us from trying to advance the bill.”
For more background, check out this excellent piece by Pete DeCoursey at Capitolwire (paywall), as well as articles in the Morning Call, the Inquirer, John Baer’s column in the Daily News, and the Post-Gazette story that took the news national.
Sources close to President Obama’s re-election campaign say that national Democrats are closely watching the proposal. PA Democrats are pushing back.
“This is an obscene, transparent, blatantly partisan change in the rules, designed for one purpose only; to help Republican Presidential candidates,” wrote PA Sen. Daylin Leach in an op-ed. “Republican leaders are distressed that their candidates have lost Pennsylvania in the past five elections, and they wish to correct this problem, not by fielding better candidates or making more compelling arguments, but by stacking the deck to ensure their nominees receive the majority of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes, regardless of how the people of our state actually vote.”
Legally, there is nothing Democrats can do to stop the legal, constitutional bill. Their only hope is to win the public argument.
But they may get some help.
Take a look at the suburban Philadelphia swing districts – currently represented by Republicans Jim Gerlach, Mike Fitzpatrick, Pat Meehan, and Charlie Dent – and examine the results of the last presidential election. In 2008, Obama won Gerlach’s district by 19 points, Fitzpatrick’s by 9, and Meehan’s and Dent’s by 13 each.
It’s not hard to imagine why some of these members are nervous about the proposal, and uncomfortable with the idea of the full force of a presidential campaign trying to turn out Democratic voters in 2012 and beyond.
“If I’m Jim Gerlach or Mike Fitzpatrick, I’m telling my allies in Harrisburg to push back against this with leadership,” said one PA-based GOP consultant with ties to all four southeast PA Republican congressmen.
The Morning Call checked in with two of those four members:
U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican who represents the Lehigh Valley, worried about the political effect on non-presidential races. “I’m probably a little reluctant to be supportive of it … on political grounds,” he said.
The move could cause political heartburn for Republican congressmen in marginal seats around Philadelphia, who usually are spared a big get-out-the-vote effort by the Democratic Party.
Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach acknowledged that the increased attention in his Chester County-based district could have an impact, but was reluctant to fully dismiss the idea.
“I’d like to learn a little more about why they think that’s a good idea for the commonwealth,” Gerlach said. “We’re going to talk about it as a delegation this week to get some sense of our members, what we think the pros and cons of that might be.”
And some DC Republicans aren’t thrilled either – not just from a congressional perspective, but because it looks like the party is throwing in the towel on Pennsylvania in 2012.
“Have you seen [Obama]’s numbers in Pennsylvania? He is highly vulnerable next year. We don’t to win Pennsylvania in 2012 and have an asterisk next to it,” said one source close to the Republican National Committee.
Update: We neglected to include this snippet from DeCoursey’s column:
But some party establishment figures, led by Republican State Committee Chairman Rob Gleason, have pushed back. Gleason, who declined to discuss the bill Tuesday due to a busy schedule, told bill supporters not to do this, and many other GOP heavyweights in the state party, even those allied with Gleason only in public most of the time, are taking his side.
Gleason told advocates of this that after his party-building in Philadelphia and its suburbs, he expects to win all 20 of the state’s electoral votes for the GOP candidate. Other party establishment figures have also weighed in against the idea, and one legislative leader supporting the idea said: “There has been a lot of pushback. This can look bad, and if we end up taking electoral votes from our nominee, that is the worst of all possible worlds: we look bad politically and hurt our candidate.”