Politically Uncorrected: Pennsylvania Tuesday

white-house-north-2007-djThe state of Pennsylvania has an official motto, and it’s a fine one: “Virtue, Liberty, and Independence.” Alas, the state legislature still lacks one.

Fortunately, there is still time to fix that. It is less elegant than “Virtue, Liberty, and Independence,” but it fits pretty well. Perhaps the legislature’s motto should be: “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Yes, the state legislature – despite the worst intentions – has gotten some things right by accident. Dumb luck still makes things work out once in a while.

We are reminded of this as the 2016 presidential primaries and caucuses fast approach. The state legislature seems once again ready to allow the Pennsylvania primary to be scheduled so late in the delegate selection process – April 26 – that Pennsylvania voters might not matter to the contest.

Once again, as has been the case in past presidential election cycles, legislation has been introduced into the Pennsylvania General Assembly to move up the late April state primary to mid-March; and also once again, as the case has been in past presidential cycles, the legislature will not move the state primary to an earlier date in the year.

The reasons the legislature refuses to move the primary to an earlier date are both petty and parochial. But there has been nothing petty or parochial about their consequences. Because of Pennsylvania’s chronically late primary, the state has not influenced either party’s presidential nomination since 1976.

So many other states have “front loaded” their delegate selection process that by the time Pennsylvanians get to vote, both parties have wrapped up their nomination contest.

While Pennsylvania plays virtually no role in selecting who runs for president, it has consistently been one of a handful of states that decides the election in the Electoral College.

This perennial paradox is both politically painful for Pennsylvania and senseless for the country as a whole. The irony is palpable: a state so pivotal to the general election is reduced to irrelevancy in the nomination process.

But perhaps not in 2016!

Two factors are in play – both in the Republican Party. The first is the size of the Republican field.  Donald Trump has a sizable lead and Rick Perry’s withdrawal suggests the winnowing process had begun. But it’s still the largest and strongest field in modern history. The sheer number of serious candidates together with the enormous amount of money available means a protracted and unpredictable fight for the nomination. There is every reason to expect that more candidates will remain in the race longer than ever before. Consequently, it is mathematically unlikely the delegate selection that takes place in Iowa and New Hampshire will give any candidate an insurmountable lead before the scheduled Pennsylvania primary.

The second factor in play may be even more important. The Republicans have instituted rule changes that require delegates to be selected proportionately through March 15. So a candidate winning a state or congressional district up until March 15 will win only that portion of the delegates equal to their percentage of the popular vote.

The purported purpose of requiring proportional distribution of delegates prior to March 15 was to create greater interest in the race while also slowing down the process. Presumably, no candidate will amass a commanding lead until after March 15 when winner-take-all is permitted.

As a result, the Republicans could have several viable candidates in the hunt on April 26when five states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania) hold events – the largest of which is Pennsylvania. In short, the largest number of delegates after March 15 by far may be selected on a crucial Tuesday in April.

Call it Pennsylvania Tuesday!

The situation in the Democratic Party is far less competitive but nonetheless increasingly fluid. Long time front-runner Hillary Clinton is steadily bleeding once solid support while insurgent Bernie Sanders is gaining in several early voting states.

Meanwhile, many Democrats seem eager to find alternative candidates including possibly Vice President Joe Biden. Remembering the lengthy slug-fest in 2008 between Clinton and Obama, it is not implausible that the Democratic race will also be unsettled on April 26 when Pennsylvania votes.

Which brings us back to the topic of stopped clocks.

2016 is looking more and more like the year Pennsylvania might be relevant – not because the legislature moved the primary date earlier – but because the legislature failed to do so. The stopped clock got it right.

It’s about time.

4 Responses

  1. Unfortunately, this piece leaves out a very practical reason why the legislature opts out of a March 15 date, although none of them would probably say so. A March 15 date would require that state legislative and senate candidates running for election and re-election would have to start passing their nomination petitions in the middle of December, the beginning of peak snow and ice season – better known as “get the hell out of Pennsylvania” time. A March 15 date may be okay for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but in the rural counties, you’re lucky to find enough party members to sign a petition, let alone get to their homes.

  2. And what if there is a national-level repeat of Florida 2000? What if the national popular vote margin is, say, 23 votes? Recounts ad nauseam? Let the House choose the President? The only sane thing is to hold a runoff if the popular vote is close, say 5 percent or less.

  3. Analysts already conclude that only the 2016 party winner of Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire is not a foregone conclusion. So, without a change in the system, less than a handful of states will continue to dominate and determine the presidential general election, while most of the country is politically irrelevant.

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

    A survey of Pennsylvania voters showed 78% overall support for a national popular vote for President.

    The national popular vote winner would receive all of the 270+ electoral votes of the enacting states.

    The bill ensures that every vote, in every state, will matter equally in every presidential election, and the candidate with the most votes wins, as in virtually every other election in the country.

    Every vote would matter in the state counts and national count.

    The bill has passed a total of 33 legislative chambers in 22 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states states with 250 electoral votes.
    The bill has been enacted by 11 jurisdictions possessing 165 electoral votes—61% of the 270 electoral votes necessary to activate it, including 4 small jurisdictions, 3 medium-size states, and 4 big states.


  4. Pennsylvania has voted Democratic in the 6 presidential elections between 1992 and 2012.

    In 2012 Pennsylvania was not treated by the candidates as key to winning the presidency. Neither Obama nor Biden conducted any post-convention events in Pennsylvania. The three last-minute events by Romney and the two last-minute events by Ryan were a token effort (a tiny fraction of the 253 post-convention campaign events). The spending in pursuit of Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes (mostly last-minute) was less than one-sixth of what was spent in pursuit of Ohio’s 18 electoral votes.

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