Pennsylvania GOP Primary Likely Relevant To Presidential Nomination

Hazleton Standard Speaker

Unless the Republican presidential race radically changes, Pennsylvania is likely to have a presidential primary election that matters for the second presidential election in a row.

The state will not see all the attention that then Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton showered on Democratic voters in 2008, but only the emergence of a dominant candidate before then will prevent Pennsylvania from hosting lots of pre-primary visits by the top Republican candidates.

“It now looks like that Pennsylvania will be important,” said G. Terry Madonna, Ph.D., director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College.

The way the Republican race is unfolding, coupled with the Republican nominating schedule, the nature of delegate selection and Pennsylvania’s sheer size, seem ready to ensure the state’s relevance.

“As someone who is close to the Santorum camp and has friends in the Romney camp, I can tell you both are planning on Pennsylvania being competitive,” said Vince Galko, a political consultant who used to work for Santorum.

The primary is set for April 24, barring some unforeseen change in the date caused by the ongoing battle over the reapportionment of state House and Senate districts.

The primary/caucus schedule is a main reason Pennsylvanians could get to see the Republican presidential candidates a lot in the commonwealth.

In 2008, Obama and Clinton had six weeks free after the Mississippi primary to campaign in Pennsylvania whose April 22 primary was the only one that day. They criss-crossed the state again and again, turning it into a mini-Iowa.

Republicans won’t be here that long, but the last primaries before Pennsylvania’s are April 3, when Republicans weigh in during primaries in Texas, Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia. That potentially means three weeks of campaigning by the candidates in Pennsylvania and four other states with primaries scheduled the same day – New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware.

The two biggest prizes in that bunch are New York, with 95 delegates, and Pennsylvania with 72. Rick Santorum is the state’s former U.S. senator, which might discourage other candidates from campaigning as much here, but 72 delegates is still an attractive target.

Of course, the outcome of the overall race must still be in doubt for Pennsylvania to really have a say.

If neither Santorum, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich nor Rep. Ron Paul dominate in collecting delegates in the 30 primaries and caucuses coming up before April 24, the chances of Pennsylvania remaining important increase sharply.

So far, no candidate has pulled away.

As of Monday, eight states had held primaries or caucuses, and Romney had 99 delegates of the 1,144 necessary to earn the nomination, Santorum, 47 delegates, Gingrich, 32 delegates, and Paul, 20 delegates, according to the RealClearPolitics website, which tracks national politics.

Because he has a lot more money than his opponents, Romney is still considered by many as the long-term favorite to win the nomination because he can spend heavily to campaign in every state and win the bulk of the delegates before Pennsylvania.

If his financial advantage finally kicks in for real, he could dominate the next six weeks, but if the Republican presidential race has proved anything, momentum swings are routine.

“Remember what happened in 2008 (in the Democratic race). Pennsylvania mattered when there were only two candidates,” Madonna said.

For now, four Republican candidates remain viable.

It would be almost impossible for anyone to officially wrap up the race by Pennsylvania. Romney is closest, needing 1,045 delegates to get to 1,144. The primaries and caucuses coming up before Pennsylvania have 1,197 delegates to award, meaning even Romney would have to win almost all of them to wrap things up.

While no candidate is likely to get to 1,144 before Pennsylvania, one candidate could earn a delegate lead so large that the other candidates would have little chance of winning the nomination.

The possibility of anyone conceding is reduced because more than half the 30 primaries or caucuses award delegates are based on a candidate’s proportion of the overall vote in a state or territory. Only three states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have winner-take-all primaries or caucuses. Most of the other states have non-binding caucuses.

That means someone can lose a state and still pick up delegates, precisely what happened in 2008 on the Democratic side. Obama lost many states overall, but kept adding delegates in states he lost. Indeed, Clinton won Pennsylvania by 9 percentage points, but only wound up with 12 more delegates here than Obama (85 to 73).

A couple of other factors could reduce or limit the attention paid to Pennsylvania by the Republican candidates.

If Santorum is still in the running, polls here could show him so far ahead in Pennsylvania, that no one else bothers showing up.

Also, Pennsylvania Republicans elect 54 of their 72 delegates directly by voting in the primary, not proportionally. Delegate candidates appear on the primary ballot. Their allegiances to one presidential candidate or another are not listed on the ballot, but presidential campaigns recruit candidates to run for delegate.

Presumably, Romney, because of his superior campaign organization, and Santorum, because of his past grass-roots connections, could have fuller slates of delegate candidates in Pennsylvania than either Paul or Gingrich.

Someone with a smaller delegate slate might choose to skip the state or devote more time to the primaries in New York, Connecticut or Rhode Island where at least some delegates are award proportionally. Delaware is winner take all.

In any case, Pennsylvania is likely still to matter in the Republican nominating process at least somewhat because with 72 delegates it could add significantly to someone’s delegate count at a crucial moment even if the amount of campaigning by candidates here is limited by a huge polling lead or lack of a full delegate slate.

Galko said the Michigan primary, coming up next Tuesday, and Super Tuesday, March 6, when 10 states hold primaries or caucuses, are key.

“If Rick wins Michigan, it’s really going to extend this thing,” he said.

If no one dominates on Super Tuesday, it’s here they come Pennsylvania.

Read more: