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Pennsylvania hosts dueling GOP presidential hopefuls
Pennsylvania played host Friday to dueling presidential candidates for the first time this year, a sign of the unsettled Republican primary race led by businessman Donald Trump barely three weeks before the state's April 26 primary.
Friday's Harrisburg-area campaign visits by two Republicans, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, came a day after Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders visited Pittsburgh in his pursuit of the Democratic nomination. Next week, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is visiting Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, while Trump has yet to make a campaign visit to Pennsylvania.
For Kasich, Pennsylvania is somewhat home turf: He grew up in McKees Rocks, just outside Pittsburgh. Kasich arrived on the heels of a strong polling performance — a March poll by Franklin and Marshall College showed him neck-and-neck with Trump in Pennsylvania — and told a conservative audience he is the only Republican who can beat Clinton in the fall, in part by competing in Rust Belt states.
"Now, I will be able to campaign in ... Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan. These are places where Republicans traditionally don't do very well," Kasich told the crowd of hundreds at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference. "I don't remember when the last time we had a very competitive Republican candidate in Pennsylvania, and you better believe that I will be campaigning in Pennsylvania as a general election candidate."
Pennsylvania has supported the Democrat in every presidential election since 1988.
Cruz, who has not polled well in Pennsylvania, ignored Kasich in a separate appearance in front of the conservative audience. Rather, Cruz said that just he and Trump have plausible paths to winning the Republican nomination, and he warned that a Trump nomination would be a train wreck for Republicans in the fall election.
"And that's not fair to the train wrecks," he said.
A Trump nomination risks losing the White House, the Senate and races "up and down the ticket," Cruz said.
Kasich also delivered a warning to the crowd of conservatives that a Trump nomination would so sour general-election voters that it would cost Republicans the Senate — and, implicitly, Pennsylvania's U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey his seat in the November election. But he lumped Cruz into that warning.
"You nominate the wrong Republican candidate who divides the country, we'll lose the United State Senate as well as the White House," Kasich told the crowd.
The contested primaries are driving up voter interest in the nation's sixth-most populous state. But Pennsylvania's primary election itself, at least for Republicans, is largely a beauty contest. Just 17 of Pennsylvania's 71 delegates are up for grabs on April 26, and even those are only bound to the winning candidate on the first ballot at the convention.
The other 54 delegates are not committed by the vote and will be cast by 54 people — three per congressional district — who are elected on April 26.