Karl Rove speaks to Manufacturer's Association at Pullo Center

John Joyce

Fox News contributor and New York Times best-selling author Karl Rove told a crowd of more than 500 Southern Pennsylvania industry leaders they can expect the lowest voter turnout in recent history this November should former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump secure the nominations of their respective parties in the upcoming presidential election.

Karl Rove, right, signs his book for Reed Anderson of Newpark following the Manufacturer's Association's annual event at the Pullo Center, Wednesday, April 20, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

Speaking at the Pullo Family Performing Arts Center on the campus of  Penn State York, Rove, the former White House Deputy Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush and the widely regarded "architect" of the 2000 and 2004 U.S. Presidential elections, said the GOP Convention in Cleveland in July might prove the first since 1976 in which the first ballot does not select the nominee.

Rove was the invited guest and keynote speaker of the Manufacturer's Association, which hosted it's 110th annual event Tuesday. The MA is a regional trade association that partners with and advocates for manufacturing, production and logistics companies and their employees. Despite Rove's ties to the GOP, MA officials said when it comes to elections, the organization endorses neither party nor candidate

"No, we usually focus on issues," MA Executive Director Tom Palisin said.

Palisin said the association invited Rove because it was looking for someone with a breadth of experience in presidential politics and campaigns to address the needs and concerns of the region's largest economic driving force-- manufacturing. Issues central to industry will determine the way MA members vote, he said.

"We will look for the leader that supports manufacturing and supports our issues with reasonable regulation, taxes, investment in our workforce," Palisin said. "That tends to be Republican."

Rove is the most recent in a long list of conservatives featured at MA annual events, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and one-time presidential candidate-turned Sen.Ted Cruz supporter, Dr. Ben Carson.

In his speech, Rove focused on the contentious nature inherent in presidential politics -- both in past and present elections -- and spent equal time forecasting possible outcomes of the current race for the White House and promoting his new book, "The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters."

Rove said a contested convention will better suit Cruz than Trump, given the way some states appoint delegates. Unbound delegates from a state in which its caucus, convention or primary selected a candidate will vote for that candidate the first time around, he said. But, as with states such as Colorado where the "unbound" delegates openly support Cruz, a second ballot at the convention would likely hand the nomination over to the Texas senator.

He said if Clinton and Trump are to face off in a general election, however, the two candidates will likely spend more time excoriating one another rather than focusing on the issues. And if that happens, he said, Pennsylvania will likely play a significant role in deciding the election, but would also have to endure some pretty nasty campaign ads along the way.

"As a result we are likely to see a terrible general election, and unfortunately, Pennsylvania will be a battle ground state," he told the audience. "I say 'unfortunately' because that will then force you to take on the awesome responsibility of not simply deciding the general election, but also in the meantime protecting every one of your children and grandchildren from what they might see on television."

In addition to Rove, the MA said goodbye to its outgoing president, John Lebo, and welcomed in new president, Thomas Baughman. Baughmn, of York, is founder and CEO of New Concept Tech. Inc., a locally-based tool and die company.

Baughman said he hoped to focus, as had Lebo before him, on the most pressing issue facing manufacturing today, talent recruitment and retention.

Palisin later showed a video emphasizing that same need before handing out this year's awards of recognition and giving way to Rove.

"We really want to bring attention to manufacturing, how important it is to our economy. It is the number one sector from an economic perspective. It employs 116,000 in Southern Pennsylvania," Palisin said. "It is the largest employer in York County."