Presidential nominating races to hit Pennsylvania next month
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania voters accustomed to voting in presidential primaries that don’t mean much could find themselves in the thick of the fight next month, as the nomination contests for Democrats and Republicans still have some life.
Pennsylvania primaries come late in the season — this year the election is April 26, after which only 12 more states will still have to weigh in.
Some notable facts about Pennsylvania primaries:
VOTER REGISTRATION TRENDS
At last count there were about 8.2 million registered voters, including 4 million Democrats, 3 million Republicans and 1.1 million others. Both major parties are down slightly from April 2012, when President Barack Obama was seeking a second term and Republicans were nominating Mitt Romney. Democrats are up from 3.6 million registrants for the April 2000 primary, when George W. Bush overcame John McCain, Steve Forbes and Gary Bauer to win the GOP nomination and Al Gore defeated Bill Bradley to become the Democratic standard-bearer. Republicans are down from 3.2 million in April 2000.
Since the start of January, Republicans have picked up 82,000 voters who had been registered as Democrats, independents or some other party. Democrats have flipped about 62,000 from the other parties. The net gain for Republicans of nearly 20,000 represents about two-tenths of 1 percent of registered voters.
Pennsylvania has a closed primary, meaning only those registered for a given party may vote to select a nominee. The last day to register for the primary is March 28, and the last day to apply for a civilian absentee ballot is April 19. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf implemented online registration for voters last year.
REPUBLICAN PRIMARY RULES
During the primary, Republicans will elect 54 delegates to their nominating convention in Cleveland, three for each congressional district. The ballot will not explain which candidate the delegates intend to support at the convention, and they are not bound to vote for any of them. The other 17 Pennsylvania GOP delegates will have to support the state’s primary winner through the first ballot only — they consist of the state’s three Republican National Committee members, 10 at-large and four bonus delegates chosen this summer at the state Republican Party meeting ahead of the convention. Pennsylvania will have a significant percentage of the country’s unbound delegates, and could play an important role if there is a convention fight over the nomination. Retired neurologist Ben Carson, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush all dropped out of the race after the petition deadline, so if their supporters are elected delegates they will have to decide who to support.
DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY RULES
Democratic primary voters will select 127 delegates, allocated among congressional districts based on how much support they gave Gov. Tom Wolf in 2014 and President Barack Obama in 2012. The ballot will identify for voters whether the delegates support former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Twenty-one others, elected officials or party office holders, will be delegates but won’t be bound to any candidate. The state committee will meet in early June to pick 20 pledged leaders and elected officials and 42 pledged at-large delegates and alternates. The total delegation will be 210 people.
EIGHT YEARS AGO
Pennsylvania’s relatively late primary date has often made the state an afterthought in presidential campaigns, but not in 2008, when a quirk in the calendar and a still-contested race meant Obama and Clinton crisscrossed the state for six weeks, spending more time in Pennsylvania than in any other single state. Clinton won Pennsylvania by 9 percentage points, but of course Obama won the Democratic Party nomination and went on to beat McCain in the fall general election.
WHAT THE POLLS SAY
Donald Trump has consistently led the Republican field in polls in Pennsylvania, although the polling has been relatively light. A February survey by Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster found that of 371 registered Republican voters interviewed by telephone or online, Trump led with 22 percent, trailed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich at 15 percent and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at 12 percent. Rubio, Bush and Carson got a combined 26 percent, while 25 percent said they had not made up their minds. The sampling margin of error was plus or minus 5.1 percent. On the Democratic side, Clinton has led Sanders in Pennsylvania polls. In the February survey, Clinton led 48 percent to Sanders’ 27 percent out of 486 registered Democratic voters. The sampling margin of error was plus or minus 4.4 percent.
DONORS, PARTY LEADERS
A large proportion of Pennsylvania’s Republican Party leaders and big donors had been backing candidates — notably Rubio, Christie and Bush — who have now dropped out. Some have gravitated to Kasich, such as former Gov. Tom Ridge, who initially endorsed Bush. Many are still trying to figure out who they’ll support. Some are simply waiting to see how the rest of the campaign plays out. “That’s where I am,” said Chester County’s GOP chairman, Val DiGiorgio.
The Republicans will meet July 18-21 in Cleveland, the Democrats July 25-28 in Philadelphia.