Pennsylvania voters firm in their presidential choices

Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania voters went to the polls Tuesday with strong views about who should be president, as attention shifted from a well-worn campaign trail to the voting booths in contests including the first competitive Republican primary in decades, as well as races for Congress and state offices.

Voters were also deciding hotly contested Democratic primary races for U.S. Senate and state attorney general.

York County voters getting to polls early

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump topped opinion polls heading into the election, followed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also appeared to hold an advantage going into the primary in her contest with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Live Updates: Tuesday's Pa. primary election

Clinton planned to remain in Philadelphia on Tuesday night to await returns.

Republican Laura Seyler, 63, a senior buyer for a direct marketer, called Donald Trump a bully.

That’s why she voted for him.

“I’m a very solid (Ted) Cruz fan and I think Cruz would do an excellent job. But I think Trump is a bigger bully,” Seyler said at a polling place in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. “That may sound strange but I think that’s kind of what we need.”

She said the country is going in the wrong direction — away from constitutional principles and toward socialism — and Trump will lead a restoration.

“I believe Trump will take the bat and straighten things out,” she said.

Pollsters were predicting a record Republican voter turnout.

But they expected Democrats to turn out in lower numbers than they did in 2008, when 2.3 million voters, or nearly 56 percent, cast ballots in the race between Clinton and then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. Clinton won Pennsylvania by about 200,000 votes.

Election officials in larger counties reported steady but not overwhelming turnout through late afternoon.

Lehigh County Elections Director Tim Benyo said he thought final turnout could be up around 40 percent, 10 percentage points higher than it was in 2008.

Dontae Payne said he is a lifelong Democrat, has voted in every election since he’s been of age and voted Tuesday for Clinton.

“I think she has the better record from being the first lady, from being a senator from New York and from being Secretary of State,” said Payne, a Pittsburgh IT securities analyst.

The 32-year-old said he doesn’t disagree with Sanders’ positons but thinks he would have difficulty enacting his agenda because of a lack of support in the party.

“I don’t know how he’d get any of that done,” Payne said.

Polls will close at 8 p.m.

Democrat Dan Hendel, 39, an assistant manager at a state liquor store, voted for Bernie Sanders because “I want to see real change, not just a conversation every four years that goes nowhere and ends there.”

The environment is a top concern of Hendel, a former Green Party member in Hamburg who became a Democrat “not entirely by choice” so he could vote in Pennsylvania’s closed primary. Sanders, he said, “gives a crap about what’s happening to our planet.”

The Republican presidential primary is something of a beauty contest, since the 54 delegates up for grabs are not promised to the statewide winner.

Rather, the delegate candidates who are elected — three in each of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts — can vote for whomever they want at the convention.

For the Democrats, 127 delegates are up for grabs in the primary, and they are apportioned based on the vote in each congressional district.

For U.S. Senate, four Democrats are running for the nomination to challenge Republican incumbent Pat Toomey in November.

But as Election Day approached, it came down to a race between party-endorsed Katie McGinty and former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who lost to Toomey by 2 percentage points in 2010 but was spurned by the party establishment because he is seen as a maverick.

The Democratic Party recruited McGinty, with many years as a state and national environmental policy official, and poured millions of dollars into her campaign, which benefited from a surge of TV advertising. The fall contest could help determine control of the U.S. Senate.

In a race for state attorney general, three Democrats and two Republicans are running to succeed Democrat Kathleen Kane. Facing trial over the alleged unlawful leaking of grand jury information, Kane decided not to seek a second term.

In congressional races, Democratic U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah of Philadelphia is running for a 12th term in a four-way primary as he faces trial on federal racketeering and bribery charges in May.

Also, Democrats and Republicans are running to succeed retiring Republican U.S. Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick and Joe Pitts in southeastern Pennsylvania.

— Associated Press writer Michael Rubinkam contributed from Hamburg, Pennsylvania.