EDITORIAL: Prepare for Pa.'s primary prominence

York Dispatch Editorial Board
President Donald Trump pumps his fist to the crowd after speaking to a campaign rally in Montoursville, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Move over, New Hampshire.

Make way, Iowa.

There’s a new player in the political world of critically important primary states and its name is Pennsylvania.

President Donald Trump’s boisterous rally in Montoursville May 20 was just the latest stop in what has been a parade of presidential appearances throughout the Keystone State since his election. He visited the state eight times in 2018 (only Florida, home of his Mar-a-Lago resort, and D.C.-hugging Virginia were more frequented).

In targeting Pennsylvania as crucial battleground territory 18 months ahead of Election Day, Republican Trump is far from alone.

Recent weeks have seen Democratic hopefuls Elizabeth Warren in Philadelphia, Bernie Sanders in Pittsburgh and Beto O’Rourke at Penn State University. Recently announced Democratic candidate and Pennsylvania native Joe Biden appeared just days apart in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

In 2020, it has become apparent, a candidate isn’t going to get to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue without going through Pennsylvania itself.

So it is no surprise that Trump has made Pennsylvania a favored stamping ground for his rousing — some might say “rabble-rousing” — rallies. His squeaker of a win here in 2016 — led by overwhelming support in York County — was one of the biggest keys to his improbable march to the White House.

Democrats realize this. While the state’s relatively late primary date, April 28, means it is unlikely to be decisive in determining the party’s 2020 flagbearer — although with nearly two dozen declared candidates and counting, who knows — Pennsylvania’s importance in the general election can be neither underestimated nor overstated.

“It is early in the game, but I just think this imperative in 2020 is such that we have to start early,” said Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, who’s backing Biden. “(Pennsylvania is) so big and it’s so consequential that it’s going to take time to make the case here.”

Brigid Harrison, a political scientist at Montclair State University in New Jersey, agrees.

“For many of these candidates,” she told NPR, “they’re really seeking to dig their heels in early because it is one of the three most important states when it comes to the electoral vote in the general election.”

Those other two “important states” are not Iowa and New Hampshire, but Michigan and Wisconsin — two traditionally reliable Democratic bastions that Trump picked off in 2016.

So, the candidates are coming. And they’re going to continue to come.

On the one hand, opportunities to hear first-hand from White House hopefuls are useful and, in late-primary Pennsylvania, somewhat uncommon.

On the other hand, the Pennsylvania primary is still almost a year away. So, state residents might want to consider pacing themselves before they feast during what will surely be a banquet of barnstorming.

The past two years have been politically exhausting in many ways. And next year’s election promises to up the ante. Pennsylvania’s voters could do worse than to take a breath and cleanse their political palates sometime between now and next April.

Because when they turn their attention back to the political world, the candidates will ready and waiting — in some cases, perhaps not far from their front door.