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Nicholas Pyeatt | assistant professor of political science at Penn State Altoona
What is it?
On Tuesday, April 26, Pennsylvania’s voters will go to the polls to vote for Democratic and Republican nominees for president and a variety of other offices. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voters can look up their polling place online.
Who can participate?
All registered voters affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican parties are eligible to vote.
What is at stake?
The biggest prize for both parties is the presidential race.
On the Democratic side, there are 210 delegates available (with 2,383 needed for a convention majority). The number of delegates actually selected on Tuesday will be lower than that, however, as 21 delegates are superdelegates such as Gov. Tom Wolf and Sen. Bob Casey. Of the remaining 189 delegates, 127 will be allocated proportionally by congressional district with a minimum of 15 percent of the vote needed to receive delegates. Another 62 delegates will be selected by the state committee based on the results of the statewide primary vote.
On the Republican side, there are 71 delegates available (with 1,237 needed for a convention majority). They will be allocated with 14 at-large, 54 by congressional district and 3 reserved for the RNC. The at-large delegates will be selected at the state committee meeting on May 21, based on the statewide vote. The congressional district delegates will be elected on the primary ballot as officially unbound. This last point is very important as it means that Pennsylvania will have a lot of delegates at the convention that could conceivably back any candidate.
Below the presidential level, there are a lot of interesting races as well. On the Democratic side, there is a competitive Senate race with three main candidates involved in a spirited race to face incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey (R) in the fall. The Democrats also have a race to replace outgoing Attorney General Kathleen Kane. On the Republican side, there is a two-way competition for Attorney General.
Video credit: WPSU
Locally, there is congressional competition as well. While the State College area — which is in the fifth district (most of north and central Pennsylvania) — does not have a contested primary, Congressman Bill Shuster from the ninth congressional district (much of south and central Pennsylvania) has a spirited challenge from Art Halvorson.
What should I be watching for on Election Day?
There are a lot of stories to go around in this primary but here are a few that I will be watching:
Clinton and Expectations: While Pennsylvania has not had nearly the polling that some of the early states received, Hillary Clinton has led in all or effectively all of them. This reflects strength on her side, but there is a risk. If she wins the state but in a much narrower fashion than expected, say less than 10 points, it will be easy for the Bernie Sanders campaign to spin the result as a win.
And why not? She has consistently polled ahead all year (with some polls showing margins over 25 points) and the state’s demographics are generally favorable to her (an older and more diverse electorate), so for Sanders a narrow loss could be almost as good as a win.
Trump and Momentum: After a bad couple of weeks, Donald Trump rebounded in New York but needs Pennsylvania and New Jersey not only to win delegates but also to avoid the perception that he is losing the nomination. While the campaign period prior to New York was likely to be a hard period for Trump regardless, he has suffered from a number of unforced errors of late, costing him delegates in Colorado, South Carolina, Wyoming as well as some of his aura of inevitability. He needs to win decisively to right the ship, so to speak, and to push his delegate lead as close to a majority as possible.
Barring a major shift, he is looking unlikely to win a delegate majority outright, so he will need as many delegates as possible at the convention, and Pennsylvania can help somewhat. While he may only win a dozen or so pledged delegates on election night, the bigger the margin, the more difficult it will be for the unpledged delegates from Pennsylvania to back Cruz or some surprise candidate at the convention.
The Wolf Effect: While I will definitely be looking at the presidential results, in many ways the down ballot races are more interesting. One of the biggest ones is for the U.S. Senate where there are three Democrats battling to take on one-term Sen. Pat Toomey (R).
Video credit: WPSU
Toomey is widely seen as vulnerable, running for re-election in a state with roughly a million-registrant Democratic advantage and that has gone for Democratic presidential candidates in each of the last six elections. Early on, most election watchers would have said that the candidate from 2010, former Rep. Joe Sestak, was the front runner. Sestak made his intention to challenge Toomey again very clear since 2010, and his narrow loss that year (less than 75,000 votes) in a very bad Democratic year reflects his strength as a candidate.
That said, Sestak has not made friends in the Democratic establishment and his principal opponent — Gov. Wolf’s chief of staff, Katie McGinty — has received strong support from the governor and much of the Democratic establishment (such as President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former Gov. Ed Rendell, and Sen. Bob Casey). Primary elections are sometimes driven by such endorsements, but most of the polling shows Sestak with a lead. Do big endorsements push a less well-known candidate over the top or does the repeat candidate get the nod despite his poor relationship with the party?
Video credit: WPSU
The Tea Party and Congress: Compared to previous elections, this has so far been a fairly quiet year for the Tea Party insurgency in the Republican Party. While there have been some notable challenges (Texas Rep. Kevin Brady being the most interesting so far), the incumbents have generally gone on to fairly easy victories due to good planning and lots of fundraising.
In central Pennsylvania, one of these insurgent candidates is challenging incumbent Rep. Bill Shuster. Rep. Shuster is a reliably conservative member of Congress, but his challenger is criticizing him for his role in the “Washington Establishment” as well as his ties to a lobbyist with business before his committee. In most elections, Shuster would be seen as having an overwhelming advantage, but this ethical issue plus Halvorson’s name recognition from his previous run might make this a closer race.
All in all, it should be an entertaining election to watch.