Time to Move the PA Presidential Primary
The 2016 Presidential race has officially begun. Over the past couple of weeks Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton have formally announced their candidacies. The field of Republican candidates likely will total a dozen or more. Hillary Clinton’s early stumbles make the entry of former Virginia Senator Jim Webb and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley more likely.
With no incumbent president in the race, voters in both the Republican and Democratic primaries will actually have a choice in 2016. It is a contest voters in Pennsylvania will likely watch from the sidelines. By the time our state’s late April primary is held results of primaries and caucuses elsewhere will have determined the eventual nominees.
Only one time in recent years, 2008, has the Pennsylvania primary actually mattered. That year Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama battled for the Democratic nomination until June before Mrs. Clinton conceded. Democrats had a choice, but John McCain had been ordained the GOP nominee months earlier.
Every four years the debate begins anew about Pennsylvania’s lack of clout in the presidential nominating process owing to the lateness of its primary. And, every four years absolutely nothing is done to correct the problem.
Pennsylvania is the sixth largest state in the nation. More so than perhaps any other state we are a microcosm of the nation as a whole. With Philadelphia we have a large eastern city, while Pittsburgh has more of a mid-western orientation. We have large, thriving suburbs and expansive rural areas. Our population is diverse. Statewide elections in Pennsylvania tend to be competitive with both parties having shown recent success.
An early primary in Pennsylvania would be a much more accurate indicator of voter preference than Iowa or New Hampshire which are smaller and less diverse. Those two states lead off the balloting in late January. February 2nd is shaping up as a mini "Super Tuesday" with New York, Minnesota, Colorado and Utah holding primaries on that date. It would be an ideal time for primary voters in Penn’s Woods to go to the polls and give us a real say in the nomination process. Instead, nearly three more months and 24 other states will hold primaries or caucuses before Pennsylvanians vote. All of this means Keystone state voters will have virtually no say in which candidates the parties nominate.
Making matters worse, Pennsylvania’s presidential primaries are essentially beauty contests in that the outcome of the balloting has little or no impact on the selection of delegates to the party nomination conventions. Delegates are selected in separate elections, and/or by party state committees meaning presidential candidates must line up slates of delegate candidates months before the primary. This is a process they tend to by-pass in favor of focusing their efforts on the early primary and caucus states.
Moving Pennsylvania’s primary to an earlier date poses a logistical challenge. It would require holding a separate primary in February for presidential balloting and a regular primary in May for selecting congressional and legislative nominees. Or, the entire process could be moved from April to February. Holding two primaries would increase costs, while holding congressional and legislative elections in February would advance the start of the process into the previous year’s holiday season.
The cost of an additional primary must be weighed against the economic benefits it would generate. New Hampshire public radio, based on a study of the 2000 presidential primary when both party nominations were up for grabs, estimated the economic impact at $230 million. The economic benefits to Pennsylvania, a much larger state, would be significantly higher.
Dollars aside, the major drawback to Pennsylvania’s late presidential primary is the absence of our voters having any real say in the selection of party nominees. We are a large state and we deserve better, but it is a problem nobody in Harrisburg seems willing to address.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected])
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