September 18, 2015
G. Terry Madonna & Michael L.Young
The state of Pennsylvania has an official motto, and it’s a fine one: “Virtue, Liberty, and Independence.” Alas, the state legislature still lacks one.
Fortunately, there is still time to fix that. It is less elegant than “Virtue, Liberty, and Independence,” but it fits pretty well. Perhaps the legislature’s motto should be: “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.”
Yes, the state legislature - despite the worst intentions - has gotten some things right by accident. Dumb luck still makes things work out once in a while.
We are reminded of this as the 2016 presidential primaries and caucuses fast approach. The state legislature seems once again ready to allow the Pennsylvania primary to be scheduled so late in the delegate selection process - April 26 - that Pennsylvania voters might not matter to the contest.
Once again, as has been the case in past presidential election cycles, legislation has been introduced into the Pennsylvania General Assembly to move up the late April state primary to mid-March; and also once again, as the case has been in past presidential cycles, the legislature will not move the state primary to an earlier date in the year.
The reasons the legislature refuses to move the primary to an earlier date are both petty and parochial. But there has been nothing petty or parochial about their consequences. Because of Pennsylvania’s chronically late primary, the state has not influenced either party’s presidential nomination since 1976.
So many other states have "front loaded" their delegate selection process that by the time Pennsylvanians get to vote, both parties have wrapped up their nomination contest.
While Pennsylvania plays virtually no role in selecting who runs for president, it has consistently been one of a handful of states that decides the election in the Electoral College.
This perennial paradox is both politically painful for Pennsylvania and senseless for the country as a whole. The irony is palpable: a state so pivotal to the general election is reduced to irrelevancy in the nomination process.
But perhaps not in 2016!
Two factors are in play – both in the Republican Party. The first is the size of the Republican field. Donald Trump has a sizable lead and Rick Perry's withdrawal suggests the winnowing process had begun. But it’s still the largest and strongest field in modern history. The sheer number of serious candidates together with the enormous amount of money available means a protracted and unpredictable fight for the nomination. There is every reason to expect that more candidates will remain in the race longer than ever before. Consequently, it is mathematically unlikely the delegate selection that takes place in Iowa and New Hampshire will give any candidate an insurmountable lead before the scheduled Pennsylvania primary.
The second factor in play may be even more important. The Republicans have instituted rule changes that require delegates to be selected proportionately through March 15. So a candidate winning a state or congressional district up until March 15 will win only that portion of the delegates equal to their percentage of the popular vote.
The purported purpose of requiring proportional distribution of delegates prior to March 15 was to create greater interest in the race while also slowing down the process. Presumably, no candidate will amass a commanding lead until after March 15 when winner-take-all is permitted.
As a result, the Republicans could have several viable candidates in the hunt on April 26when five states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania) hold events – the largest of which is Pennsylvania. In short, the largest number of delegates after March 15 by far may be selected on a crucial Tuesday in April.
Call it Pennsylvania Tuesday!
The situation in the Democratic Party is far less competitive but nonetheless increasingly fluid. Long time front-runner Hillary Clinton is steadily bleeding once solid support while insurgent Bernie Sanders is gaining in several early voting states.
Meanwhile, many Democrats seem eager to find alternative candidates including possibly Vice President Joe Biden. Remembering the lengthy slug-fest in 2008 between Clinton and Obama, it is not implausible that the Democratic race will also be unsettled on April 26 when Pennsylvania votes.
Which brings us back to the topic of stopped clocks.
2016 is looking more and more like the year Pennsylvania might be relevant – not because the legislature moved the primary date earlier – but because the legislature failed to do so. The stopped clock got it right.
It’s about time.
Politically Uncorrected™ is published twice monthly, and previous columns can be viewed at http://www.fandm.edu/politics. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any institution or organization with which they are affiliated. This article may be used in whole or part only with appropriate attribution. Copyright © 2015 Terry Madonna and Michael Young.