Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Bill to Move Pennsylvania Presidential Primary to March 15 Introduced

On Wednesday, June 10, Pennsylvania state Representative Keith Greiner (R-43rd, Lancaster) introduced HB 1318. The legislation would move the presidential primary (and those for other offices) up to the third Tuesday in March. With rare exception, the Pennsylvania presidential primary has been scheduled on the fourth Tuesday in April throughout the post-reform era.1

Greiner's bill claims the bipartisan support of 16 co-sponsors (11 Republicans and 5 Democrats) and would align the Pennsylvania presidential primary with those in Florida, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio. Like Illinois, Pennsylvania directly elects delegates to the national convention in the primary and the presidential preference vote is a beauty contest. That adds some nuance to a date on the 2016 presidential primary calendar that already serves as the first day after the close of the Republican proportionality window. The other three contests are already winner-take-all (Florida), have a history with a winner-take-all allocation in the pre-proportionality era (Missouri) or are signaling a potential shift to winner-take-all rules (Ohio). If those three end up with truly winner-take-all allocation plans, that potentially makes both Illinois and Pennsylvania tougher draws for the candidates (or not an alternative with clear delegate gains).

However, that likely puts the cart before the horse in Pennsylvania. The newly introduced legislation will have to navigate a Republican-controlled legislature, but also pass muster with a Democratic governor. The former may be the easier task as Republicans are more motivated this cycle to have an earlier primary than Democrats. Republicans, it can be argued are after a guarantee that their respective state's contest will influence the Republican nomination. Democrats, on the other hand, are motivated to stick with a date that on the calendar that offers additional delegates to the national convention in Philadelphia. The later date and group of neighboring states with contests already slated for April 26 both would lead to bonus delegates. That, in turn, means that Democrats in the Keystone state may have more incentive to maintain the status quo primary date in April.

There are Democratic co-sponsors to the HB 1318, but the chair of the state Democratic Party has already spoken out in opposition to the move (as has the Pennsylvania Republican chair). Pennsylvania is getting a late start on this compared to most other states and the road is not necessarily a clear one toward passage and a gubernatorial signature. The move would not be without implications. A March Pennsylvania presidential primary would further compress an already compressed calendar in 2016 (as compared to four years ago).

1 The lone exception since the reformed system of nominating presidential candidates began in 1972 is the 2000 cycle when Pennsylvania shared the first Tuesday in April date with the Wisconsin presidential primary.

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