Monday, May 18, 2015

Legislation on Cusp of Introduction Would Shift Pennsylvania Presidential Primary to March 15

Representative Keith Greiner (R-43rd, Lancaster) on Monday, May 18 announced his intention to introduce legislation to shift the Pennsylvania presidential primary from April up to March:
Legislation for an Earlier Presidential Primary Date in Pennsylvania 
In the near future I intend to introduce legislation that will change the date of Pennsylvania’s presidential primary from the fourth Tuesday of April to the third Tuesday of March. 
The lateness of Pennsylvania’s presidential primary diminishes its significance for voters of both the Democratic and Republican parties. Pennsylvania’s presidential primary should have a significant impact on the process of selecting presidential candidates, to reflect our standing as “The Keystone State.”  
Achieving this goal is accomplished simply by changing the date of Pennsylvania’s presidential primary.  
By moving the primary to the third Tuesday in March, there is no loss of delegates for either party and our primaries will remain "winner-take-all" for both parties’ primary elections, as they have been historically been in the Commonwealth.  
I hope you will join me in supporting this important legislation.
Throughout the post-reform era, the Pennsylvania primary has been locked on the fourth Tuesday in April. The one exception is the 2000 cycle when the primaries in the Keystone state and Wisconsin coincided on the first Tuesday in April. Moving into March, then, would be new territory for Pennsylvania.

Without the language of the bill available, there are a great many questions left unanswered here. The largest of them is whether the bill calls for moving the entire consolidated set of primaries including the presidential primary up to March or if a separate presidential primary will be created and scheduled for March 15. That the primaries have all remained concurrent has been one of the major deterrents to Pennsylvania moving in the part (as it has been for a number of states that tend to be toward the end of the calendar). A separate presidential primary in a large state like Pennsylvania would be costly, but so too would increasing the length of the general election for all others seeking other offices under the alternative move.

This move would potentially pull Pennsylvania away from an small mid-Atlantic regional primary with Maryland and Delaware and align them with Florida, Illinois, Missouri and possibly Ohio on March 15. That is a significant line up of states.

However, it should be noted that Republicans are differently motivated this cycle than Democrats are. That is true in the commonwealth as well. Pennsylvania Republicans may value that earlier primary date, but Democrats in the state may value the coalition with Maryland and Delaware in April more. It means bonus delegates for clustering and for holding a later primary. That calculation could play a role in this as Governor Tom Wolf (D) may disagree with a Republican controlled legislature if it passes this upcoming bill.

FHQ will hold further comment until the bill is available.

However, there are some factual inaccuracies in Rep. Greiner's memorandum above and other talking points circulated to the press.

First, Pennsylvania would not retain any winner-take-all allocation. The DNC mandates proportionality in every state. Both parties, following state law, have directly elected delegates in presidential primary elections in the past. Those delegate candidates are listed on the ballot with no indication of the presidential candidate with whom they are aligned and in a section of the ballot separate from the presidential preference vote. That presidential preference vote is largely meaningless. It has no bearing on the allocation of delegates. That is determined by the direct election of the delegates. That makes Pennsylvania a loophole primary. If this bill is passed and signed into law, Pennsylvania would end up on the same date as another loophole primary in Illinois.

Second, FHQ would argue that Rep. Greiner underestimated just how many states are or will be ahead of Pennsylvania on the 2016 presidential primary calendar. Bear in mind that most of the caucus states will likely fall some time in March in order to complete the full caucuses/convention process in time for the national conventions. The better way to assess where Pennsylvania is in the order is to count the number of states behind them, the vast majority of whom are locked into their current calendar positions. By that measure, Pennsylvania is somewhere in the upper 30s in the order. And Washington, DC is behind them, all the way at the end.

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