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February 08, 2016

An argument for making Pennsylvania first up in presidential primaries

NYT columnist: Keystone State better choice than Iowa

By the time Pennsylvania Republicans voted for their choice to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012, Mitt Romney was already the presumptive nominee. Eight years earlier, John Kerry had long since locked up the Democratic nomination to challenge then-President George W. Bush when the state's primary took place.

The state's voters, at least in the primary process, are vulnerable to getting stiffed in terms of playing a factor in deciding their party's candidate because they cast their ballots much later in the season. The state's primary this year is being held April 26 and by then only a handful of states will be left to cast their votes.

But that shouldn't be the case, a New York Times columnist wrote Monday. No, Pennsylvania shouldn't be holding its primaries in the spring; instead, it should be the first up to bat, according to Philly-based author Jennifer Weiner.

Describing Iowa as a "vanilla milkshake spilled on a snowbank," she argues that the famous (or sometimes infamous) Iowa caucuses are not a good indicator of how the rest of the country feels. Therefore, it shouldn't be the first state up in the nominating process.

Instead, she says the Commonwealth should bare that torch. Noting the state's demographic diversity -- having both rural areas and large metropolises -- she says Pennsylvania is the perfect balance between the liberal-leaning coastal states and those in the conservative heartland. From her column:

Our state has everything – big cities that have become centers for technology and education. Dying small towns, ravaged by addiction and poverty. We’ve got immigrants and unemployment, we’ve got artists and writers, we’ve got hunters and Quakers, and politicians who range across the spectrum, from Joe Biden, born in Scranton, to Rick Santorum, who once said that legalizing same-sex marriage will make the world safe for “man on dog” unions.

One of the main points of her argument is that Iowa simply isn't a good predictor of how candidates do in the long run. That's true in some cases. The Democratic winner of Iowa went on to win the nomination in 2008, 2004 and 2000, according to Washington Post election results. However, Romney lost by a hair to Santorum in 2012, and John McCain finished a distant third in 2008.

What is for certain is that Pennsylvania is more moderate than Iowa in terms of it's political makeup. A recent Gallup analysis of party affiliation on the state level found it's still considered a "competitive" state, with a slight Democratic lean.

The problem is that bizarre laws in Iowa and New Hampshire -- the first primary after the Iowa caucuses -- prevent Pennsylvania from leapfrogging either to become the first state in the nominating process.

Iowa has written into its election laws that its caucuses must be the first events in the nominating process, while New Hampshire has written into its laws that it must hold the first primary, letting Iowa stay in front, according to the Washington Post.

The national parties penalize states that try to jump ahead of either, keeping the system in place. So unless either of the two parties work on a large overhaul of both state and national rules, Pennsylvania is out of luck. 

That being said, it would be a blast for political junkies having the voting process start here. As Weiner writes, "Pennsylvania, for the win."