For Biden and the Pa. primary, timing is everything | Mark O’Keefe

August 13, 2019 6:30 am

Despite some struggles, former Vice President Joe Biden has managed to remain the front-runner in the race for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination.

But now the real fun begins, and one of Biden’s main challenges moving forward will be to persuade Pennsylvania legislators to move up the state’s presidential primary now scheduled for April 28.

All but 16 states will have had their primaries and caucuses by that date, meaning the Pennsylvania primary could be too late to help Biden.

California moved up its primary this year from June to March, and that change could be a big plus for U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., who figures to do well in her home state.

Pennsylvania should be a big state for Biden, who was born in Scranton and later moved with his family as a youngster to Delaware. Biden, who represented Delaware for 36 years in the U.S. Senate, always touted his ties to Scranton and the background of his family in the area.

He also worked so well with Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators that he was often referred to as the state’s “third senator.”

A Franklin & Marshall College poll released last week shows Biden would be the top pick among Pennsylvania’s registered Democratic primary voters, taking 28 percent support. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, was second at 21 percent; followed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., at 12 percent; Harris at 8 percent, and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 6 percent.

That Scranton thing: Biden holds commanding Pa. fundraising lead

Biden led the primary field nationwide in a July 29 Quinnipiac University poll, taking 34 percent support. Warren came in second with 15 percent, followed by Harris with 12 percent, and Sanders with 11 percent..

It’s a shame that Pennsylvania doesn’t play a more influential role in picking presidential candidates, considering that it’s the fifth-largest state in the U.S. with 12.8 million people. It also has 20 votes in the Electoral College, the fifth-highest among states.

It’s a crucial state that voted in favor of Democrats in seven consecutive presidential elections before Donald Trump won the state by 44,292 votes in 2016.

Of course, this is nothing new. Pennsylvania voters have had little say in determining presidential candidates for quite some time.

It all begs the question of why Pennsylvania doesn’t move up its primary to March like California.

As he’s done before, state Rep. Keith Greiner, R-Lancaster, again introduced legislation that would move the primary date to the third Tuesday in March. It’s been sitting in the House State Government Committee since April.  The bill could still come to a vote by this fall, but time will be precious because the Senate is only in session for 15 days and the House for 24 days until the end of the year.

Some type of grassroots support will be needed to move up the primary and that seems unlikely at this point.

So, what’s the problem?

It’s possible that Republicans who control both chambers of the Legislature, which sets the election calendar, don’t want to do anything that would get Democratic voters roused up too much for the general election.

But there seems something else going on here. Democrats could make a fuss if they wanted and make a big push to move up the primary. It might not work but it would at least bring the issue out in the open.

However, if the election is moved up, candidates, including Democrats, would have to start circulating their petitions in the middle of December, instead of  January as they currently do. Candidates might find it difficult to circulate their petitions in the midst of the holidays.

But you have to remember that next year’s election won’t involve all that many candidates. This is basically an election for the state Legislature, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate in addition to the presidency. Don’t forget that many of the candidates will run unopposed.

In the end, moving up the primary would basically be an inconvenience for legislators themselves, and we can’t have that, right?

It also comes down to the fact that legislators are comfortable with the current political timetable. They’ve gotten used to the election calendar and are hesitant about making any changes to it. Inertia is always one of the hallmarks of the state Legislature even if it denies Pennsylvania Democrats a chance to take part in what could be the most exciting primary election in recent years.

And for Biden it could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Capital-Star Opinion contributor Mark O’Keefe, of Mechanicsburg, Pa, is the former editorial page editor of the Herald-Standard of Uniontown, Pa. His work appears biweekly. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Mark O'Keefe
Mark O'Keefe

Opinion contributor Mark O'Keefe, of Mechanicsburg, Pa.,  is the former editorial page editor of the Herald-Standard of Uniontown. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star's Commentary Page.