Pennsylvania’s primary is now officially irrelevant. But it may tell us much about November | Mark O’Keefe

March 20, 2020 6:30 am

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA – FEBRUARY 25: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden smiles as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) looks on during the Democratic presidential primary debate at the Charleston Gaillard Center on February 25, 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina. Seven candidates qualified for the debate, hosted by CBS News and Congressional Black Caucus Institute, ahead of South Carolina’s primary in four days. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

It’s pretty much a given that Pennsylvania’s presidential primary this year will once again come too late to influence the race to any great degree.

Only a major gaffe or unthinkable surprise will prevent Joe Biden from winning the Democratic presidential nomination against U.S. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

If the former veep doesn’t have the nomination wrapped up by the time Pennsylvania votes on April 28 (a date now in doubt because of the COVID-19 outbreak) it will happen shortly afterwards.

However, while the race appears a foregone conclusion, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a lot of interest in its outcome. That’s especially true when it comes to Biden’s chances of beating President Donald Trump in Pennsylvania this fall. 

Trump fooled all the experts in 2016, beating Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by 44,000 votes in Pennsylvania. In doing so, Trump became the first Republican to win Pennsylvania since George H. Bush in 1988.

The victory was all the more surprising after Clinton’s big win over Sanders in Pennsylvania’s 2016 primary election.

Clinton solidly beat Sanders 55-43 percent. According to newspaper stories, she won the white vote 51-47, (68 percent of the electorate), the African-American vote 70-30, 19 percent of the electorate), women 60-39, and voters over the age of 45, 66-33, She also swept all income and educational attainment levels except for whites without college degrees. Sanders won that group by a 50-49 margin.

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Clinton won large victories in Erie, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia while carrying the affluent Philadelphia suburbs, Northeastern Pennsylvania and Southwestern Pennsylvania.

It all came on the heels of her winning Pennsylvania’s Democratic Party presidential primary over Barrack Obama in 2008.

Sanders did win 30 counties but they were mostly smaller and rural counties in central and northern parts of the state where Clinton didn’t campaign. The biggest county he won was Berks County where he beat Clinton 22,0780 to 21,063. The smallest county he won was Potter County where he beat Clinton 560-402. He also beat Clinton in Centre County, home to Penn State University, by a margin of 10,331-8,458. 

However, Clinton’s victory in Pennsylvania was short-lived as Trump won  56 of the state’s 67 counties, including former Democratic Party strongholds in Southwestern and Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Clinton did win Pittsburgh and Philadelphia along with affluent suburbs of Philadelphia but the margins there weren’t enough to offset Trump’s crushing victories in the rest of the state.

It’s interesting to note that Trump’s vote total went from 902,593 in the primary to 2,970,733 in the general election. In the southwestern counties of Pennsylvania, including Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland, Trump’s vote total soared from 45,794 in the primary to 223,707 in the general election.

More than likely Trump picked up the 345,506 votes captured by Ted Cruz and the 310,003 votes garnered by John Kasich in Pennsylvania’s GOP presidential primary. But then, somehow, he picked up an additional 1.5 million voters in between the primary and general elections.

According to CNN, exit polls showed that Trump had his best showing among white males with no college educations, winning that group by 71 percent. He won white women with no college educations by 58 percent and white men with college degrees by 56 percent. Clinton won white women with college degrees by 55 percent.

Overall, Trump won among males 57 percent, people 45-64, 52 percent and over 65, 54 percent. While he won white men, 64 percent, and white women 50 percent, Clinton won among black men 83 percent and black women 99 percent.

Clinton won among voters making under $50,000. 54 percent, but Trump won among voters making between $50,000-$100,000, 55 percent and among those making over $100,000, 52 percent.

One interesting note was that Trump won by a 54-37 margin among voters who made their minds up in the last week prior to the election.

Another major factor will be the votes being cast for others running for president. Green Party candidate Jill Stein captured 49,941 votes. It’s pretty safe to say that most of those votes would have gone to Clinton and perhaps she would have won the election if the Green Party hadn’t fielded a presidential candidate.

It’s a little more murky for supporters of Libertarian Gary Johnson who finished third with 146,715 votes. His backers would probably be split between Republicans and Democrats if there wasn’t a libertarian candidate on the ballot. It will be interesting to see how many votes candidates for either of those parties will get this fall and what effect that will have on the election.

In the end, while Biden is definitely the favorite for the primary election, the general election will be much tougher for him. Given Clinton’s struggles in 2016, it’s clear that Biden will have to work extremely hard to win Pennsylvania. And whether he wins Pennsylvania or not will probably determine if he’s our next president.

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. 

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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.