Will Pennsylvania Cost Trump the Nomination?
Front-runner poised to romp in primary, but organization will be key to winning delegates
The retooled Donald Trump campaign is playing catch-up in the fight for Pennsylvania’s delegates, most of whom will be elected directly by congressional district, with no indication on the ballot of whom those delegates support.
Jan Ting, a Temple University law professor who is running for delegate in the 7th Congressional District in suburban Philadelphia, said Wednesday on “The Laura Ingraham Show” that the Trump campaign helped him gather signatures to qualify for the ballot. But he said the campaign has done little follow-up since.
“It’s an interesting question about whether his campaign is organized enough to get out the vote, not just for him, but for the delegates that are pledged to him,” he said.
Ting said a strong push by Trump would likely be enough to signal to his supporters which delegates to mark on primary day. “If they fail to do that, the Republican Establishment organization can be expected to assert itself,” he said.
By contrast, the well-oiled machine put together by Sen. Ted Cruz has been laying the groundwork for months in Pennsylvania. Robert Wert, a financial adviser and the former chairman of the Berks County Republican Party, told LifeZette he had no plans to run for delegate until the Cruz camp contacted him in December. Now, he and his wife are both seeking delegate slots.
“Cruz was remarkably good at reaching out and recruiting candidates to run for delegate,” he said, adding that the campaign has committed to helping promote the delegate candidates at key polling locations next week. “They’ve been very smart about using technology to decide where to spend the resources.”
The organizational mismatch has led some observers to speculate that Cruz could get badly beaten in the primary vote Tuesday but win the support of a majority of delegates from the Keystone State. Pennsylvania Republicans will directly control only 17 of the 72 delegates up for grabs. The winner statewide gets those delegates. The other 54 delegates, however, will be chosen in individual congressional districts.
Cruz has succeeded in vacuuming up delegates without winning elections in states like Colorado and Wyoming. But replicating that success in Pennsylvania is likely to be harder. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which got responses from 132 out of 162 delegate candidates, reported that the largest number — 66 — said they would support the statewide winner or the presidential hopeful who carried their district. Another 22 said they would vote for Trump or are leaning that way.
With Trump expected to win the sate easily, that would put him in a strong position to pick up most of the delegates. Lehigh County Republican Chairman William Heydt, who is running to be a delegate from the 15th District, said he expects Trump to carry his district. He would have a “moral obligation to the people” to vote for Trump on at least the first ballot.
“If you have 60,000 people voting for Trump, and you decide to go to Cruz, that doesn’t work,” he said.
Like many of the delegate candidates, though, Heydt is keeping his options open if it goes to a second ballot. The former Allentown mayor said he would probably either stick with Trump or vote for Gov. John Kasich at that point.
Such hedging makes hardcore Trump supporters nervous. Ralph Wike III, a small business owner from Delaware County who collected the 250 signatures need to get on the ballot specifically to support Trump, said he has more respect for delegate candidates openly supporting another candidate.
“The people I don’t trust are the people who say they’re voting the way their district voted,” he said, adding that it leaves too much wiggle room.
Terry Madonna, a Franklin & Marshall College political science professor and experienced pollster, called the outcome of the delegate races a “crapshoot,” since the names will likely be unfamiliar to most voters. He said the campaigns might influence the result by making a concerted effort to make the delegates known — for instance by contacting regular voters and handing out cards at polling stations on primary day. He said such efforts could alienate as many voters as they win, however.
“Maybe they just want the anonymity,” he said. “Maybe they just want the ballot position. Or maybe, they have a popular name.”
Madonna noted that many of the delegates are current or former elected officials, including current and former members of Congress, which could give them a leg up against largely unknown opponents. That also could potentially hurt Trump, who has not enjoyed much Establishment support.