What you need to know about the Acela Primary’s most important vote.
Pennsylvania is by far the largest delegate haul of any of the GOP contests being held Tuesday in the creatively dubbed “Acela Primary.” With the margin between a contested convention and a settled nominee likely to come down to fewer than 200 delegates, the 71 delegates apportioned by the large Northeastern state will play a critical role in determining the GOP’s fate.
The PA primary is the perfect centerpiece of Tuesday’s contests, positioned between coinciding votes in Connecticut and Rhode Island on one side and Delaware and Maryland on the other. But where the allocation of delegates and impact of outcomes are easy to visualize in the other states holding Tuesday votes, Pennsylvania is host to a mind-numbing way of picking its presidential preference.
Of the state’s 71 delegates, 17 will be awarded to the winner of the state’s primary. The other 54 are directly elected by voters, three per congressional district. Those delegates appear on the ballot without any indication of their preference for president. Many have campaigned as candidates for delegate; many more were recruited by or pledged their support to a specific candidate whose campaign may be working to whip them votes.
Sen. Ted Cruz is likely the main beneficiary of the Pennsylvania process. The candidates for delegate were put forward and settled months ago, long before front-runner Donald Trump’s campaign reset. Despite facing a double-digit Trump lead in the state, Cruz has the organization to get his supporters elected district by district. It’s the Cruz campaign that boasts the ability to hit GOP primary voters with phone calls, door knocks, digital ads, and mail pieces promoting Cruz-supporting delegates in the contest.
The most recent poll from Democratic-aligned Public Policy Polling shows Trump leading Cruz 51 percent to 25 percent. Gov. John Kasich takes up the rear with 22 percent support. That insurmountable lead should be enough for Trump to take the 17 at-large delegates in Pennsylvania, but it remains to be seen to what extent Cruz’s better organization can blunt Trump’s popular advantage in the election of the remaining 54 delegates.
Trump’s popular lead in the state was built on the foundation of several structural advantages when analyzed in the context of neighboring Ohio. Trump won 17 of the 18 coal-producing counties in Ohio in that state’s March 15 contest. Pennsylvania has its own significant coal industry. Trump also carried 50 percent of the roughly 94,000 votes cast in the four Ohio counties that border Pennsylvania, compared to just 37 percent for statewide winner Kasich. That area of Ohio shares a booming natural gas fracking industry in common with western Pennsylvania. Both sit atop the Marcellus Shale Field and both contain blue-collar workers who want a fighter to stand against the politically motivated, environmental agenda coming out of President Obama’s administration.
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In order to decisively win Pennsylvania, Trump will need to not only run up the margin in these conservative, energy-dependent regions, but hope the voters supporting his candidacy do their homework and cast votes for delegate candidates who are true Trump supporters.
Trump, set for five victories in five contests, will already have a great, momentum-boosting Tuesday night, but the exact number of delegates he takes away from Pennsylvania remains far from certain.