Di­rect Democ­racy

▶ ▶ In Penn­syl­va­nia, del­e­gates are on the bal­lot, too ▶ ▶ “They’re com­ing in think­ing about who they can elect”

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Politics / Policy -

Aldridk Gessa has been cam­paign­ing for months. She walked door to door in the dead of win­ter col­lect­ing sig­na­tures to get her name on the bal­lot. She’s handed out leaflets, spo­ken at lo­cal events, and ap­peared on re­gional TV and ra­dio pro­grams to make her pitch. Her goal: win­ning a place as a Repub­li­can del­e­gate from Penn­syl­va­nia’s 2nd Con­gres­sional District so she can at­tend the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion in July.

Gessa is one of 163 peo­ple run­ning for 54 del­e­gate spots along­side pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates on the April 26 Penn­syl­va­nia pri­mary bal­lot. Most of the 2,472 Repub­li­can na­tional del­e­gates will be bound to sup­port can­di­dates on the first con­ven­tion bal­lot ac­cord­ing to the pop­u­lar vote in their state. In con­trast, Penn­syl­va­nia’s elected del­e­gates will be free to vote for whomever they wish, mak­ing them es­pe­cially im­por­tant in this year’s tight race. They will make up about a third of the ap­prox­i­mately 175 free agents who will travel to the con­ven­tion in Cleve­land, more than from any other state. “We ac­tu­ally might be those peo­ple who de­cide the next Repub­li­can nom­i­nee,” says Gessa, 44, a Ted Cruz sup­porter.

With three can­di­dates still in the race, it’s pos­si­ble front run­ner Don­ald Trump may fall short of the 1,237 del­e­gates he needs to clinch the nom­i­na­tion out­right. The last time none of the Repub­li­can can­di­dates amassed enough com­mit­ted del­e­gates be­fore the na­tional con­ven­tion was in 1976, when Ron­ald Rea­gan mounted a chal­lenge to un­seat in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Ger­ald Ford. Just three weeks be­fore that year’s gath­er­ing in Kansas City, Mo., Rea­gan shocked his fel­low con­ser­va­tives by re­cruit­ing mod­er­ate Penn­syl­va­nia Senator Richard Sch­weiker as his run­ning mate. It was an un­ex­pected gam­bit with a clear mo­tive: woo­ing un­bound del­e­gates from Sch­weiker’s home state. Rea­gan ul­ti­mately failed, los­ing to Ford on the first bal­lot.

This year, Trump, Cruz, and John Ka­sich are go­ing straight to the wouldbe del­e­gates. In early April, when Cruz was in Har­ris­burg speak­ing at the Penn­syl­va­nia Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence,

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his staff or­ga­nized a meet and greet for all del­e­gate can­di­dates sup­port­ing him in the state. It was a chance for Cruz to an­swer their ques­tions and pose for pic­tures. Af­ter­ward, the cam­paign gave out a list of ad­dresses and phone num­bers for likely pro-cruz vot­ers in each Penn­syl­va­nia district.

The Ka­sich cam­paign, which is po­si­tion­ing it­self to ben­e­fit if the na­tional con­ven­tion goes to mul­ti­ple bal­lots, has been call­ing prospec­tive del­e­gates cit­ing polls show­ing the Ohio gov­er­nor is stronger than his ri­vals in Novem­ber. “Th­ese are folks that are not bring­ing ide­o­log­i­cal bag­gage into the con­ven­tion,” says Bob Walker, Ka­sich’s Penn­syl­va­nia state chair­man, who’s been reach­ing out to del­e­gate can­di­dates to re­mind them that the Ohio gov­er­nor grew up in Mckees Rocks, out­side Pitts­burgh. “They’re com­ing in think­ing about who they can elect in the fall.”

Pub­licly, most would-be del­e­gates are stay­ing neu­tral. That in­cludes peo­ple such as Phil English, a for­mer con­gress­man from Erie who at­tended the 1976 con­ven­tion as a Col­lege Repub­li­can. His pre­ferred can­di­date, Wis­con­sin Gov­er­nor Scott Walker, dropped out early in the race, and English hasn’t com­mit­ted to any­one else. “I very strongly want to nom­i­nate a ticket that can beat a Clin­ton ticket,” he says. He’s been con­tacted by all three GOP cam­paigns, which of­fered face time with the can­di­dates if he suc­ceeds in win­ning a del­e­gate berth. Trump’s team has been mak­ing the case that the mogul de­serves the nom­i­na­tion if he ar­rives at the con­ven­tion with a lead over Cruz and Ka­sich, English says, but he wants to see which can­di­date vot­ers in his home district fa­vor be­fore he chooses a side: “I do think the re­sults of the pri­mary will weigh heav­ily on del­e­gates.”

Each of Penn­syl­va­nia’s 18 con­gres­sional dis­tricts elects three del­e­gates, who aren’t re­quired to com­mit in ad­vance to any can­di­date. Four­teen del­e­gates cho­sen by a state party com­mit­tee are re­quired to cast their first bal­lot at the na­tional con­ven­tion for the can­di­date who wins the statewide vote, as are Penn­syl­va­nia’s top three GOP of­fi­cials. Demo­cratic del­e­gates elected from con­gres­sional dis­tricts will be pledged to cast con­ven­tion bal­lots based on the re­sults of the pop­u­lar vote, while state party lead­ers are des­ig­nated as su­perdel­e­gates and free to sup­port any­one in the race.

Del­e­gate can­di­dates qual­i­fied by gath­er­ing at least 250 valid sig­na­tures from reg­is­tered Repub­li­cans in midFe­bru­ary, long be­fore any­one knew Penn­syl­va­nia would mat­ter in this pres­i­den­tial race. “This is dif­fer­ent than other years,” says Bob Boz­zuto, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Repub­li­can Party of Penn­syl­va­nia. “There are def­i­nitely folks who started the del­e­gate process as Rick San­to­rum del­e­gates, and they’ve now found some­one else.”

Then there are com­mit­ted sup­port­ers like Gessa, who’s been tweet­ing for months on be­half of Cruz—like her, a Cuban Amer­i­can. Gessa’s hus­band, Adam Lang, a GOP leader in the cou­ple’s Philadel­phia ward, ran un­suc­cess­fully for a del­e­gate slot in 2012. This year, four peo­ple are run­ning in Gessa’s con­gres­sional district, and she’s de­ter­mined to make the cut. Us­ing the list the Cruz cam­paign pro­vided, she’s been send­ing out her own cam­paign mail­ers re­mind­ing vot­ers to choose a del­e­gate when they go to the polls. (About 150,000 Repub­li­cans

left the del­e­gate lines on their bal­lots blank in 2012.) Gessa is plan­ning a rally for April 23, the week­end be­fore the pri­mary. “A vote for me is a vote for Sen. Cruz,” reads a flier for the event. “Re­mem­ber, con­ser­vatism works, con­ser­vatism wins!” �Steven Yac­cino

The bot­tom line Penn­syl­va­nia will send the most free-agent del­e­gates to the GOP con­ven­tion, and cam­paigns are mov­ing to line up sup­port.

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