Writer discusses upcoming Pennsylvania presidential, senate primaries

By Nick Riebel || Staff Writer

As you may know, the Pennsylvania primary is coming up very soon. On the 26th of this month, PA voters will be able to potentially choose your next president and senator. On the Republican side, the candidates for president include Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz, and Governor John Kasich (who is, for some reason, still in this race). For the Democrats, the candidates include Senator Bernie Senators and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. For the Senate election, incumbent Senator Pat Toomey does not appear to have any significant primary challengers. All the action for the Senate primary will be on the Democratic side, in which former Admiral and Congressman (and 2010 Democratic nominee) Joe Sestak, former Pennsylvania Secretary of Environmental Protection, and John Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock, are all fighting one another for the right to defeat Senator Toomey this November.

Looking at the Republican primary, it would seem as if Donald Trump is favored due to his perceived strength in the northeast, where Kasich and Cruz have both done poorly thus far. And, personally, I suspect that Donald Trump will win decisively here. Pennsylvania has been hit hard by unfair and unwise free trade policies such as NAFTA and will likely dominate in the blue collar and coal country middle and western parts of this state (including York county and the areas around Pittsburgh). Perhaps Kasich will do well in the Philadelphia suburbs, and Cruz may win the socially-conservative but more white-collar areas in the state, such as Lancaster and Lebanon counties.

There has been some discussion of either Cruz–or perhaps more likely, Kasich–upsetting Trump here. While I think it is very possible, I also think it is very unlikely. There is an old–somewhat unfair–adage in politics describing Pennsylvania: politically, Pennsylvania has Pittsburgh in the west, Philadelphia in the east, and you have Alabama (or Texas) in between. While politically-aware Pennsylvanians know that there are bastions of liberalism in the middle of our state (such as Lancaster City, Harrisburg, and Scranton) and conservative areas in and around Pittsburgh and Philadelphia (look at the surrounding Pittsburgh suburbs), it is hard to dispute the point of this adage. The west-middle of this state, sometimes dubbed “Pennsyltucky” in which the state GOP gets a large portion of its electoral support, is very amenable to Trump’s personality, rhetoric, and views. Despite winning the Philadelphia suburbs, Kasich cannot expand into Trump’s base here, nor is Cruz likely to.

Understanding who will win the Democratic primary is both simpler and more difficult and is therefore worth discussion. While I believe Hillary Clinton will ultimately prevail, it would not surprise me if she does well or extremely well in Philadelphia, narrowly wins the more blue-collar Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh area, but loses throughout most of the rural sections of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately for Senator Sanders, I believe there are not enough rural and coal-country Democrats left for him to ultimately prevail. If he were to, though, it would be a similar situation to his upset win in Michigan, in which Hillary Clinton only (somewhat) narrowly wins the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas, with Sanders dominating almost everywhere else. I will hope to contribute to his victory under those circumstances, though.

As for the Senate Democratic primary, I have personally been trying to determine who I should support. I truly like all three of the candidates. Ideologically, I believe I am closest to Fetterman. Personally, I have met and like McGinty. But as for whom I believe the best candidate is, I would have to say Joe Sestak. This has been a hard choice for me, but I believe I have made up my mind on this (although, admittedly, I could still change my mind on this issue). I believe that, amongst these three candidates, the way the primary race has gone on, that Joe Sestak must be the winner.

I really like John Fetterman. I think that he will be a great future addition to our Congress. Just not this year. Because, while I personally like Katie McGinty, I am concerned about the support for her from the Democratic Establishment. For those who don’t remember, then-Representative Joe Sestak beat the late party-switching Senator Arlen Specter, who was strongly supported (unwisely, in my opinion) by the Democratic Establishment. And I believe that they not only want revenge against him, they also desperately want a senator they know they can control. This is, I believe, why they got Katie McGinty to run. She is heavily dependent on support from the Democratic party establishment, who are spending hundreds of thousands, if not millions, to support her in the primary (I must say that President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have disappointed me, along with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in choosing a candidate in a contested primary rather than leaving it up to the will of the voters).

Simply put, while I personally like Katie McGinty, the fact is that she does not seem to have the charisma or appeal that Sestak or even Fetterman seem to have. She seems beholden to the party establishment in a way that they are not, and Toomey will take advantage of that if she wins the primary. Joe Sestak has a sort of stubborn independence that Pennsylvanians tend to like, which is why he was able to defeat Specter in the primary six years ago.

I will support any of these three candidates if they become the nominee. But even the appearance of being beholden to the Party Establishment makes me too reluctant to support Katie McGinty, as much as I personally like her. I love Fetterman and his policies, but don’t think he can win the primary as it is (although I believe he would actually do very well in the general election). But Sestak, who only narrowly lost after a tough primary in a horrible year for Democrats would be a great liberal replacement for the ultra-conservative Toomey (who, policy-wise, is actually further to the right than Rick Santorum). Ultimately, he is the smart choice for Democrats voting in the primary. Whether you just want to win this seat for the Democrats, or you want someone who will be a progressive champion in the Senate, Joe Sestak is your guy. I hope that the Democratic party is not so blinded by the desire for revenge and control that they refuse to support him if he does win the primary. Failure to do so, I think, would be catastrophic to our party in terms of not only taking the Senate, but in preventing a fracture within between the status-quo Establishment and Progressive Reformers.

Junior Nick Riebel is a staff writer. His email is nriebel@fandm.edu.

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