Pa. delegates may be key at convention

Pennsylvania matters. And those voting in Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary should spend as much time deliberating their delegate selections as they do their presidential choice. The composition of the convention delegation, largely selected as three per congressional district, could determine whether Donald Trump becomes the party nominee.

With his having won New York state in a landslide, Trump’s trajectory will get him close to the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the nomination. But after the last primary votes are cast June 7, he could find himself just shy of the mark, and looking for unbound delegates.

No doubt Trump will seek to corral the delegates of candidates who have dropped out of the race. But, beyond those allotments, the largest single group up for grabs will be 54 of Pennsylvania’s 71 delegates, who are uncommitted regardless of what happens Tuesday. They are free agents. And since the ballot itself contains no information as to the prospective delegates’ candidate preference, it’s incumbent on voters to know who they are and how they will carry out their responsibilities.

Tuesday, I’ll vote in the Second Congressional District, which consists of portions of Philadelphia and Montgomery County. Four candidates are competing for the three delegate slots. (There are three candidates for the three alternate delegate slots.)

The candidates for delegate are Aaron Cohen, Aldrick Gessa, Elizabeth Havey, and Calvin Tucker. Last week, I emailed all, and asked for whom they intended to vote on the first ballot, and what would their approach be thereafter. Two wouldn’t commit, a third revealed a strong candidate preference, and only one said she’d follow the wishes of the electorate.

Cohen told me he decided to run last November because he anticipated a contested convention, but he won’t share his preference before voters pass judgment on his candidacy.

“Therefore, I have pledged to run uncommitted,” he said. “I will not make my decision of who to support prior to April 26. Past the first ballot I will continue to support a candidate who can deliver Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes in November.”

Gessa seeks to represent voters like me at the convention, but won’t listen to anyone’s preference but her own.

“From the beginning I have been open about my support for Ted Cruz,” she said. “I will be supporting him on the first ballot and ballots after that. I believe in supporting conservatives, and Sen. Cruz is a consistent conservative.”

Havey is the only candidate who pledged to follow the will of the electorate. She said she would “vote for the presidential candidate who wins my congressional district, at least on the first ballot, because I believe it is important to listen to your voters.”

While that will continue to be her guiding principle beyond the first ballot, she said she would “also consider which candidate won our surrounding area and the state. I will continue to review the polls across the country. I will also consider which candidate has most united the party by the time we get to the convention and who is best prepared to win the general election.”

Tucker, like Cohen, would not make his preference known.

“I like each of the three candidates,” he said. “However, I will reserve my selection until the convention, if I’m blessed by the voters to be selected.”

He added, “My final decision process as it relates to the first or subsequent ballots will be based on input from the voters of the district, policy positions, and opinion leaders.”

Taken together, the four illustrate the convoluted nature of the Republican primary. Assuming Havey wins, only one of the three delegates from the Second District would definitely represent the electorate’s wishes, another would vote for Cruz no matter what, and the remaining two would be subject to courting by Trump and others. And if Havey loses, none of the delegates might necessarily vote the preference of the majority.

At a minimum, delegates should be obligated to follow the will of the electorate on the first ballot. We can add that to the list of other inadequacies in the commonwealth’s archaic system, which includes closed primaries, one-day voting, voting absentee only for cause, and the sore-loser law, which blocks a candidate who loses in a primary from running again in a general election.

The immediate issue, though, is that GOP voters must investigate their choices before Tuesday. PoliticsPA.com is one of several sites where information has been complied.

With 15 contests left, Trump has 846 delegates. If he continues winning percentages of state delegations at his current rate, he could finish about 75 short of the magic number, according to an analysis by CNN. Which is why Randy Evans, a Republican national committeeman from Georgia who also sits on the rules committee, told me:

“With Pennsylvania’s 54 unbound delegates, it has the chance to be the deal-maker, sealing a bid for Trump, or deal-breaker, holding him from 1,237 and keeping open the possibility of a ‘stalemate convention’ where anything can happen.”

Michael Smerconish can be heard from 9 a.m. to noon on SiriusXM’s POTUS Channel 124 and seen hosting “Smerconish” at 9 a.m. Saturdays on CNN.


Polls open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday