Pennsylvania GOP delegates would be at the center of any contested convention

BY SALENA ZITO  szito@tribweb.com

It’s been 40 years since Republicans have gone to their convention without a clear nominee, but when they did, Pennsylvania was right at the heart of the struggle – because of the state’s unusual process of assigning delegates.

Pennsylvania’s primary contest is unlike others.

For years, the Keystone State primary has been a “preferential primary” – simply a beauty contest – and had no connection whatsoever to delegate selection.

It’s not winner-take-all. It’s not winner-take-most. It’s not even proportional.

The vast majority of Pennsylvania’s Republican delegates are technically “unbound” or “uncommitted.”

Used to be they all were, but this year party rules changed slightly, making 14 “at large” delegates bound to vote for the winner of the PA Primary, but on the first ballot only.

There are also three “automatic” delegate slots for the state party chairman (Rob Gleason), the National Committeeman (Bob Asher) and National Committeewoman (Christine Toretti).

The remaining 54 delegates, elected by Republican primary voters in each of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts (three per district) remain legally “uncommitted.”

They are not bound to vote for any particular candidate and are free to exercise their own judgment in selecting a nominee.

They may have their own preferences and loyalties, but they appear on the primary ballot without any indication of what those might be.

That means there is no guarantee – whatsoever – that the majority of Pennsylvania’s delegates will go with the winner of the Pennsylvania primary.

It has happened before.

“Pennsylvania’s huge bloc of uncommitted delegates would be pivotal in a contested convention. Pennsylvania would be in the center of every discussion and at the heart of every action,” said Charlie Gerow, a Harrisburg based media strategist.

Gerow had a front-row seat to the importance of Pennsylvania’s unique delegate set-up as a member of Ronald Reagan’s political team in the last contested GOP convention in 1976.

The 1976 primary race between Reagan and Gerald Ford was so close that Reagan chose Pennsylvania Senator Dick Schweiker as his running mate far in advance of the convention, believing it would help him siphon delegates from Ford.

But the delegates – all legally uncommitted – were effectively controlled by Drew Lewis, who held the delegation for Ford, according to Gerow.

“Four years later, Lewis devised and executed the strategy that won Reagan the majority of the delegates in that year’s Pennsylvania primary even though (Reagan) lost the primary to George H.W. Bush,” Gerow explained.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan lost the primary popular vote to Bush by about 100,000 votes, but he took the lion’s share of delegates because of the state’s unique rules – and thus won the only part of the primary that counts.

In short, Donald Trump could win the popular vote in Pennsylvania but lack the organizational infrastructure to fill a slate of delegates who support his candidacy. To date, Marco Rubio had the most impressive organization for getting supporting delegates on the ballot. The John Kasich campaign had been reaching out to people on the ballot even before Rubio dropped out.

Gerow has attended 10 consecutive conventions – more than any other Pennsylvanian Republican. He has been a delegate three times and is on the ballot again.

“I am currently undecided,” he said, having been an early supporter and national co-chair of Carly Fiorina’s presidential campaign.

This story was first posted 1:32 p.m. Thursday, March 17

Sanders supporters in Ohio boo Obama & Clintons over trade

US presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally March 14, 2016 in Youngstown, Ohio. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally March 14, 2016 in Youngstown, Ohio. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

BY SALENA ZITO  szito@tribweb.com

YOUNGSTOWN — A crowd of several thousand Ohio voters at a Bernie Sanders rally here Monday morning booed mention of President Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The downtown event was held at the Covelli Center, which sits on the site of a former steel plant.

“Nearly 7,000 people used to work in a steel plant that sat right here,” IUE union representative Bob Sutton told the crowd, laying the blame for the plant’s closing on former President Bill Clinton.

“We supported him, and then in his second term he puts together a trade deal that hurts the working man,” Sutton said as the crowd booed the mention of Clinton.

The crowd continued to erupt into boos at the mention of Hillary and President Obama as Sutton reminded them that both supported Obama’s new trade deal.

“Look, the trade deals hit the working people hard out here,” said Albert Mixon president of the Teamsters national black caucus.

“I understand why they booed, they are unhappy with the policy choices that they have made that have impacted the working men and women.”

First posted 1:25 p.m. Monday, March 14, 2016

Little hands, less dignity: Trump drags GOP into the gutter

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump shows off the size of his hands as Fox News Channel moderators Brett Baier (L) and Megyn Kelly (R) look on at the U.S. Republican presidential candidates debate in Detroit, Michigan, March 3, 2016. (REUTERS/Rebecca Cook)
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump shows off the size of his hands as Fox News Channel moderators Brett Baier (L) and Megyn Kelly (R) look on at the U.S. Republican presidential candidates debate in Detroit, Michigan, March 3, 2016. (REUTERS/Rebecca Cook)

BY SALENA ZITO  szito@tribweb.com

Donald Trump entered Thursday’s Republican debate in Detroit, Michigan, as the clear frontrunner, with momentum from a series of primary wins and fresh bravado after an epic 50-minute response to Mitt Romney’s acid speech about him earlier in the day.

But any presidential timber Trump might have carried with him into the Fox News telecast he fed into the wood-chipper in the first seven minutes.

The leading Republican presidential candidate felt it necessary to talk about his penis size on national television.

The moderators took Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to task for his vulgar remarks about Trump after having pledged to stay above the fray, and then asked Trump to weigh in on Rubio’s insults.

“He hit my hands. Nobody has ever hit my hands. I have never heard of this. Look at those hands,” Trump said, raising them to the camera. “Are they small hands? And he referred to my hands – if they are small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there is no problem. I guarantee you,” Trump said of the insinuation that his endowment was less than impressive.

It was a cringingly low moment in the history of presidential campaigns, and sadly, the quality of discourse did not improve much as the debate went on.

Trump was put on the defensive and stayed there – yelling.

His responses were a series of classic Trumpisms, shouted insults and attempts to befuzzle his peers with nonsense.

When moderators called Trump on the nonsense, he explained how beloved he is in the polls.

Which he is.

And there is no indication his driving GOP dignity into a ditch will do anything but make his poll numbers go up.

Trump has had a thing about his hands ever since Graydon Carter took to calling him a “short-fingered vulgarian” in Spy magazine some 25 years ago. As Carter tells it, Trump has been sending him published photos of himself ever since – with his hands circled in gold sharpie and the words “See, not so short!”

25 years. And tonight on a presidential debate stage with all the world watching.

To the extent one can judge the performance in conventional terms, both Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio had strong nights, with Cruz adopting the lead counsel role of the stage and Kasich the voice of reason and peacemaker.

“Tonight was a good night for any candidate not named Trump, but especially good for Ted Cruz,” said Bruce Haynes, a Republican media consultant and managing partner of Washington-based Purple Strategies. “Cruz forcefully but respectfully opposed Trump while demonstrating real depth in discussing policy.”

Haynes said, “John Kasich put his brand of ‘happy warrior’ conservatism on display again, and it played well. Marco Rubio did the best job of taking on Trump, but some of the exchanges were uncomfortable.”

Trump has now had two straight debates where he has come up short on policy and failed to demonstrate a depth of understanding of issues, said Haynes. “We will see if voters care, or if his role as the representative of their disappointment and anger is more important.”

The relentless push back on Trump highlights his frontrunner status in the contest, but also reflects the party’s unease with the impact of him winning the GOP nomination.

The very idea of Trump, a man who called for the ban of non-citizen Muslims and said he’d have to study the Ku Klux Klan before condemning it, the idea of him leading the party of Lincoln and Reagan has left the party fractured and leaders shamed in their inability to stop him.

Dane Strother, a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic strategist said the Republican Party’s brand is being burned down by the day, adding the debate was rock bottom for the Republicans.

“Six minutes in, Trump is defending the size of his penis, he belittles opponents with derisive nick names, Rubio screamed over Trump repeatedly… No high school debate would be allowed to continue as this one did.”

Strother was also bothered by Fox News Channel’s apparent complicity in the “Stop Trump” movemeny: “Fox was so in the bag with the Republican establishment – with the videos hitting Trump and slides – that they are making him a sympathetic figure. Ailes and Murdoch went too far tonight.”

He said Trump deserves whatever he gets and more, but politically this was not a smart move by Fox.

Although Trump was rattled at first, he found his sea legs, Strother said: “Once again, he took all the punches and stayed on his feet.”

Rubio spent most of the night as the attack dog, freeing up Cruz to tug at Superman’s cape with articulate arguments on a flat tax, strong national defense and the importance of states’ rights.

Kasich was a constant reminder that he was the most seasoned candidate on stage and was left virtually untouched by his rivals’ swords.

“Kasich is obviously the adult on the stage,” said Strother, “but he’s so obscured by the cage match that he’s not being heard.”

Strother rated the debate like this:

Winner for any sane person – Kasich

Winner for seeming sane and reasonable – Cruz

Winner for staying alive – Trump.

Winner for taking Trump on at his own peril – Rubio.

 “Overall if my child behaved like Trump and Rubio, they would be grounded,” Strother said.

This and next week’s CNN debate in Florida are likely the last chance for any of the rivals to stop Trump from winning the nomination. Essentially Cruz, Rubio and Kasich have between now and March 15 to keep Trump from winning Ohio and Florida. Trump wins in those states will drop-kick Rubio and Kasich out of the race and leave few barriers to Trump running with the majority of delegates remaining to nab the nomination in Cleveland in July.

NOTE: This post has been updated from the original to add comments from Strother.

First posted March 4, 2016  1:10 a.m.

Ben Carson bows out

CarsonBY SALENA ZITO  szito@tribweb.com

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a onetime frontrunner in the GOP presidential race, told his supporters in a statement this afternoon that he does not see a “path forward” and will not attend Thursday’s debate in Detroit:

“I have decided not to attend the Fox News GOP Presidential Debate tomorrow night in Detroit.  Even though I will not be in my hometown of Detroit on Thursday, I remain deeply committed to my home nation, America.  I do not see a political path forward in light of last evening’s Super Tuesday primary results. However, this grassroots movement on behalf of ‘We the People’ will continue. Along with millions of patriots who have supported my campaign for President, I remain committed to Saving America for Future Generations. We must not depart from our goals to restore what God and our Founders intended for this exceptional nation.”

The Tribune Review’s Tom Fontaine interviewed Carson at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh last May, at the beginning  of his popularity. Carson was meeting with recipients of a scholarship bearing his name.

Carson, 64, caught the public eye in 2013 when he warned about the pitfalls of political correctness and criticized President Obama’s healthcare law at the National Prayer breakfast. His campaign shot to fame quickly last spring, peaking in the summer, only to fall just as swiftly after a series of staffing issues, awkward statements and shifts in strategies plagued his campaign.

Carson was the only major party black candidate in the 2016 contests.

Super Tuesday makes Trump nomination, party rupture more likely

BY SALENA ZITO  szito@tribweb.com

The day after Super Tuesday dawned with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump staking out prevailing spots in their party nominating races, heading toward a direct collision in this fall’s general election race.

Trump overwhelmed rivals Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and John Kasich of Ohio by winning seven of the Super Tuesday contests; Clinton won an equal seven states against rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“This has been an amazing night,” Trump said at a press conference at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, then pledged to “unify” the party and turn his attacks towards Clinton.

Trump took the conservative south with Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia, as well as the moderate North with Massachusetts and Vermont.

Cruz won his home state of Texas as well as Oklahoma and Alaska, while Rubio nabbed the Minnesota caucuses marking his first win.

The GOP now rolls toward the next big contests on March 15 in Florida and Ohio, where the delegates go from being distributed proportionally to winner-take-all, which will determine that the race has either settled on Trump as the nominee or is barreling toward an ugly contested convention.

Many in the GOP believe Trump’s brash brand of impulsive anti-immigrant speechifying will not only cost the party the White House and congressional majorities but also will cause the 160 year old party to break apart.

Trump enters Florida and Ohio with 302 delegates, Cruz with 178, Rubio with 110 and Kasich with 19, according to the Frontloading HQ website run by Josh Putnam at University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs.

A total of 1,237 delegates are required to win the Republican nomination.

Clinton now has an approximate total of 1,005 delegates to Sanders’ 373, according to the Associated Press. Clinton’s numbers include super-delegates, which are party elites who have already pledged their support to her.

The Democrats’ magic number for clinching the nomination is 2,383.

First posted on Wednesday, March 2