What to Watch in PA's Electoral College Debate

The most interesting blowback, says columnist Jon Geeting, has come from within the GOP.

Last week Governor Tom Corbett and Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi raised Pennsylvania's profile in the 2012 presidential race with a plan to change the way Pennsylvania awards its electoral votes.

Mr. Pileggi would have Pennsylvania join two other states, Nebraska and Maine, in abandoning the winner-take-all system. One electoral vote would be awarded for each of the state's Congressional districts, and the winner of the popular vote would receive two more.

If this system had been in place in 2008, President Obama would have beaten John McCain by a narrow margin, 11-10, rather than winning all 21 electoral votes that were up for grabs.

Since the 2012 presidential race seems likely to be much closer, and the freshly gerrymandered Congressional districts will leave many Republican-held districts less competitive, it is easy to see why Mr. Pileggi likes this plan: the Republican nominee could lose the popular vote but still win a majority of the electoral votes.

Democrats are predictably dyspeptic over this scheme, but the most interesting blowback has come from within the Republican Party.

The D.C. delegation from the southeastern suburbs--Charlie Dent (R-15), Jim Gerlach (R-6), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-8) and Pat Meehan (R-7)--have all opposed the change, and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has also come out against it.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus is said to be lobbying against the plan, State Republican Party chairman Rob Gleason is opposed, and former RNC chairman Michael Steele is also against it. Notably, Nebraska Republicans are looking at switching back to winner-take-all.

In the conservative media, writers at the National Review, the Weekly Standard and James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal have argued against the plan. If you want to get down in the weeds, Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight has a good list of the ways the change could backfire on the Republicans.

The scenario the southeastern House Republicans are worried about is simple enough. Under the current system, the most important part of the Democratic campaign strategy in Pennsylvania is to try to maximize turnout in Philadelphia and blue-trending southeastern counties. The Philadelphia media market is expensive, so a large portion of statewide campaign budgets are spent there.

But under Mr. Pileggi's plan, President Obama will only need to win a bare majority in Philadelphia--a near certainty--so he will not have to spend as much money there. This will free up campaign resources to be spent organizing in the next-bluest districts, namely those of the Messrs. Dent, Gerlach, Fitzpatrick and Meehan.

This also puts the Republican state legislators who'll share the 2012 ballot with these Congressmen at risk. And unlike the House delegation, they actually get a vote on the plan. So far PA senator Chuck McIlhinney (SD-10) dislikes the plan, and Bob Mensch (SD-24) is one of the co-sponsors. Senator Mensch is not on the ballot in 2012.

Going forward, the thing to watch is whether five more swing district GOP senators will vote against the plan. It only takes six defections in the Senate, or 11 in the House, to stop the bill.

The other people to watch are southeastern Republican party officials, and other party actors like committee members, activists and media. Those are the people who will be doing the work of the campaign, and their views will matter to candidates.

toto September 23, 2011 at 06:01 PM
Republican legislators seem quite “confused” about the merits of the congressional district method. The leadership committee of the Nebraska Republican Party just adopted a resolution requiring all GOP elected officials to favor overturning their district method for awarding electoral votes or lose the party’s support. While in Pennsylvania, GOP legislators insist we must change from the winner-take-all method to the district method. And up in Maine, the only other state beside Nebraska to use the district method, Mike Tipping reports on Republicans, also newly in the majority like their counterparts in PA. This year, Republican leaders in ME proposed and passed a constitutional amendment that, if passed at referendum, will require a 2/3rds vote in all future redistricting decisions. Now they want to pass a majority-only plan. Dividing PA’s electoral votes by district would magnify the worst features of the system and not reflect the diversity of PA. The district approach would provide less incentive for presidential candidates to campaign in all PA districts and would not focus the candidates’ attention to issues of concern to the whole state. Candidates would have no reason to campaign in districts where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. Due to gerrymandering, in 2008, only 4 PA districts were competitive. When votes matter, presidential candidates vigorously solicit those voters. When votes don’t matter, they ignore those areas.
toto September 23, 2011 at 06:01 PM
A survey of 800 Pennsylvan­ia voters conducted on December 16-17, 2008 showed 78% overall support for a national popular vote for President. Support was 87% among Democrats, 68% among Republican­s, and 76% among independen­ts. By age, support was 77% among 18-29 year olds, 73% among 30-45 year olds, 81% among 46-65 year olds, and 78% for those older than 65.By gender, support was 85% among women and 71% among men. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). Under National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would be included in the national count. The candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states would get the 270+ electoral votes from the enacting states. That majority of electoral votes guarantees the candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states wins the presidency. National Popular Vote would give a voice to the minority party voters in each state and district (in ME and NE). Now their votes are counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don’t matter to their candidate. With National Popular Vote, elections wouldn’t be about winning states or districts (in ME and NE). No more distorting and divisive red and blue state and district maps. Every vote, everywhere would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast.
toto September 23, 2011 at 06:03 PM
In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. Support is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed iin recent polls. Most voters don’t care whether their presidential candidate wins or loses in their state or district. They care whether he/she wins the White House. Voters want to know, that even if they were on the losing side, their vote actually was directly and equally counted and mattered to their candidate. Most Americans consider the idea of the candidate with the most popular votes being declared a loser detestable. We don’t allow this in any other election in our representative republic. The bill has passed 31 state legislativ­e chambers, in 21 small, medium-sma­ll, medium, and large states, including one house in AR, CT, DE, DC, ME, MI, NV, NM, NY, NC, and OR, and both houses in CA, CO, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, RI, VT, and WA. The bill has been enacted by DC (3), HI (4), IL (19), NJ (14), MD (11), MA (10), CA (55), VT (3), and WA (13). These 9 jurisdicti­ons possess 132 electoral votes — 49% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect. NationalPo­pularVote


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