<a href="https://www.pennlive.com/news/2020/01/five-things-keeping-pa-politics-hot-in-2020-john-baer.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Five things keeping Pa. politics hot in 2020 | John Baer</a>  <font color="#6f6f6f">PennLive</font>

Even if you pay just scant attention to the politics of our time, you likely know Pennsylvania’s key to the presidential race — key, as in who wins the state also wins the White House.

So that’s thing one: we’re the center of the universe, white-hot and worshipped. We’ll be inundated with polls, candidate visits, surrogates, TV ads, mailers, rallies, robocalls, Tweets, door-knocks, all the delights employed these days in the wonderful world of politics.

Our state’s a mirror of divided America, urban areas at either end with fly-over folks in between, that clearly could go either way: four more years or no more years.

So, smile Pennsylvania, you’re the focus of lights, cameras, action. And it could get hotter sooner.

Last Democratic presidential debate of 2019


Democratic presidential candidates from left, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and businessman Tom Steyer stand on stage during a Democratic presidential primary debate Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Because of thing two. It’s possible Democrats, being Democrats, won’t decide on a nominee before our primary April 28. (It’s so late because just about everything Pa. pols do is late.)

Four candidates – Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg — have the following and funding to get that far and beyond. One or more others could (maybe) catch fire, and moneyman Michael Bloomberg’s a wild card.

Point is, in addition to picking the next president, Pennsylvania could pick the Dem nominee, which might end up being one in the same.

In interviews with politicos across the state in both parties, some asking anonymity because they are working on campaigns, two constants emerged: How Pa. goes depends on who’s the Dem candidate, and Joe Biden has staying power.

Both Pittsburgh Democratic strategist Mike Mikus and Harrisburg GOP consultant Chris Nicholas spoke of Biden’s ongoing, stable support. And Philadelphia Democratic consultant Larry Ceisler said, “I just don’t see Sanders or Warren carrying Pennsylvania.”

Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf signs election reform bill into law law

Gov. Tom Wolf, with Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh County, and House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster County, seated beside him and an army of election reform advocates behind him, signs the most significant change in the state’s election laws in more than 80 years.

Thing three is a great unknown: Voting changes. Not only new machines all over the place, and what holy chaos they could cause, but also a new law expanding absentee voting but ending straight-party voting.

No longer can you hit a button, pull a lever or touch a screen and be done. Got to look at candidates for president, Congress, state House, state Senate, attorney general, auditor general, treasurer. Or not.

Will voters who’ve voted straight-party take time to vote the whole ballot?

Both parties benefitted from straight-party voting. Some counties say 50 percent or more of their vote was straight ticket.

Insiders suggest the change could be off-putting and slow the process. And some say big-city voters especially won’t wait in line or bother with down-ballot candidates.

Does that, coupled with changes to mail-in ballots, cause confusion to impact results? Who knows? It’s experimentation in real time.

The Pa. State Capitol Complex; a birds-eye view

The Pa. State Capitol Complex; a birds-eye view. Oct 18, 2018 Matthew Dressler | Special to PennLive

Thing four is a low flame compared to the high heat of national campaigns, but still important to state politics: legislative races.

Normally, these are horrible. Incumbents never lose, results are predictable and life (or low life) in the Capitol goes on.

But. Heretofore hapless Democratic legislative campaigns see a higher-than-normal Dem turnout giving them at least a shot at grabbing majorities in the state House and (less likely) Senate.

And whoever has legislative control after 2020 has greater say in drawing new congressional and legislative maps in 2021, maps that last for a decade.

Rep. Scott Perry holds a town hall meeting at the Hummelstown Fire Hall


Rep. Scott Perry holds a town hall meeting at the Hummelstown Fire Hall. July 30, 2019 Sean Simmers | ssimmers@pennlive.com

Finally, thing five is the congressional race in the 10th District (Dauphin County, parts of Cumberland and York counties), a race watched for national trends.

It’s Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry’s seat. He narrowly kept it 2018, beating political novice George Scott, after the district was redrawn in a less-red hue.

(The district changed as part of a Democratic state Supreme Court ruling that Pa. congressional maps were unconstitutionally rigged to favor Republicans.)

Perry now will face either established Democrat Eugene DePasquale, a former York County legislator and current state auditor general, or Democratic millennial first-time candidate Hershey lawyer Tom Brier.

It’s a race of national note. And perhaps, like every such race, decided by what happens at the top of the ticket. Which depends on who tops the Dem ticket. And how that person fares in the face of what’s certain to be a vigorous defense of incumbency by President Donald Trump – all played out under hot lights here in Pennsylvania.

John Baer may be reached at baer.columnist@gmail.com

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