In 2016, unlike most years, Pennsylvania's primaries will play important roles in the Democratic Party and Republican Party presidential races.
That rarely happens, since the commonwealth usually holds its primaries so late in the election cycle that frontrunners already have established their inevitability with all other opponents having dropped out, with few recent exceptions, such as the 2008 Democratic and 1976 Republican races.
But, this time around, both contests are still competitive.
Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton leads Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont by about 250 elected delegates in the Democratic contest, although she holds a commanding lead when her approximately 500 expected super-delegates are included in the total.
In the Republican race, businessman Donald Trump possesses an edge of around 300 delegates over Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas with Ohio Gov. John Kasich still running, too. It is possible no Republican will secure a majority of delegates through the primary/caucus process, meaning a contested convention would be needed to pick the party's nominee.
So, Pennsylvanians will have their votes matter, which will be a new experience for many citizens, even some with extensive political backgrounds.
“For me, it's exciting,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Everett, from the 9th district. “For the first time in my voting life, Pennsylvania's primary means something in this presidential election year.”
His House colleague, U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, from the 12th district, is not pleased with the current presidential campaign.
“This has been a very frustrating primary season from my perspective,” Rothfus said. “I tend to focus on policy – not personalities – and I've been very disappointed with the lack of policy debate that we've seen so far.”
Erin McClelland, an uncontested Democrat in the 12th, spoke positively about the message put out by her party during the primary season, even taking a jab at the GOP, referring to a back-and-forth between Trump and former candidate U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio that dealt with the size of the businessman's hands.
“I have been so impressed with the debate that we've been having in the Democratic Party,” McClelland said. “I really have. We have had a very substantive discussion about policy, about where this party is moving forward. You know, Bernie has really got a lot of support amongst the younger generation, so it kind of shows where the younger Democrats are going. Hillary's your establishment candidate. She's unbelievably experienced. It will be interesting to see how it plays out and where this leaves the party. But I'm really, really glad that while the Republicans are having debates about how big their hands are, my party is having a real solid debate on what energy looks like, on the role Wall Street plays, on what financial regulation looks like.”
Trump and his brash statements, which have included plans to build a wall between the United States and Mexico and ban all Muslims from entering the country, have become a dominating factor in the GOP race.
“He's still very much a jagoff, yes,” said John Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock and Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. “But it's amazing how the wheels are coming off that now. That's turning into it's own version of 'Hunger Games' on that side. I don't know how that's going to work out, and I don't really care. As a partisan, I enjoy the chaos that I'm sure it's going to slide into.”
Art Halvorson, a Republican who is challenging Shuster in the 9th, called Trump “childish,” “reprehensible” and “embarrassing,” but said he understands the anti-establishment movement that has fueled much of his campaign.
“It's a groundswell,” Halvorson said. “This is what revolution looks like in a free society where you don't have to shoot each other. You defeat incumbents and the power. You break down the power structure, which (Thomas) Jefferson said had to happen. He recognized early on that power would be accreted to Washington, and every once in a while it would need to have to be taken down. Fortunately, we can still do that in a free society with ballots.”
Shuster further discussed the presidential election by saying, “The No. 1 question I get asked is who am I supporting for president. And I've said from the beginning, I'm for the person that can win the presidency. We're down to three candidates. I think all three of them have something positive to offer, and all three of them aren't perfect. At the end of the day, if we get somebody that I can agree with 80 percent of the time, that's a pretty good day because I don't know anybody that I'm going to agree with 100 percent of the time.”
Rothfus feels no matter who wins the presidency, Congress needs to present its own set of plans to address important issues, including taxes, national security, health care and poverty.
“These are the initiatives we're looking at in the House of Representatives in significant part because you're not seeing this kind of policy debate at the presidential level,” Rothfus said. “So the hope is that whoever emerges from the primary process and the convention there will be a body of work that they can look to that we have put together in the House, accept that and run on it in the fall and get a mandate from the people to have the kind of change that we need to have.”