by Lowman S. Henry | March 15, 2004

Checkered flag waves before PA starts its engines

At a time when the Super Bowl is played in February and the Stanley Cup is decided in June it is a serious disappointment to we political junkies that the Presidential primary season came to an abrupt end in early March.

You see, for those of us engrossed in the sport of politics Presidential campaigns are like the Olympics. They happen only once every four years. Preparation is intense. Competition is short. Victory or defeat is quick and decisive.

Even more disappointing is the fact Pennsylvania voters once again have had absolutely no say in the process of nominating Presidential candidates. President Bush had a clear shot at re-nomination this year, so GOP voters focused on the General Election from the beginning. It should have been different for the Democrats. But, John Kerry, John Edwards, and Howard Dean – not even Dennis Kucinich set foot in the Keystone State to campaign. The game is over, and we didn’t get to see a single pitch.

Governor Ed Rendell has raised the quadrennial issue of moving Pennsylvania ‘s Primary Election to an earlier date on the electoral calendar. It is clear our late April primary, which is a month earlier than other years, makes us a complete non-player in Presidential nominating contests.

The Democrat National Committee deliberately “front loaded” their primaries this year in order to keep internal warfare to a minimum and identify their challenger to President Bush as early as possible. The process worked. John Kerry now has eight months in which to engage the sitting President in battle.

But, fewer than half the states got to participate in the process. The argument could even be made that Iowa and New Hampshire voters were the only ones who really counted, since the momentum Senator Kerry built up coming out of those two states propelled him to victory elsewhere.

That is hardly a representative sample of the U.S. electorate, or even just the Democrat Party. The Pennsylvania primary is still weeks away, so the most important decision voters get to make – helping to choose the leader of the Free World – will be a distant memory by the time a single voter in this commonwealth casts a ballot.

Over the years various proposals have been advanced, sometimes legislation has even been introduced, to move Pennsylvania ‘s primary to an earlier date. None of those ideas have gone anywhere.

But this time, it could be different. Ed Rendell is uniquely positioned to succeed where others have failed. First, he is the governor and has the high political profile needed to move this issue forward. Second, as a former chairman of the Democrat National Committee he has an intricate knowledge of the national nominating process. With an insider’s perspective he can pick a new primary date that will give Pennsylvania maximum impact in national affairs.

This is not just an issue for Pennsylvania Democrats. Four years from now, regardless of the outcome of this November’s election, Pennsylvania Republicans will be selecting a Presidential nominee whose name is not George W. Bush. Should Bush prevail and win a second term, both parties will be nominating fresh faces for the nation’s highest office.

Pennsylvania is the cradle of liberty. Although “America Starts Here” was a clumsy tourism slogan, it is a historically accurate statement relative to the founding of our republic. That we now have absolutely no say in the selection of party candidates for our highest national office is emblematic of the erosion of national power Pennsylvania has suffered in recent decades.

Governor Rendell is right to advocate advancing our Presidential primary and restore Pennsylvania to its rightful place as a keystone in the selection of our national leadership. This time the call for change should be more than just rhetoric. This time our state’s leaders should take action.