The Spoke’s news copy editor Seth Zweifler spoke with Harrisburg-based political analyst David La Torre on issues surrounding the Democratic candidates and the Pennsylvania primary. La Torre, a noted Pennsylvania political analyst and public affairs consultant, served under former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and was the Press Secretary for former Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker. Below are excerpts from the interview.
Seth Zweifler - In your opinion, what importance is the state of Pennsylvania going to have in the upcoming Democratic primary?
David La Torre - This primary means everything for Hillary Clinton. If Hillary Clinton loses, she’s done. If she wins, there’s a good chance she can take the nomination. [...] Typically, Pennsylvania has been a forgone conclusion. Now all Pennsylvania voters really have an opportunity to select the eventual nominee.
SZ - So, based on your view that Pennsylvania is going to be a major determinant for this upcoming primary, how do you feel that political awareness has been raised throughout the state, if you feel that way at all?
DLT - I don’t think there’s any question [that] more people are paying attention this year. A lot of Pennsylvanians are catching the presidential campaign fever now, and it’s something that is very apparent.
SZ - And this is something that you’ve really never seen before in the state of Pennsylvania?
DLT - Well, we’ve seen a lot of interest in presidential campaigns before. [...] Make no mistake, Pennsylvania is a big prize, given the size of the state, number of electoral votes and its geographical position. One could argue if you win Pennsylvania you’re also going to win New Jersey and Ohio. The fact that Hillary Clinton has already won New Jersey and Ohio [...] helps give her a compelling argument to Democratic superdelegates as to why she deserves the nomination.
SZ - So, since we’ve established that there is an increased participation and political awareness among the general masses, how do you think the candidates have responded to this?
DLT - With increased campaigning. You’re going to find them all over Pennsylvania for the next several weeks. It’s going to be unlike anything anybody has ever seen. Pennsylvania is certainly the biggest prize to date in the Democratic primary, and both candidates will do whatever it takes to nail down a victory.
SZ - From what you know, has any one candidate been putting more attention forth toward gaining the state of Pennsylvania?
DLT - It’s both equal. They’re both here. You can’t weigh one’s presence. Like I said, when a state means everything in a primary both candidates are going to be here and spend millions of dollars getting their message out.
SZ - It seems that the general trend in past elections has placed younger voters in a much less important role than their percent makeup in the population shows. In this election, however, it seems that from my point of view young people are really starting to get interested, no matter if they are over or under 18.
DLT - I absolutely agree with you. I think young voters are a big reason why Barack Obama has enjoyed the success he’s had. He [Obama] really connects with the younger generation, [...] and these are voters that could end up helping him carry Pennsylvania, despite the fact that Hillary Clinton has a comfortable lead in most polls. It will be interesting to see if young voters still have that same vigor if Hillary Clinton is the nominee.
SZ - From what you’ve seen recently, have the candidates, specifically Barack Obama, altered their campaign in any way to appeal to this younger generation of voters?
DLT - Most people will tell you that Barack Obama has gone to places that younger voters connect with. You have to look at his overall message of change, when the current president’s approval ratings are as low as they are, that tells you that America is ready for or wants new change or leadership. Barack is a fresh face with a tremendous message that appeals to people who have grown tired of the Bush administration.
SZ - Do you have any prediction as to what the result will be for the upcoming Democratic Primary and then the general election?
DLT - I think Hillary Clinton will win in Pennsylvania. I think Hillary Clinton will then secure the Democratic nomination, and I think John McCain will be the next president.
SZ - Do you feel that John McCain simply has the most appeal to the American people, or is there any other reasoning behind your prediction for our next president?
DLT - I think he [McCain] will be the next president because [...] many of the young people and people who have not been involved in politics in the past but support Barack Obama will lose interest, and it remains to be seen whether they will go to the booth in November to vote for Hillary Clinton. At the end of the day, that, combined with other things, should mean a presidential victory for John McCain.
SZ - So you strongly believe that this primary and this election is in the hands of the young voters?
DLT - In many ways it’s in the hands of young people who are attracted to Barack Obama’s message and people who typically sit on the political sidelines, but have been inspired by his message. If Barack Obama doesn’t win the nomination, and those people feel slighted, it clearly works to John McCain’s advantage.
SZ - I know that in the past most statewide primaries have been determined mainly by popular vote. This year, however, many of us are being exposed to the concept of the superdelegates, one that is certainly a new focus in the political spectrum. What role do you see these superdelegates having in the upcoming primary?
DLT - Clearly, if neither candidate has enough conventional delegates to secure the nomination, the superdelegates are going to mean everything, and it’s looking like it’s headed that way.