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Diplomacy in Action

The Pennsylvania Primary: State of the Race as Pennsylvania Voters Go to the Polls

Larry Ceisler, Principal, Ceisler Media Agency
Philadelphia, PA
April 26, 2016

2:30 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: Okay, good afternoon. We’ll get started. And I know people may – we may not have everybody on the call, but there are quite a lot of RSVPs, so we’ll wait for other people will join. But this is Miriam Magdieli from the Foreign Press Center, and on behalf of the Foreign Press Center and the State Department I want to welcome you all to this call. And I want to give a special welcome to Larry Ceisler, who will be speaking with us today. Mr. Ceisler is a former journalist himself. He was a news producer for several years, so he understands the press --

After Mr. Ceisler’s career in news and media production, he actually went on to be a campaign manager for the mayor of Philadelphia and was successful in getting him elected. So we’re lucky to have somebody who has expertise both in press and media and in political campaigns and really (inaudible) his insights on the elections happening today in his home state of Pennsylvania.

So Larry, before I turn it over to you, first let me say thank you again on behalf of the Foreign Press Center and on behalf of all the journalists who are joining us today. And after a few opening remarks, we’ll open it up to questions. I would ask that, folks, when you ask your questions, please state your name and your outlet clearly before you begin. And (inaudible) Larry, I’ll turn it over to you. Thank you.

MR CEISLER: Sure. And again, I think if you’re on a cellphone and if you could mute it, it would be very helpful, because I’m getting some static on the line – not static, but I’m getting – I’m hearing some noise on the line.

Anyway, thank you for having me. We – Pennsylvania every so often – oh, that’s great, whoever did that. Pennsylvania every so often becomes a state where there’s a lot of interest politically. So every so often I’ll get calls from foreign journalists who want to learn a little bit about the state and its significance in presidential politics especially. So I’m happy to talk to you.

Pennsylvania – so Pennsylvania for many years was what was called a battleground state, meaning it was a very competitive state for Republicans and Democrats and thus candidates would always come here and there would be a lot of television and radio advertising. Over the last few elections, the state has become more Democratic – that’s at least in terms of presidential elections. I think the last Republican to carry Pennsylvania, if I’m not mistaken, was the first President Bush. And four years ago, we didn’t get a visit from Mitt Romney until I think the week before the voting.

Eight years ago, Pennsylvania was a very significant state in the Democratic primary because this was the showdown state between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And what happened here was, just through a quirk, they went through a series of primaries and then there was a period of several weeks where there wasn’t any primaries leading up to Pennsylvania. So they were here all the time. Now, Hillary Clinton did win the Pennsylvania primary against Barack Obama, and I fully expect that Hillary Clinton is going to win tonight against Bernie Sanders. And the reason is that Pennsylvania is basically tailor-made for Hillary Clinton. Her father grew up in the northeastern part of the state, a place called Scranton. Her daughter is married to a man from Philadelphia. Bill Clinton was always very successful here. It’s a very – I would say it’s a moderate state, but it just seems to fit her like a glove.

I would say on the Republican side this is – it’s very unusual for us to have a Republican primary that means anything. From what I’ve heard of the polling, Donald Trump will win in Pennsylvania tonight, but if you’ve been following this, most of you would know that that doesn’t mean anything in terms of delegates because there is a disconnect between the presidential race – which is called a beauty contest, because it really doesn’t mean anything – and then the choosing of the delegates. So on the Republican side, delegates run, but they’re not attached to any candidate. So it doesn’t say “committed to Ted Cruz,” “committed to Donald Trump,” and so what happens is they can become delegates who can do whatever they want to do when they’re elected. And that’s why Pennsylvania is such a pivotal state for the Republicans as they get closer to the convention, because these people are basically free agents and the question will be are they going to have a criteria as to how they will vote, can they be influenced by people locally, or can they be influenced by the national candidates themselves.

But Donald Trump, because he’s from a neighboring state – because he’s from New York – seems to have a decent following here. He went to college in Philadelphia, which he always reminds people that he went to the Wharton school of finance or business at the University of Pennsylvania.

So I would say that sort of sets the table. I used to actually run political campaigns. I don’t do them anymore because, frankly, I get a little tired of American politics and the acrimony that comes with it. So my business is actually straight public relations and working with public affairs types of issues. But I’m still – I still understand politics. Even though my office is here in Philadelphia, my – I have two other offices throughout the state, and I was born and raised in the western part of the state near Pittsburgh, so I have a pretty good sense of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

So if that’s enough of a backdrop and you all want to ask questions and just however you do it, just go ahead.

MODERATOR: Okay, we’ll take questions now. Again, please state your name and your outlet (inaudible).



QUESTION: My name is Claudia Trevisan. I’m from the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de San Paulo. I’d like to know is there (inaudible) experts of how do these people who are delegates usually vote by looking to previous elections? Can you at least somehow (inaudible) what is the likely outcome of this election?

MR CEISLER: So – and again, I’m having trouble hearing, so I’ll try to repeat as I understand the question. Are you asking can you look at previous results in Pennsylvania to predict what’s going to happen in this election? Is that the question?

QUESTION: No. No, it is regarding these people who are delegates that are (inaudible). Is there any way to establish criteria or to predict how they usually vote? Like they usually vote --

MR CEISLER: Oh, okay, the delegates. The delegates.

QUESTION: Delegates, yes. The people who are delegates.

MR CEISLER: The delegates, okay. Well – and again, whoever – who’s ever on that cell phone, I’m having – if you can mute it, I’m really having trouble hearing. Well --

MODERATOR: I think it’s *6 to mute, if you need help.

MR CEISLER: Okay. So yeah, so if anybody – they can just *6 to mute.

So in terms of delegates, we’ve really never been in this situation before. It’s been many, many years – actually it goes back to 1976 to when there was – you went to a convention, there was a possibility the delegates would actually have a role in it. But I can tell you in Pennsylvania that some people are running for delegates, and what they’re saying is – this is on the Republican side – they’re saying, “Well, on the first ballot” – and they – by the way, they run in congressional districts. So what they’ll say is, “Well, on the first ballot, I’m going to vote for whoever my congressional district votes for. But then after that, I will vote for whoever I think the best person is to win in November,” Whereas other people are running saying, “I’m running committed to Donald Trump” or “I’m – and I will vote for Donald Trump on every ballot,” or “I’m running for Ted Cruz and I’ll vote for Ted Cruz on every ballot,” or they’re running uncommitted and saying that they will – they’ll stick with whomever their district voted for.

But what you have to understand is this is very, very new to – not only to us in Pennsylvania but also to the Republican Party, because this hasn’t happened. So these delegates – and by the way, these are very low-profile races. So people – when they went to vote today in Pennsylvania, they voted for somebody for president, they voted for somebody for United States Senate, they voted for somebody for Congress, and there were even a few state offices before that. And then right at the bottom came these people running for delegate. So I would – it’s safe to assume that there’ll be a big drop-off on people who vote for president and then for delegates. So these are not high-profile races for delegate. Does that answer your question?

QUESTION: Yes, yes. And if I could just follow up with a question --


QUESTION: -- who are these people that are running for delegate? Are they activists --

MR CEISLER: Who are these people?

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) the Republican Party?


QUESTION: How do they end up on the ballot?

MR CEISLER: Okay. So for instance, when I – so I’m a Democrat, and when I looked at the people running for delegate today on the Democratic side, I recognized many of the names, so many of the people are – they’re activists, they’re people who work in the political process, they’re people who are staff members or even elected officials in our area. On the Republican side, I know there were people who were involved in the Republican Party and there were activists, but then there were also people who just got engaged in the process because they really liked Donald Trump or they really liked Ted Cruz and had never been involved before.

So I think what you have for the most part is you have two sets of people running for delegate. You have people who are involved in the political process and either hold office or who are activists. And then you have people who, just for the first time, because they became excited about a candidate, decided that they would run for delegate.

But I can tell you on the Democratic side usually they get chosen. So the Clinton people say, “Well, we’re going to choose so many people to run,” and they try to balance it. They try to have men, women, black, white, Hispanic. They try to make it balanced. Okay?

QUESTION: Hi, Larry. Can you hear me?


QUESTION: Hi. My name’s Meagan Fitzpatrick. I’m a journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Washington, D.C. Trump is not only expected to win Pennsylvania tonight but probably the other four states voting today as well. So I’m just wondering if you’d comment – just broadening it out a little bit from Pennsylvania, if you’re able to. If he does sweep all of the states tonight, how significant would that be to him and what would it mean just generally for the campaign, for the race? Would it be sort of inevitable after tonight that he will get the 1237?

MR CEISLER: Well, I don't know if it’s inevitable, but I think if you look at the states that are being voted – they call it the Acela primary because these are states that are in the mid-Atlantic, the mid-Atlantic region. And for the other foreign journalists, Acela is a name of a train that runs from Washington, D.C. to Boston. So that’s why they call it that. I think that most people were assuming that he was going to do well in these states, again, because they’re in the mid-Atlantic, they’re near his home state of New York. Now, we won’t really – the biggest prize, obviously, is Pennsylvania, and we’re not going to know how many of those delegates that he gets. But I think in the math, for the most part, people were assuming that he would be strong in these states and that if they were going to stop him, it was really going to have to come after this, starting in Indiana and then moving out west ultimately to California.

QUESTION: So if he does sweep tonight, do you think Indiana is – like that’ll be key, then, that’ll be maybe their last chance for the stop Trump movement for Kasich and Cruz?

MR CEISLER: Yeah, I think Indiana will be the last – that will be – that’s the firewall.


MR CEISLER: And for the people on the call, they should know Indiana is actually one of the more conservative states in the United States. So if any of you are familiar, for instance, with the John Birch Society – I mean, that was founded in Indiana. And they don’t elect too many Democrats, and it’s one of the more reliable Republican states. So I would tell you that if – and they have evangelicals there.

QUESTION: So that’s good for Cruz.

MR CEISLER: So if Ted – right. So if Ted Cruz, and obviously John Kasich is going to leave Indiana to him – if they can’t stop Trump there, I just don’t – I just don’t see them stopping him.

QUESTION: So what does – sorry to dominate. Just one or two more follow-up questions, if you don’t mind. What does Trump need to do to ensure that he can get Indiana and not cede it to Cruz?

MR CEISLER: Well, I think it’s the same thing he’s been doing all along. Now, he’s probably going to have to show more of his conservative credentials. But I’ll tell you something, I just think at this point Republicans and Democrats who vote in these primaries – and you’ve got to remember the people who vote in primaries in the United States tend to be the people who are most engaged in the political process and they’ve been following it and they understand. So I don’t think that things are going to change much in Indiana unless there’s a bombshell. So I think that – I mean, obviously, what’s happened is Kasich has ceded a state for whatever that means.

But I think that what Trump has to do going into Indiana is to, I think, number one, show his conservative credentials, but also to show the inevitability of his nomination. And because people sort of like to get on board, they like to get on board the bandwagon or the victory train, so I think that Trump has to make sure he doesn’t make any gaffes, he doesn’t make any big mistakes. And even though he had been saying a lot of things over the past several months that would sink most people, he really didn’t run into that problem until he ran into the abortion issue a few weeks ago. So I think that’s what he probably needs to do.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR CEISLER: You’re welcome.

QUESTION: Hi (inaudible).

QUESTION: Hello? Hello, my name is Mladen Petkov and I’m from the Bulgarian National Radio. And I wanted to follow up that question and I wanted to ask you: Was the fragile pact between Cruz and Kasich their only option to stop Trump? And then on the Democratic side, when do you think we could expect Sanders to pull out and start focusing on uniting the Democratic Party? Thank you.

MR CEISLER: Okay. Okay, you’re welcome. The Kasich-Cruz alliance I think came a few weeks too late. This was – you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out this is what they were going to need to do, and they should have done this a few weeks ago. So they do it on the eve of the Pennsylvania – they do this on the eve of the Pennsylvania primary. I just don’t think that voters really, really understand that and are going to respond to it. And I think it also – it – even though it’s a smart political tactic, I think to a lot of people it is going to smack of desperation politics.

Again, I think if they would have tried to – if they would have done this a few weeks ago – and it would have been a very natural thing to do. I mean, Kasich would have said, “Look, I’m not going to run as well here. This is about defeating Donald Trump. Donald Trump should not be the nominee of the Republican Party, but we can’t split the opposition to him and we have to be able to marshal our resources.” But they didn’t do that. So I think that this is a little – it is not enough and it’s a little too late unless they can beat him in Indiana.

In terms of Bernie Sanders, I think that you’ve probably seen the same things that I have – that he’s talking about taking this all the way to the convention here in Philadelphia. He believes – I think he knows he’s not going to be the nominee. So for him, it’s the message that mattes. What matters to him is that Hillary Clinton is going to adopt some of his or many of his positions, and then he would be able to declare victory in a way. But for him, the only way to do that is for him to stay on the ballot, for him to stay competitive, and apparently, he can keep raising money because he has a lot of these small donations. And he wants to have his voice heard. So personally, seeing him the way he is and he’s very much the ideologue and he’s very much self-righteous in his views, I think he will go all the way to the last primary in California and then he – that will be the end of the competitive part of it, and then he’ll probably have to make some decision there. But he will definitely come to Philadelphia to the convention to try to get his positions as part of the – as part of the party platform.

Now, what they may do is they may negotiate a few of those with the Clinton people in advance just in order to try to get him out of the race, because every day – every day he stays in the race is a bad day for Hillary Clinton.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR CEISLER: You’re welcome.


QUESTION: I'll ask another one if you don't mind. This is Meagan again from the CBC.


QUESTION: No one else is speaking up. So just sort of the same question on the Democrat side in terms of the outcome of tonight: Getting the nomination for Sanders, I mean, will be out of reach, right? Like there’s mathematically no way he can possibly get it after tonight, probably?

MR CEISLER: Basically.


MR CEISLER: I mean, the math doesn’t work for him, correct.


QUESTION: And can I also ask a follow-up? Sorry.


QUESTION: Yeah, I wanted to ask something because I’m trying to figure out how people vote in America during primaries. Can Independents vote during primaries or only registered Democrats or Republicans?

MR CEISLER: Every state has different rules, and it’s very confusing. So in Pennsylvania only Democrats can vote in a Democratic primary, only Republicans can vote in a Republican primary, and if you want to switch your voter registration, you have to do it 30 days in advance. In other – so that’s called a closed primary.

Other states have what’s called an open primary, which means Independents and Republicans can vote in a Democratic primary, Democrats and Independents can vote in a Republican primary. And then some say you can switch your registration the day of the primary. But every state has different rules.

So what happens is the open primary states have been better for Bernie Sanders and for Donald Trump. The reason being is that they attract Independent voters. And in the United States it’s really the Independent voters who decide who the president is going to be when they vote in November, because basically they feel most Democrats are going to vote for the Democratic candidate, most Republicans are going to vote for the Republican candidate, so that gets you – basically you’re at 50-50. And then it’s those Independents, which make up a minority of voters here, they’re the ones who make the difference.

So one of the things that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump say is look, we attract Independent voters, we attract new people to the party, and that’s one of their selling points. But to answer your question, in the primary, every state is different.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Claudia from the Brazilian newspaper again. Could you tell us a little bit of what are the main topics that are being discussed in the primary in Pennsylvania? What the voters have in mind and what is the defining their vote?

MR CEISLER: Well, different states, they talk about – they talk about different things. Now, obviously, Bernie Sanders, wherever he goes, every answer – every problem in the United States is because our big banks are bad or the – or billionaires are not paying their fair share. It’s like every answer is the same. But I would tell you that on the Democratic side I think the income inequality issues – I think that has become a big issue. I think when Hillary Clinton was a United States senator and she voted to go to war in Iraq and Bernie Sanders voted against it – I think that’s an issue that gets highlighted. I think on the – but then leadership, which is an intangible – leadership and experience. So there’s a lot of people – there’s a lot of Democrats who like what Bernie Sanders is saying but they just do not think that he has the experience and leadership skills to carry it off, especially when it comes to foreign policy. I think Democrats, for the most part, they like the Obama foreign policy, and obviously because Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State she was a part of that foreign policy.

On the Republican side, obviously Donald Trump has certainly set the agenda in terms of issues, whether it be immigration reform – that goes everything from Mexican to Muslims to when he talks about making America great again. But it’s interesting: In both parties, there’s sort of an overlap. Trade deals and trade partnerships have become part of the conversation, and it’s very interesting to hear Republicans talking about being against trade just like with the Democrats. I mean, it was Bill Clinton who did NAFTA and whatever. But unfortunately – this is me making my personal observation, obviously – this campaign on both sides has – it’s – it seems more about making America an – more isolationist from an economic standpoint, trade standpoint. It’s tough. But I think trade issues have also been a big part of the conversation on both sides.

And then you get Ted Cruz – he talks a lot – the evangelical stuff and about Christians being able to practice their faith, though that there’s – I don’t know what the threat is to that. But I think those are some of the main issues.

But it’s very interesting. Clinton – Bernie Sanders has just done a tremendous job, I think, of being able to differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton on a number of issues. So I’d say for the Democratic primary voter it’s like their heart is with Bernie Sanders but their head is with Hillary Clinton. And I think on the Republican side, because there were just so many to start with, Donald Trump, just because he is just an oversized personality in this just large field was able – has just been able to stand out. And he just has a real knack for picking the words that excite and he just has – he really has his finger on the pulse of at least the Republican voters.

QUESTION: Hi. Can you hear me?

MR CEISLER: Hello. I can.



QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Omur Sahin from a Turkish newspaper, Birgun.


QUESTION: Thanks for having us today. What I want to ask you: Do you think the race between Hillary and Bernie is already over? I mean, will there be another chance to turn the momentum in favor of Bernie Sanders like he said several times?

MR CEISLER: Right. Boy, Turkey is one of the next trips I want to make. I really want to go to Turkey.

Anyway, I think the race is basically over. He might be able to win a couple more primaries, but at the end of the day, it’s really about the delegates, and he just cannot catch up. Because what the Democrats also have is they have what are called the superdelegates. And the superdelegates are elected officials and people who are chosen by the parties. And she has a vast majority of these. And the purpose of these delegates are to make sure that the party doesn’t go off track, let’s say. But I think he could potentially win some other states.

It’s interesting – here’s what happens. So if you’re all familiar with the United States, Bernie Sanders has done well in, let’s say western states – western states that in November will go to the Republican. And the vast majority of their voters are Republican; there aren’t too many Democrats. So if you’re a Democrat in a state like Montana or Idaho or Utah, places like this, you have to be a true believing Democrat – I mean, very, very liberal – because you’re really cut off from governing with the majority. So these are the types of people who are attracted to a Bernie Sanders, because he’s definitely to the left of Hillary Clinton. Where he does not do well is in states where there are – where African American voters and minority voters make up a bigger part of the Democratic vote or in states that are more diverse.

So he does well in small states like – again, like Vermont, where he’s from, New Hampshire, whatever, small states where there – where it’s basically white voters and states where there aren’t too many Democrats. Now, obviously, he did do well in Michigan. But – so there – so unless – I forget the whole map, what’s left of the states, but he just – I just don’t see a scenario where he has – he’s able to overtake her.

Now, by the way, he may do well in California, okay, because California is a very – it’s a very, very liberal state, and if he’s on the ballot then, people might just want to sort of make a statement by voting for him. And by the way, even if Hillary Clinton would lose California, she’ll win it in November because that state almost always will go Democratic.

But to answer your question, I think that at least in terms of who the nominee is, it’s about over.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more?


QUESTION: Can you mention again why Bernie Sanders is doing good at small states?

MR CEISLER: Okay. So hopefully you can understand this. So for instance, I live in the city of Philadelphia, okay, and let’s say we have a million registered voters in Philadelphia. We may only have 50,000 who are Republicans, okay? This is an overwhelmingly Democratic city. So if you’re going to be a Republican in the city of Philadelphia, you have to have a true – you have to be a true believing Republican, which means you’re probably more of a right-wing Republican. And that’s because everybody around you is a Democrat and your government’s a Democrat, everybody’s a Democrat.

Now, if you go to some of these smaller western states that are – that don’t have the same – smaller populations – so again, places like Montana, Idaho, Utah – these places tend to be – they’re very Republican. So if you are a Democrat in these states, that must mean you are a true believing Democrat, and you really want to be a Democrat and you don’t mind that people know you’re a Democrat. And so you would tend to be more left-leaning in these states, because you could never even imagine being a Republican. So – you just can’t do it.

So these types of Democrats – again, they tend to be more liberal and thus would be – they would be more attracted to a Bernie Sanders.

Did I make myself clear?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I just (inaudible).

MR CEISLER: Okay. Okay, great.

QUESTION: Yeah. Thanks.

MR CEISLER: Okay. Anybody else?



QUESTION: I’m Juliano Basile from Valor Economico. I would like to make another question --

MR CEISLER: What country? What country?

QUESTION: Oh, it’s from Brazil, Brazilian newspaper.

MR CEISLER: Okay, okay.

QUESTION: Well, Sanders brought many message in his platform. Which ones do you think that should be adopted by Hillary Clinton? He talk about free education for everybody, health care for everybody, raise the minimum wage. Is that – any one of these message that Hillary should adopt it?

MR CEISLER: Well, you’re asking for my personal opinion, so I don’t want to give you --


MR CEISLER: I don’t want to give you my personal opinion. But politically, if she is going to get the Sanders voter to vote for her, I think she is going to have to adopt – she is going to have to adopt some of these, because what she can’t afford is for these – especially the new Sanders voter, meaning the younger Sanders voter, the person who might not have voted before, she has to have that person come out to vote for her.

I would say for her, probably the most important one, if I had to guess, would be the $15 minimum wage because that is actually being adopted in some places – in some places now. I think the free state education – I don’t think that works. It just doesn’t work financially. But I think she will have to address it in some way in terms of a program that would, for students who would go – remember, in the United States, we have two types of schools. We have colleges that are owned and run by the states which students get to go to at a discount, and then you have private universities which are much more expensive.

So I think that she’s going to have to come up with a plan to make a college education more affordable so these kids that are going to college don’t leave with tremendous debt. And then I think she’ll probably talk about something to – some type of higher income tax level for wealthier Americans. So I think those are the kinds of things she’s going to have to – she’s going to have to talk about to get the Sanders voter. Okay?

QUESTION: All right, thank you.

MODERATOR: Okay. We’ve got time for just one or two more questions. Or if there are no more questions, Larry, if you just have any closing remarks you’d like to share.


MR CEISLER: No, I – yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I’m from the Bulgarian National Radio again, Mladen Petkov. Just wanted to ask another question about the Republican Party: Do you expect Kasich to fight to the end?

MR CEISLER: Well, I think Kasich is going to go to the convention. I mean, if Trump doesn’t sew up – if Trump doesn’t get the number by the convention, even if he’s short, I think Kasich will stay in. I mean, he really has nothing to lose and they have this – they have this deal going with Ted Cruz. So I think – I don’t think that – as long as he has the money, he can keep going. So I think he’ll keep going either till he runs out of money or until Donald Trump has the nomination sewn up.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

MR CEISLER: Anybody else? So do you want me to close it?

MODERATOR: Yeah, that would be fantastic. Thank you.

MR CEISLER: Right, okay. So look, I think for readers and viewers and listeners overseas, I think what people have to understand is that just because you’re hearing a lot of rhetoric coming out of these campaigns, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that is the way that a presidency, the eventual winner, is going to be when he or she is president of the United States. So even though – even – believe me, even we in the United States, we’re sort of shocked by some of the things that are going on here. I think most people do believe that once one of these people is elected president, that things will calm down and they’ll be more stable. So I would just hope that people don’t think that a campaign necessarily equates to how a government is going to be run and also the relations that we’re going to have with our allies and the rest of the world.

MODERATOR: Great. Well, thank you so much, Larry, for joining us, and thank you to all of the members of the media who are on the call as well.

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