It feels like half of our politics team is in Florida this week (spring training!). Must be nice. We’re still here in Philly and D.C. hoping to see some cherry blossoms, something both cities share. That and political intrigue. Happy Wednesday.

There are 55 days left until the Pennsylvania primary.

— Jonathan Tamari, Julia Terruso (@JonathanTamari, @JuliaTerruso, election@inquirer.com)

Does where you’re from matter?

Pennsylvania is a very regional state. We split on football teams, convenience stores, and mountain vs. shore vacations. People in Philadelphia wear “Philly vs. Everybody” T-shirts.

And when voters get their primary ballots, they’ll see each candidate’s name with their home county listed next to them.

How big a difference will that make? History says at least some difference. It almost surely won’t decide a race, but it could help — or hurt — some candidates.

In the Democratic Senate primary, with voters heavily concentrated in the populous Southeast, geography could help State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, the best known Philadelphian running. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Congressman Conor Lamb are both from Allegheny County. For Lamb, who’s making a clear play for Philly support, Kenyatta could make that push harder.

Geography matters because, besides highly engaged voters who read political newsletters (thank you!), a lot of people walk into voting booths or open mail ballots not knowing much about the candidates.

“People vote for candidates who they think are most like them,” Democratic operative Jake Sternberger said. “And when they don’t have any information on that candidate … there’s a tendency to grasp at what’s familiar, which is geographic, or the actual name itself. It’s human nature.”

That could be even truer in the crowded GOP gubernatorial primary, where having nine candidates makes it hard for any of them to stand out.

“In a circumstance like this where there’s still a ton of introduction happening for Republican candidates … county label is gonna have a larger-than-usual impact,” said Brock McCleary, a GOP strategist and pollster.

And voters might be looking for any differentiators. Of the Republicans running for governor, all are from different counties. So candidates from counties with more GOP voters could have an advantage.

Republican Senate front-runner David McCormick and gubernatorial underdog Melissa Hart are the only two in their primaries from Allegheny County. That could boost them in the state’s second-largest county. Three Republican Senate candidates hail from Montgomery County, including McCormick’s closest rival, Mehmet Oz — potentially splitting the GOP vote in the Southeast.

Most of the candidates aren’t focusing much on regional issues. Republicans taking aim at Philly crime is a notable exception. Fetterman has prioritized “forgotten towns” and has spent less time in the Philly-area Democratic strongholds.

Pennsylvania’s last competitive Senate primary, in 2016, shows how location can matter. Fetterman, vastly underfunded that year against two rivals from the Southeast, got less than 20% of the vote in Philly and each of the collar counties. But he racked up 42% in Allegheny, by far his best showing anywhere. He still finished third, but his nearly 97,000 votes in that county, and more elsewhere, helped shape the outcome.

He’s hoping for big numbers across a much wider swath of geography this time.

Overheard on the campaign trail

“The climate crisis hasn’t changed. But on this issue, you have.”

-Kenyatta at a climate debate in Pittsburgh last weekend, calling out Fetterman for shifting positions on fracking, one of the few issues the Democratic candidates disagree on.

What else you should know

  • Lamb PAC-lash. A Politico story about a pro-Lamb super PAC sent progressive Twitter into a tizzy this week. The PAC circulated polling data last month showing Lamb trailing Fetterman by 30 points. The PAC said Fetterman’s 9-point lead over Oz in a general election becomes a tie when voters hear negative statements about Fetterman, including some calling him a “socialist.” Lamb supporters are hoping this will convince donors that he can win, and that Fetterman can’t. But liberals argue it undercuts Lamb’s own “electability” message. “Conor Lamb’s campaign was hoping this piece would stoke fear among progressives,” Bill Neidhart, a former Bernie Sanders strategist, said on Twitter. “Instead it shows: Lamb is down 30 points. Lamb performs worse against Republicans. Lamb is appearing in front of Super PAC fundraisers, opening a new front to attack Lamb on. Whoops!”

  • Vying for Trump. Donald Trump already got burned once in the Senate primary, endorsing Sean Parnell only to see him drop out amid domestic abuse accusations. Careful vetting this wasn’t. But Trump has a second chance, and while his endorsements have a mixed record of success, the candidates certainly want it. Dina Powell McCormick, David McCormick’s wife, has been relentlessly lobbying Trump, according to the New York Times. She was previously a Trump national security advisor. But Oz also knows Trump — the TV doctor had the former president on his show during the 2016 campaign. Trump shouted-out Oz at a recent rally, which Oz promptly worked into an email to supporters. Trump himself told the Washington Examiner he would take a second swing at an endorsement, but what that means is unclear. Some Republicans speculate that he’ll wait until a likely winner emerges, then swoop in to deliver his blessing — and claim victory.

What to watch for next: debate season

April is looking busy for the Democratic Senate hopefuls, with at least three debates on the books.

  • Sunday, April 3: Muhlenberg College in Allentown

  • Thursday, April 21: ABC27 studios in Harrisburg

  • Monday, April 25: Dickinson College in Carlisle

Fetterman hasn’t committed to the April 3 debate. Organizers say they’ll have three lecterns, even if one is empty.

Meanwhile, in the GOP primary for governor, four candidates — Lou Barletta, Jake Corman, Bill McSwain, and Dave White — are setting some strict rules that basically amount to safe spaces with no mean questions. They agreed on a set of criteria to attend any debates, per Politics PA. It includes requiring that moderators be registered Republicans who live in Pennsylvania and banning any moderator who has “spoken negatively about any of the candidates on the stage or works for an organization that has maligned one of the candidates.”

Was it something we said?

See you next week.