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The Joe Biden vs. Bernie Sanders show is coming to Pennsylvania

We have 54 days until the April 28 primary.

Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, left, and Joe Biden, right, during the presidential primary debate in Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 25, 2020.
Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, left, and Joe Biden, right, during the presidential primary debate in Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 25, 2020.Read morePatrick Semansky / AP

To cover how Pennsylvania is shaping the 2020 election, The Philadelphia Inquirer has launched a new email newsletter. Every Wednesday, you’ll get reporting from counties across the state, insight into issues that impact you, fact checks on what candidates are saying, and more. You can sign up to get it in your inbox here. You can also view the web version of this email.

Welcome to our Pennsylvania 2020 newsletter debut! Here’s hoping it lasts longer than Mike Bloomberg’s campaign.

If Super Tuesday told us anything, it’s that this Democratic primary ain’t over yet. Pennsylvania’s primary is less than eight weeks away and shaping up to be a big moment. In fact, it’s arguably one of the most important states left on the primary calendar (more on that to come).

Pennsylvania is also among the most critical states in the general election, one of three that effectively decided 2016 by the narrowest of margins — and will likely do so again.

That’s what this newsletter is about. We'll take you with us as we travel this large and diverse state. For example, Andrew is in Joe Biden's hometown of Scranton right now, where President Trump is holding a town hall tomorrow. Throughout the campaign, we'll talk to voters, bring you news, and yes, have fun along the way.

Email us your questions, suggestions, and tips at And don't forget to pass the newsletter along.

— Julia Terruso (@JuliaTerruso) & Andrew Seidman (@AndrewSeidman)

The Pa. primary is looking more important than ever

We’ve been saying for months not to count out the importance of Pennsylvania’s April 28 primary.

Well, one Iowa caucus meltdown and a major Joe Biden comeback later, and we’re looking more important than ever.

“I’m very excited about it," Dwight Evans, a Democratic congressman from Philadelphia, told Julia last night. "For the people of Pennsylvania, it’s been a long time since we’ve participated in this kind of a process."

Super Tuesday was huge for Biden, and brutal for Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren, leading Bloomberg to drop out today. He spent about $21 million on advertising in Pennsylvania before the race even got here. We won’t know exactly how many delegates Bernie Sanders won in California for a little while. Either way, it’s effectively a two-person race now: Bernie vs. Biden.

But even though there may only be two candidates left by the time they get to Pennsylvania, it'll be a race, the first with such high stakes since the 2008 primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

And consider this: Pennsylvania will award the third-most delegates toward the nomination (186) of the states left, after New York (274) and Florida (219). Of the three so-called “blue wall” states, the states that always went blue in presidential elections for years before Trump, Pennsylvania has the most delegates: Michigan gives out 125 and Wisconsin has 84.

That means it’s the biggest test of Democratic preferences in a critical swing state.

“We’re really just getting started," Helen Gym, a member of Philadelphia City Council and a Sanders backer, told Julia last night. "States like Pennsylvania are going to have a role to play."

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat from outside Pittsburgh who's staying neutral in the primary, painted a bleak general election picture for Democrats when he and Andrew spoke last week in Fetterman's Braddock home: "Wisconsin seems like it's already lost. Ohio, lost. Florida, more than likely lost. So Pennsylvania is only continuing to grow in its import."

54 days until the primary. 243 days until Election Day. Here we go.

Topic of the week: Delegates

What are delegates?

The Democratic presidential nomination isn’t decided by votes, it’s decided by delegates, which are awarded in each state proportionally to the vote share in that state and its congressional districts (so it’s not winner-take-all).

Who gets to be a delegate?

Pennsylvania will send 210 delegates and 16 alternate delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee. ​Of those, 125 will be people who have pledged support to a presidential candidate and ran for delegate slots in the primary in their congressional districts. Presidential candidates must win at least 15% of the vote in a given district for their delegates there to advance to the convention.

Other delegate spots are doled out based on statewide results, or given to the state’s top elected officials, DNC members, and others, some of whom are the so-called “superdelegates.” At the convention, all pledged delegates are bound to vote for their candidates on the first ballot. If no candidate wins a majority of delegates on the first ballot, the superdelegates come into play, and all delegates are free to vote however they want on the second ballot.

— Sean Collins Walsh

What we’re paying attention to

Overheard on the campaign trail

“I never saw anything like what I’ve seen over the last 72 hours. In my entire career, I’ve never seen a shift that’s occurred this fast.” — Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, a Biden supporter, on Biden’s political comeback from South Carolina to Super Tuesday.


Q: If you vote early via mail and your candidate drops out before Election Day, can you vote again for a new candidate in person? Lauren Rinaldi, Twitter

A: Unlike in the past, a new election law in Pennsylvania means any voter who has sent in an absentee or mail-in ballot can’t then vote in person. Our colleague Jonathan Lai has been way out in front on covering the implications of the state’s new election law — which, among other things, could mean waiting for days before a winner is called. Read more here, and send us your questions.

Other resources