Defeated in primary election, Rick Geist might not be finished yet
Long-time Republican incumbent could end up on the ballot in November as a Democrat
By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — State Rep. Rick Geist, R-Blair, lost Tuesday’s Republican primary election, but the 17-term incumbent might not be finished just yet.
Geist was defeated by John McGinnis, a college professor with tea party support and libertarian views who scored the shocking upset by fewer than 200 votes. But the incumbent could end up on the general election ballot as a Democrat in November. Under state law, a candidate can qualify for the general election ballot if he or she secures at least 300 write-in votes in the primary and there is no other candidate with a larger number.
There were no candidates running on the Democratic side of the ticket in that district Tuesday, so eclipsing the 300-vote threshold should be enough to get Geist on the ballot.
The write-in votes will not begin to be counted until Friday, and results will not be finalized until May 2, said Ingrid Healy-Tucker, director of elections for Blair County.
Because they are still receiving absentee ballots, the exact number of write-ins will not be available until Friday, she said, so it is impossible to even speculate about how many Geist may have received.
Geist said he has qualified with write-in votes on the Democratic side on nine previous occasions during his 33-year run as Altoona's representative, so there is reason to believe he could do so again.
Terry Madonna, a professor of political science at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, said it is not uncommon for incumbents to mount write-in campaigns when there are no declared candidates on the opposite side of the ticket as a fail-safe for a primary loss.
If Geist makes it on the ballot — and he decides he wants to run in November as a Democrat — it would set up a rematch that he appears likely to win. The primary election was only open to Republicans, but the general election would include all voters and bring out more voters, which could favor Geist, who is well known as a moderate Republican with no qualms about reaching across the aisle.
“I'd have to give him a good chance, but it's too early to speculate on whether he would win or not," Madonna said.
Geist said Thursday he likes his chances of winning the general election over McGinnis, but would first have to decide if it is worth it to run.
“I don’t know yet. I’d have to have a long discussion with the business community and others,” he said in a phone interview with PA Independent.
McGinnis said he was confident Geist would not qualify as a Democrat, citing low voter turnout among Democrats in the district Tuesday.
There are plenty of questions remaining, like whether the Republican establishment would back the winner of the primary — McGinnis — or the longtime incumbent who is the chairman of the House Transportation Committee in Harrisburg.