Trump barely won Pennsylvania in 2016. His 2020 election may depend on keeping this swing state. – The Times

Pennsylvanias nickname is the Keystone State an apt monikerfor its rolein the presidential race as both campaigns ferociously vie for its 20 electoral votes.

President Donald Trump received about 48.5% of the vote in the state of 13 million residents in 2016 enough tonarrowly beat Hillary Clinton by about 44,000 votesor less than 1 percentage point.

But that election also demonstrated Democratic strength in heavily populated Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania, where Joe Biden is hoping to bring out more voters this fall.

2016 margin

Pennsylvania is widely considered one of the key battlegrounds for both candidates as they seek a winning path to the White House in November.FiveThirtyEights Nathaniel Rakich recently concluded that, Right now, Pennsylvania looks like the single-most important state of the 2020 election.

Trump pulled off the slim victory here by winning 56 of Pennsylvanias 67 counties, showing his widespread popularity across the state, even in traditional blue areas.

2016 map

When Trump won Pennsylvania, it was the GOPs first victory here since 1988, when then-Vice President George H.W. Bush beat then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. But thestate turned blue again in 2018, handing Gov. Tom Wolf a 17-point victory and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey a 13-point win. Wolf, with 2.9 million votes, and Casey, with 2.8 million, came close to Trumps 2016 total of 2.97 million.

Four years later, the conventional wisdom is that Trump needs to pump up his margins in the areas he won to offset the reliablyblue vote in Allegheny County, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and Philadelphia's suburban counties, which have grown more blue since 2016.

Polling average at this stage in 2016

This campaign, for the most part, is about the base, base, base, base, base, particularly Trump, said Terry Madonna, director of the Lancaster, Pa., based Franklin & Marshall College Poll, which on Sept. 24 had Biden leading 49% to 40% among registered voters in Pennsylvania.

Real Clear Politics polling average

Rakich said the state has a 31% chance of being the tipping point state for either Trump or Biden and is by far the likeliest state to give either an Electoral College victory.


Personal visits and TV ad spending are reliable indicators of how important a state is to a campaignand all signs point to Pennsylvania as a coveted prize.

According to the Wesleyan Media Project, six Pennsylvania markets Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Johnstown, Wilkes Barre/Scranton and Erie were among the top 25 media markets in the country for campaign TV spending between Aug. 10 and Sept. 4.

Overall, Biden, a Scranton native, spent about $6.8 million in that period, with another $3.7 million spent by supportive outside groups. Trump spent nothing but was supported by $8.5 million in TV spending by friendly groups.

Temple University political science associate professor Michael Hagen called Pennsylvania a microcosm of the country for its divided loyalties.

Trumphas tapped into the frustration over economic and cultural issues that has pushed southwestern and northeastern Pennsylvania voters toward the Republican Party, Hagen said.

Theyre unhappy, he said. Theyre unhappy with the way things have gone.

Philadelphia and surrounding southeastern Pennsylvania counties

The City of Brotherly Love has long been a Democratic stronghold, and its collar counties have been trending blue.

Montgomery, Chester, Bucks and Delaware counties went overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterms in congressional, legislative and county races.

In a postmortem on the 2018 election, the Philadelphia Inquirer said the voting data showed those counties undergoing a fundamental political realignment for two decades, which included huge Democratic voter registration gains since 1998.

Chester County, which went for Republican Mitt Romney by 529 votes out of nearly 250,000 cast in 2012, decisively flipped to Clinton, 53% to 43%, four years later.

The suburbs are a very serious problem for the Republicans, particularly with college-educated women and millennials, Madonna said.

Luzerne and Lackawanna counties in northeastern Pennsylvania

This is essentially the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre corridor, with Scranton, Bidens hometown, in Lackawanna County.Wilkes-Barre is in neighboring Luzerne County.

Both counties are traditionally Democratic but older and whiter than the more diverse Philadelphia collar counties.

I would imagine that (Biden) could do better than Hillary did, whether or not he can beat Trump up there, that is the question, Hagen said, adding that Bidens appeal as a native son is pretty limited to most voters.

My sense is that hes been away for too long, Hagen said.

Trump won Luzerne in 2016 and fell 4 points shy of capturing Lackawanna, which gave Barack Obama 63% of the vote four years earlier. Luzerne gave Obama 52% of its vote in 2012 but gave Trump 58% in 2016.

Southcentral, central and the northern tier of Pennsylvania

Affectionately known as the T to political observers because of its shape, this mainly rural area is predominantly red with sporadic pockets of blue.

Southcentral has been reliably red, but Democrats are gaining registrations. Ahotly contested race for the 10th Congressional District seat is occurring there between Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry and Democratic state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

Central and northern counties are conservative, but the western arm of the T stretches to Erie County, which went heavily for Obama in 2008 and 2012 before Trump won by about 1.5 points in 2016.

It will be key for Biden to win back those Obama voters, but that might be a tough job. Madonnas latest poll had the northwest section of the state leaning 44% to 36% for Trump, with 18% undecided.

Erie resident Tim Lawrence isn't undecided: The 62-year-old retired police officer was a lifelong Democrat and two-time Obama voter before becoming disillusioned with the party's shift leftward.

When Trump came along, something clicked. Lawrence, whobecame a Republican and diehard Trump supporter, is eager to vote for the president again in November.

"I'm more convinced now than I ever was," Lawrence said.

He paused when asked what, if anything, he dislikes about Trump.

"I can't think of a thing," he said with a chuckle. "Maybe I'm blinded. I don't know."

Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania

The Steel City is in Allegheny County, and both the city and county are solid Democratic territories. But the surrounding counties have become redder over the years even as some, such as Beaver County, maintain majority Democratic voter registrations.

Republican Committee of Beaver County Chairman Jim Christiana, a partner in the political communications firm M:7 Agency and former state House member, said enthusiasm for Trump is higher than ever in his county, where Trump won by 19 points in 2016.

Christianasaid the overwhelming Trump victory was due to a complete and utter frustration with Washington and the establishment.

Beaver County flipped back in 2018, with a majority of voters going for Casey and Wolf.

Democrats have no illusions about Biden winning in Beaver, Westmoreland or Washington counties, but they hope to cut into Trumps margins deep enough to augment Bidens expected gains in southeastern Pennsylvania.

But, Christiana said, Trump has proven himself to voters, especially rural ones who are pro-gun and anti-abortion. Hes batted a thousand to those identity voters, Christiana said.

Six states above all others have emerged as the top electoral prizes in the 2020 race for president: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida and North Carolina.

They represent 101 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.These arent the only battlegrounds in 2020, but their size and competitiveness has made them the states most likely to decide the presidency.

In this series, the USA TODAY Network offers a closer look at the battlegrounds within the battlegrounds the keys to the political map in the states that are likely to choose the next president.

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Trump barely won Pennsylvania in 2016. His 2020 election may depend on keeping this swing state. - The Times

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