When talking about Pennsylvania, we are talking about the divide in America in microcosm between culture and the economy. Voters in the affluent suburbs of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are insulated from the economic downturns experienced in the more rural areas. Decades of economic distress have caused anger and frustration, particularly with Democrats. In 2018, given changes to the map, Chuck Shumer said that for every Democrat they lost in western Pennsylvania, they would pick up one in the Philadelphia suburbs. He was only partially correct. Their reliance on the metropolitan suburbs may not be enough to offset Republican gains elsewhere in Pennsylvania.
The numbers speak for themselves. Although voter registration does not necessarily mean additional votes, the trends over the past five years are encouraging to Republicans. The key is not so much the collar counties of Philadelphia which are increasingly turning blue and pushing into the Amish country of Lancaster county. Instead, look elsewhere- the northwest and northeast parts of the state. In 2016, Clinton lost over 55,000 Obama votes in the northeastern counties (she lost the state by 44,000 votes). Lackawanna and Luzerne counties have seen a surge in GOP registration that should give the Democrats concern especially considering this is Biden country. What you have in this area is the voters acting more like Appalachia than the Acela corridor.
In the northwest area, especially Erie county, the GOP has also seen a surge in party registration that cannot be overlooked. In the past three years, Republicans in the area have built-up a 2-1 advantage in voters switching party allegiance. Even still, some party leaders in the northwestern part of the state worry about Trump fatigue going into 2020. Said one party leader, the people like the policies and actions of Trump. What they are growing weary of is Trump’s constantly “talking out.” Still, that same official noted that unlike 2016, voters in the area are not complaining about the state of the economy- a good sign for Trump.
The current Congressional delegation to DC is tied 9-9. Every incumbent for both parties is up for reelection. In 2018, the upheaval and Democrat gains were attributable to the court-redrawn district boundaries. There are two potential Democrat targets- Susan Wild in the Seventh which includes the very far northern suburbs of Philadelphia, and Matt Cartwright in the Eighth in the northeast corner of the state.
The new 7th is basically the old 15th that was held by Republican Charlie Dent who opted for retirement. Wild won the race rather easily in 2018 in a district that narrowly favored Trump in 2016. This year she faces Lisa Scheller, a former commissioner in Lehigh County, the population hub of the district. Scheller entered the general campaign with an advantage in cash-on-hand and was sticking close to Wild in overall fundraising.
As for the Eighth, Trump won this district in 2016 with 55% of the vote, primarily derived from Luzerne County and staying close in Lackawanna County. This is the part of Pennsylvania where Biden touts his blue collar roots, although one is hard-pressed to consider being a lawyer and career politician “blue collar.” Traditionally Democrat territory beholden to the dying coal industry and unions in the area, the area has been drifting away from the Democrats. If Trump can replicate his 2016 performance here, it could be the key to victory.
If the 8th has been drifting red, then the Tenth has been drifting blue and Scott Perry, the GOP incumbent, won in 2018 by less than 8,000 votes. Redistricting had a major effect here and made the race more competitive than in the past. Perry also faces a more daunting opponent in 2020- former state auditor Eugene DiPasquale. If he wins reelection, it may be closer than 8,000 votes.
Overall in the Congressional races, the GOP should emerge no worse than the current 9-9 split. Perry may lose the 10th, but the GOP should pick up either the 7th or 8th districts, possibly both. It depends on turnout and Trump’s performance in the state. Which brings me to Trump’s chances to capture the state’s important 20 electoral votes.
First, the all-important approval rating in the state has held rather steady and largely mirrors the national average in the mid-40% range which is usually a good omen. Second, the polls may show a narrow Biden victory by about 3%, but that is within the margin of error. Third, Biden’s choice of VP may play well in liberal enclaves like Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) and Philadelphia and environs, but these are areas Trump is not going to win anyway. Fourth, in the Pennsylvania presidential primaries in uncontested races for both parties, Trump pulled in over 1 million votes. Biden pulled in over 1.2 million votes which would normally indicate an enthusiasm gap in favor of Trump. Even though out of the race by this time, Bernie Sanders pulled in almost 300,000 votes which means that about 20% of the Democrats in Pennsylvania have no affinity for alleged native son Joe Biden. To wit, he may be the native son of Delaware, but not Pennsylvania and voters there know it.
Will it be close? Absolutely. Trump won in 2016 by 44,000 votes of about 6 million cast. In 2020, with four years under his belt, this writer is predicting that Trump will improve on that margin of victory and take the 20 electoral votes again. I also expect the GOP to pick up one House seat out of Pennsylvania.
One final consideration: voter fraud. We have heard the stories of “lost” or missing ballots in Pennsylvania. We also know about the state supreme court’s extension of the time to receive ballots. These all seem like Democrat shenanigans which proves how important this state is to Joe Biden’s chances. Get away from the southeast and southwest corners of the state, and this is a center-right state and more to the right through a central swath of the state. Biden’s attack on oil and gas and his wavering on fracking will not affect the vote east of Harrisburg. But improved economic conditions in the northeast and northwest corners of the state have turned these areas from Democrat to Republican. Those are the areas where we see that movement in registration. Those areas- not Philadelphia nor Pittsburgh- will decide the outcome here.
Apoplexy sets in among the Left/Democrats as they now see the thankful end is in sight for Joe Biden since Trump now leads in the electoral vote count 260-239 with only ten to clinch it. The GOP takes the lead in the House, 201-199 and lead in the Senate 52-44 as Breyer contemplates another four years on the Supreme Court.