Pennsylvania lived up its moniker as “the Keystone State” in regard to Donald Trump’s upset victory over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
The magic moment for the then-New York businessman came when network anchors called Pennsylvania for Trump, putting the GOP nominee over the top in the Electoral College vote.
Going into the evening, CNN determined Clinton already had 268 of the 270 votes she needed to win the White House, while the network gave Trump only 204.
The final tally was Trump 306 to Clinton’s 232.
The experts believed Pennsylvania certainly would go for the former secretary of state. After all, no Republican had carried the commonwealth since George H.W. Bush in 1988.
The Real Clear Politics average of polls showed Clinton with a lead of 2 percentage points, but when all was said and done, Trump carried Pennsylvania with 48.2 percent to Clinton’s 47.5 percent.
The Republican was a good closer, as many polls showed him down by double digits in July 2016.
Four years later, there are just a few polls showing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden with that advantage, but most have him in the single digits over Trump. The RCP average gives the former vice president a little better than a 6 percentage point edge.
The political site 270toWin predicts Biden, who was born and raised in Scranton, Pennsylvania, winning the state and the overall election with a tally of 278 Electoral College votes if the election were held now.
But things in the birthplace of the nation might not be as they seem.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Democrats currently have an 800,000-registered-voter advantage over Republicans in Pennsylvania, which should bode well for Biden.
However, that total is down from a 936,000-voter lead Democrats enjoyed in 2016, when Trump won the state.
The reason is Republicans are registering voters at a rate five times greater than Democrats.
Since 2016, the GOP has added 165,000 net voters to its rolls in Pennsylvania, while the Democrats’ ranks have grown by just 30,000.
“Registration shifts across [Pennsylvania] show Republicans are gaining voters at five times the rate of democrats.” https://t.co/5HzoMKKg5U
— #ThePersistence (@ScottPresler) July 29, 2020
The Inquirer did a careful county-by-county analysis and found that while Democrats have built on their strongholds in and around Philadelphia, the party has lost ground nearly everywhere else, including Allegheny County, which encompasses Pittsburgh.
Westmoreland County, adjacent to Allegheny, used to be a Democratic bastion, but it is the county in which the GOP saw the greatest gains and now leans Republican.
The leftward movement of the Democratic Party away from issues of concern for traditional blue-collar voters appears a likely cause.
In the 1980s, these voters were called Reagan Democrats, but instead of just voting for a particular GOP presidential candidate, they’re now registering as Republicans.
Lawrence Tabas, chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, likes Trump’s chances in Pennsylvania.
“Look, the president won our state by 44,000-plus votes in 2016,” he told the Inquirer.
“We have since picked up and narrowed the gap between us and the Democrats [by 135,000]. So we were already ahead 44,000, and look what we’ve picked up. I predict we’re going to narrow the gap further between now and November.”
Marc Scaringi, a Trump delegate to the Republican National Convention and a veteran top campaign staffer of multiple statewide races in Pennsylvania, is a little more guarded in his assessment.
In 2016, Scaringi had a strong sense that Trump was going to win both the Republican primary and carry the state in the general election.
“This time around I don’t have that kind of intuition that I had in 2016. It’s just not there for me,” he told The Western Journal. “And I think it’s because of the coronavirus.
“Before the coronavirus hit, I was the most confident Republican Trump supporter you could probably find. But this coronavirus is a major monkey wrench.”
But Scaringi said he is encouraged by the increased Republican registrations, which he sees as a decades-long trend coming to full fruition.
“That’s the socially conservative, blue-collar Democrats finally throwing in the towel with the Democratic Party, because it’s become so liberal in recent years,” he said.
Scaringi pointed to Lackawanna County, which includes Biden’s boyhood hometown of Scranton, as a case in point. The one-time Democratic Party stronghold has seen a net shift of nearly 9,000 voters to the GOP since 2016.
Trump’s blue-collar billionaire, man-of-the-people persona has helped bring about this change.
“He became the champion of the working-class guy,” Scaringi said.
This election cycle has much the same feel of 2016 in terms of how Democrats and the media saw their chances against Trump at this point in the race.
Democrats hope COVID-19 will continue to drive down the president’s approval rating and lead to a Biden victory in November.
Trump’s brand crosses party lines and in fact is causing Democrats to leave their party altogether.
Both of these dynamics just might be enough to propel him to a second term.
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