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Pa. is 'ground zero' for 2020 presidential election -- it's showing already

Written by David Wenner/PennLive | May 20, 2019 7:58 AM
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President Donald Trump arrives at John F. Kennedy Airport Thursday, May 16, 2019, in New York. Trump is in New York for a fundraiser. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

 

(Harrisburg) -- The modern truth is most states don't matter when it comes to electing the president: They are already Blue or Red and unlikely to change during one campaign. Or they don't have enough electoral votes to make a big difference.

The candidates, especially after the primaries, will spend little time in those 40 or so states.

But Pennsylvanians needn't fear having to live what could well be the campaign of a lifetime second hand via cable news. They are among the voters in a handful of states expected to swing the 2020 election.

Pennsylvania is arguably the most important of all, for reasons including the fact whoever wins Pennsylvania is likely to become president.

Or looked at another way, if a candidate lacks what it takes to sway Pennsylvanians, they likely lack what it takes to win the election.

"The fact is, precious few states are likely to matter, and Pennsylvania has emerged as one of the top-tier states," says political analyst G. Terry Madonna of Franklin & Marshall College. "We're going to be, in effect, ground zero."

Being at ground zero, in today's ultra-intense, ultra-polarized, all-encompassing political world, means Pennsylvanians are in for a memorable, even historic, experience.

Pennsylvania's importance is obvious for plenty of reasons.

The candidates are already focusing on it. Democratic front runner Joe Biden put his national headquarters in Philadelphia and appeared here right after announcing his candidacy. He held his first campaign event in Pittsburgh and held a rally in Philadelphia Saturday.

A recent Los Angeles Times story began, "President Trump and Joe Biden have twin obsessions: with each other and with the state of Pennsylvania."

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Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden accompanied by his wife Jill waves during a campaign rally at Eakins Oval in Philadelphia, Saturday, May 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Sen. Bernie Sanders recently held a Fox News-televised town hall in the Lehigh Valley. MSNBC's Chris Matthews brought his show to Luzerne County to talk to voters on Thursday night. Sen. Elizabeth Warren held her first Pennsylvania event in a Philadelphia union hall Monday. Beto O'Rourke visited Penn State in March.

Trump is scheduled to be in Lycoming County on Monday. His stated purpose is to lend support for GOP candidate Fred Keller, who is running against Democrat Marc Friedenberg in a special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Tom Marino.

However, Keller is already a strong favorite in the heavily Republican district. Trump surely has an eye toward his own 2020 race -- especially with the latest polls suggesting he'll be hard-pressed to repeat his 2016 win in Pennsylvania.

The other key states are Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, Florida and Nevada.

Of those, only Florida has more electoral votes -- 29 compared to Pennsylvania's 20. For comparison, California has the most electoral votes, 55, but they are virtually certain to end up in the Democratic column. Texas is next, with 38, and those are virtually certain to go to Trump.

Trump's 2016 Pennsylvania win was monumental, enabling him to break down the famous "blue wall" of states that usually back Democrats. Trump was the first Republican presidential candidate to win Pennsylvania since George H.W. Bush did it in 1988.

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In this March 23, 2019, photo, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks to a crowd about his presidential run during the Democratic monthly breakfast at the Circle of Friends Community Center in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

Yet it was far from a landslide. Trump edged Hillary Clinton by one percent -- 44,292 votes out of about 6 million cast.

And recent polls suggest a Trump repeat is far from assured.

A Quinnipiac University poll last week showed Biden leading Trump 53% to 42%. Sanders topped Trump 50% to 43%. Warren led him 47%to 44%. Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., and Sen. Kamala Harris were either slightly ahead or even with Trump.

It's goes without saying it is still very early.

Absent major change, Trump will be able to campaign on a strong economy and historically low unemployment -- albeit an unemployment rate which was falling well before he took office. In Pennsylvania, the unemployment rate is also exceptionally low, amid more recent signs of rising wages.

And while recent polls suggest Pennsylvanians favor an alternative to Trump, an overall Democratic advantage might not be a sure thing.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell recently warned that Pennsylvanians may well go for a centrist such as Biden over Trump. But he predicts they won't be nearly so open to the more progressive policies increasingly popular among Democrats, such as the Green New Deal, Medicare-for-all and free college tuition.

Trump could well seize on those as "socialism" and frame the race as such, to his great advantage.

As it stands, there have been further signs Trump and Republicans are worried about Pennsylvania, where during last year's mid-terms many state House seats flipped to Democrats, including seats in districts carried by Trump.

In late April, Politico reported Trump advisors had headed to Harrisburg to meet with state GOP officials "amid mounting concerns about the president's prospects in the critical battleground state."

But many things will surely change between now and election day in November, 2020.

For now, all that's certain is Pennsylvania will be flooded with candidates, rallies, campaign money and political ads.

It goes without saying Trump is a historically unique candidate and president -- highly aggressive, energetic, abrasive, and prone to pushing the edge of the envelope to mobilize voters.

Many expect the campaign to be historically ugly. It that's so, no one will know it, and feel it, more than Pennsylvanians.

Still, Madonna, who has studied politics for decades, believes it will be a "healthy" experience for Pennsylvanians.

He urges them to rise to the responsibilities being a Pennsylvania voter entails.

Those who get most of their political news from MSNBC should tune into Fox News as well. Those who read The New York Times should also read the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. That will help them cut through all the rhetoric and hype and ads, and know, as best they can, what's best for Pennsylvania, and the country, in these starkly polarized although fascinating times.

"You owe it to yourself to know both sides of the issue," Madonna says.


PennLive and The Patriot-News are partners with PA Post.

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