Will a Shifting Keystone State Deliver for Trump Again? - OZY | A Modern Media Company
A voter casts his early voting ballot at drop box outside of City Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because Pennsylvania could be the tipping-point state.

By Nick Fouriezos

  • The race for president is tightening in critical Pennsylvania, according to our exclusive predictive model.
  • But Joe Biden still carries an 86 percent chance of winning the Electoral College, given his strength across the political map.

A nod to its featured role in the founding of the United States, Pennsylvania has long been known as the Keystone State — an architectural term referring to the central, wedge-shaped stone in an arch, which carries the weight and holds in place every other stone.

The phrase seems more apt than ever today. Both Joe Biden and President Donald Trump are cementing Pennsylvania as the foundation to their electoral hopes. Trump hosted a rally last night in Erie, the kind of working-class area that has swung from Democrat to Republican across the country, for the third time in four years. Meanwhile, Biden has made 15 trips to the state, from Erie to Trump-loving Westmoreland County outside Pittsburgh to the Philadelphia suburbs. Many prognosticators consider Pennsylvania the “tipping point” state that will decide who wins or loses. And according to OZY’s exclusive election forecast in partnership with the data firm 0ptimus:

Biden has a 71 percent chance of winning Pennsylvania, down from about 78 percent last week

The state’s importance is a major reason why Biden surged to a larger lead in our OZY/0ptimus model on polls conducted after the first presidential debate and Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis saw the former vice president leading by double digits in Pennsylvania. The model crunches polls, economic indicators, past performance, candidate traits and more to give percentage odds of victory for presidential and congressional races across all 50 states. It now finds Biden with an 86.4 chance of victory in the Electoral College, a slight increase from last week. This comes even as Pennsylvania is starting to tighten somewhat after recent polls showed a closer race, but so far it doesn’t appear that Trump is closing the gap fast enough in key states — and millions of votes are already banked with less than two weeks to go before Election Day.

While Pennsylvania may be nicknamed for its sturdiness, the Keystone State has been politically unsteady in recent years.

The Philly suburbs, long staunchly Republican, shifted drastically toward Democrats — beginning with Hillary Clinton winning “the collar counties” in 2016. There are more registered Democrats than Republicans now in Montgomery, Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties — with the latter electing in 2019 its first Democrat-controlled local government since the Civil War. Democrats are holding rallies in previously untouchable areas like Westmoreland County or Dauphin County, which includes the state capital Harrisburg. The latter is home to the state’s most competitive U.S. House race, between incumbent Rep. Scott Perry, a member of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, and Democrat Eugene DePasquale, the state auditor general, who has about a 60 percent chance of staging the upset, according to our OZY/0ptimus model. “That is a huge battleground, kind of the epicenter of the election in Pennsylvania,” says Brendan Welch, communications director for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.

Hillary paid no attention to them at all, but look at what Biden does — he has literally sought the vote of the working men and women.

Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College

However, the shifting tectonics of Pennsylvania are allowing Republicans to claim momentum at the same time that Democrats are boasting of their gains. In Luzerne County, where Republicans cut their party registration deficit when compared to Democrats from 35,000 voters to about 22,000 in the last four years, voters elected their first-ever GOP-controlled county council in 2019. Statewide, Republican registration is up 3.7 percent from 2016 — a positive trend for the GOP that also occurred ahead of Trump’s win four years ago. “We are a blue-collar, hardworking, Roman Catholic, pro-life and pro-Second Amendment district,” says the county GOP chair Justin Behrens, a military veteran who says he has seen unprecedented Republican enthusiasm.”We finally have someone speaking our language in the president.”

So who is right about Pennsylvania’s political future? Both, to an extent, says Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College. Republicans have increasingly dipped with college-educated and female voters in the suburbs, while Democrats are leaking their mostly white, blue-collar base. But Madonna adds that Biden has benefited from being more attractive to working-class voters than most Democrats, a reputation the Scranton-born politician burnished as a senator from neighboring Delaware for decades. “Hillary paid no attention to them at all, but look at what Biden does — he has literally sought the vote of the working men and women.” That outreach is a significant contrast from Trump, who experts say should be working to reassure women and seniors, yet was rude and belligerent in the first presidential debate and then caught coronavirus while downplaying its effects on elderly folks who are most vulnerable to the disease.

Pennsylvania will likely continue reshaping itself, a consistently crucial electoral state. But there will be growing pains, particularly in close elections like this presidential race, one that is likely to be marred by vote-counting delays and coming court battles. And in an election where every vote will count, not every Pennsylvanian believes the parties have done enough to convince them it’s worth showing up. “I don’t know if I’m going to vote,” says Jequan Mayo, a 20-year-old African American man from Wilkes-Barre. “I don’t feel like anything is going to change.”

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