In Philadelphia, the city Joe Biden has chosen as the headquarters for his 2020 presidential campaign, the former vice president held a major campaign rally on Saturday. And on Monday, President Donald Trump plans to visit Lycoming County, Pennsylvania for a rally. All this attention being paid to the Keystone State is no coincidence, as Pennsylvania is one of the Rust Belt states that could either make or break Trump’s reelection campaign in 2020.
If one visited Philadelphia without setting foot in other parts of Pennsylvania, it would be easy to forget how much of a swing state it is.Philadelphia is overwhelmingly Democratic, even more so than New York City. Republicans are seldom elected to the Philadelphia City Council, and while New York City elected Republican Rudy Giuliani to two terms in the 1990s (followed by ex-Republican Michael Bloomberg’s terms as mayor), Philadelphia hasn’t had a Republican mayor since the early 1950s. It isn’t surprisingly that Biden has picked such a deep blue city for his presidential campaign headquarters.
But central Pennsylvania, which is jokingly called “Pennsyltucky” or “Pennsissippi” in political circles, is much more GOP-friendly than Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, and Lycoming County is one of the places in central Pennsylvania where Trump outperformed Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. A heavy voter turnout in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh can do a lot to help a Democratic presidential candidate win Pennsylvania — a state that Democrats carried in the presidential elections of 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012. But in 2016, Trump became the first Republican to carry Pennsylvania in a presidential election since the late George H.W. Bush in 1988.
Trump knows that if he’s going to carry Pennsylvania a second time in 2020, he will need a strong turnout in the “Pennsyltucky” or “Pennsissippi” part of the state. But Democrats, overall, performed well in the 2018 midterms in Pennsylvania, where Gov. Tom Wolf and Sen. Bob Casey, Jr., both Democrats, were reelected by double digits. Further, Republicans lost three Pennsylvania seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in November, and Democrats flipped 16 seats in the Pennsylvania state legislature.
Some recent polls haven’t looked good for Trump in the Keystone State. In March, a Franklin & Marshall College poll found that Trump enjoyed only 34 percent approval among registered Pennsylvania voters.
On April 24, Politico reported that members of the Trump campaign were heading to Harrisburg (the state capitol) to meet with members of the Pennsylvania GOP to discuss campaign strategies for 2020. That meeting demonstrated that in Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign is leaving nothing to chance.
The fact that the heaviest concentration of African-American voters in Pennsylvania can be found in Philadelphia isn’t lost on the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Philadelphia, according to U.S. Census data, was 44% black in 2010. And Biden, so far, has been the Democratic presidential frontrunner among black voters — including Millennials. A Morning Consult poll released earlier this month found that among likely Democratic primary voters, 35 percent of blacks in the 18-29 age range favored Biden compared to 30 percent for Sen. Bernie Sanders.
There are certain states that are almost certain to go to Trump in 2020 and certain states that are almost certain to go to the Democratic presidential nominee — whomever that may be. Trump is almost certain to carry Mississippi, Utah, Alabama, Nebraska and South Carolina, while the Democratic nominee will have an obvious advantage in deep blue states like California and Massachusetts. But Pennsylvania, as 2016 demonstrated, could go either way — and both President Trump and the Democratic Party will no doubt be paying a great deal of attention to the Keystone State between now and November 2020.