In campaign's final stretch, Democrats claw their way back in Pennsylvania
UNION CITY, PA. - Four years ago, it took Keith Hanlin three trips to Democratic Headquarters in the city of Erie before he could get any Hillary Clinton marks. Hanlin, a retired school teacher, said there weren't many signs in the area at all and told Yahoo News, "We didn't have anything here."
But last month the Democrats took a step to correct one of their 2016 mistakes and opened an office in Union City, near the southern Erie County's border. After President Trump won the state by raising the numbers in smaller counties and flipping larger ones, Democrats have expanded their attention beyond their urban strongholds of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
Rival campaign offices in Union City, Pennsylvania (Christopher Wilson / Yahoo News)
"I think we surprised people," Hanlin said of the office opening. "I was surprised, I didn't know it was coming. I saw the Biden signs in the window and thought someone would just do it alone. I left a message on the door with my phone number saying I was ready to meet me volunteer and you have reached me. "
Outside the Union City office, grandsons of a volunteer hold Biden signs as cars drive by late Saturday morning. There are some supportive horns and waves and lots of people getting on with their day, but there is also the woman who says "Get away!" Called. when her car drove by. The area is mostly Trump signs, but every now and then there are courtyards with Biden signs next to those of his rival.
Kelly Chelton is the volunteer planner who became the de facto office manager at the Union City site. It arrived early Saturday as a small team was putting together packages of campaign literature to get it stuck on doors in an area President Trump won with more than a 2-to-1 margin. The office also registers voters, hosts telephone banking, and other events, though they haven't yet advertised door-to-door.
Shortly after the Democratic office opened next door, a Trump campaign office opened next door, creating tension - the Biden office closed on the early evening of the Opposite opening - a sign of the times in a town of 3,000 in a swing county in a Swing state.
"We have more Trump supporters here than Democrats, but a lot of people were just really excited to see us here. We have literally issued thousands of signs from this office and people come here every day," Chelton told Yahoo News just trying to run our own business. We had a few small run-ins but nothing big. "
In 2016, Trump won the state with 44,292 votes, the first time since 1988 that a Republican presidential candidate has triumphed. Along with Wisconsin and Michigan, the disgruntled Keystone State victory drove Trump into the White House, and his reelection chances may well depend on holding the state in November. Trump won Erie County with 48.5 percent of the vote in the last election, a big change from the 57 percent that Barack Obama received in 2012.
President-elect Donald Trump on his election night in New York City on November 9, 2016. (Carlo Allegri / Reuters)
This led to a reassessment by the state Democrats, who saw a surge in interest from both new volunteers and first-time candidates in mid-2018. They were largely successful: Democratic incumbents, Governor Tom Wolf and Senator Bob Casey, won double digits on their re-election bids, while the party reclaimed part of the Republican majority in the state legislature.
Now that Trump is back on the ballot, they hope to keep their lead by going beyond the state's two metropolitan areas to win big across the state.
The Union City office has an array of signs trying to cater to Biden voters in the area, including farmers, women, LGBTQ people, veterans, and military families. (A Democrat in the Harrisburg area told Yahoo News that they were having trouble keeping Republicans on record for Biden signs.) The office has also printed copies of Biden's endorsement from former Republican Governor Tom Ridge, who has the Erie area represented in the house for over a decade.
People drive from Oil City and Warren - both about 60 km away - to pick up signs, as the Union City office serves as a blue outpost on the edge of mostly red territory. They also brought in some volunteers across the New York line to help.
Jim Wertz, chairman of the Erie County's Democratic Party, said part of their 2020 plan is to take stock of the plight of the county's Democrats and "lead the campaign to them."
"The offices did exactly what we hoped for: giving people who normally don't tend to be in downtown Erie to get involved with the campaign in the local area," Wertz said. "It was inspiring to see the Democrats' involvement in the county rural party. I can't exaggerate how important that was to us."
The Biden campaign seeks to correct what many Pennsylvania Democrats believe was the Clinton campaign's biggest mistake: paying too much attention to the state's two largest cities and not enough attention everywhere else.
"You made the fatal mistake of thinking Pennsylvania was just Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and it isn't," said Lt. Governor John Fetterman told Yahoo News.
“What many people who live in bigger cities don't realize is how difficult it can be to be a Democrat in a small red county town. You can literally lose friends, be ostracized, and have your garden signs stolen regularly - you are a true believer. It's not the colors on the cards, it's the edges, and they are often the unsung heroes of our party and I always try to draw attention to them. "
Lt. Governor John Fetterman, D-Pa. (Mark Makela / Getty Images)
Fetterman was with Biden in Johnstown last week, one of the stops on a train trip the Democratic candidate was making through some of the state's medium-sized cities. Johnstown is in Cambria County, where its share of the Republican vote went from 48 percent in 2008 when Obama defeated John McCain there to 58 in 2012 and 66 in 2016. A native of Scranton, Biden can also play the hometown map in Lackawanna County, where Clinton won just under 50 percent of the vote after the Obama Biden ticket hit 63 percent in both runs.
"I can't tell you what it was like for people to see the vice president in counties where they feel they have no voice where it doesn't matter," said Fetterman. “It is very easy to have a media company disguising you as an elite or bogging you down if you only raise funds in urban areas. However, if you are actually traveling in these small counties it really matters and helps keep Democrats motivated and inspired, not just these otherwise malleable folks. "
After the polls showed the Pennsylvania race tightened around Labor Day, recent rounds of polls have started showing Biden with consistent leads averaging 5 points. Trump has started to lag badly with the seniors, an obstacle in Pennsylvania, one of the oldest populations in the country.
The worst news for Trump came on Tuesday when Monmouth University released a poll showing he lost 12 points among registered voters after showing just a 4 point lead in August. The Monmouth poll also found that Biden essentially drew even with Trump among white voters, expanding Clinton's margins in a number of counties as well as with color voters.
Trump has seen dismal numbers in the suburbs too, especially among women, and with such a low profit margin in 2016, even a few percentage points towards Biden in the populous counties of Philadelphia and Allegheny (where Pittsburgh is located) might be enough to reverse the situation change results in the unlikely event that there are no turnout changes or major shifts elsewhere in the state.
It is impossible to determine exactly what the change in voting power was associated with, but the Biden campaign massively outperformed its adversary in television advertising during this period. According to analysis by NBC News, the Biden campaign spent $ 20.7 million in Keystone State from September 8 through the end of the month, up from Trump's $ 4.6 million. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence made multiple campaign stops across the state during that time, and Trump told Fox News on Thursday evening that he hoped to hold a rally in Pennsylvania on Sunday, less than a week after he was released from the hospital. Coupled with Trump's poor debate and insistence that COVID-19 be like post-contagion flu, Democrats are skeptical that it can regain momentum, save for one big surprise in October.
Joe Biden is fighting in Johnstown, Pennsylvania last month. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
If you look at all of the areas where he has to repeat his victory, the math quickly looks bad for Trump, but he can withstand some of those losses by generating more voters who are more likely to support him - like white people without a college degree - who Did not vote in 2016 and therefore would not show up in polls of likely voters.
The Trump campaign says 9 million voter contacts were made between door knocking and phone calls and thousands turned up for "MAGA Meet-Ups" this year. They point to the USMCA, the trade deal Trump signed in January, as an important political plank that will fuel the support of the incumbent operator. They also attacked Biden for trying to ban fracking, a major industry in the state that the former vice president had not announced.
“Joe Biden's campaign is raising the alarm in Pennsylvania after organic enthusiasm for President Trump led Republicans to close the registration gap to its lowest level in 20 years. This shows that voters support President Trump's successful first term and want his America First agenda to be implemented for another four years, "Samantha Zager, assistant national press secretary for the Trump campaign, said in a statement to Yahoo News.
Pat Poprik, Republican chairman of Philadelphia-bordering Bucks County, told Yahoo News that she had seen "mind-boggling" excitement and that GOP voter registration had increased. They started the masked, socially distant door knock in June and Poprik said it was a success because people are at home and are happy to have someone to talk to, even though they are reluctant to take handouts like campaign literature.
"I've been doing this for about 40 years," said Poprik. "I've run numerous presidential campaigns and can tell you the excitement this year is way above 2016 and more than in the past. When I tell you signs and bumper stickers, they want things, they want to come in, they want to volunteer - It's crazy, I'm just stunned by the people from all walks of life. Literally, a man in work boots and a union jacket came in and two minutes later there will be a man in a three-piece suit. "
Poprik attributes the democratic success in the medium term to the fact that Trump voters are more loyal to him than the Republican Party as a whole. Interest rises following the death of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the opening of the Supreme Court seat last month. She added that people have more energy because of the anger over how Trump was treated in office.
A makeshift memorial for justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
"There are people who are 100 percent Trump voters," Poprik continued. “You will come out for him. They came out in 2016, they came out in 2020, they didn't get in between. They are a lot of Trump voters and I think they are stronger this time around. "
In response to polls that showed Trump got on poorly with suburban women, Poprik says this is consistent with her previous experience, even though most of her volunteers are women.
"The men all like him, he is high with the men," said Poprik, "but the women in the central part of the county are offended by him and I don't think there is much he can do to change that." It's very visceral, it's almost like a hatred. They'll glare at you when you have a Trump sign, but other women like me love it. Some of the things he says you might flinch, but I love what he's doing for the country. "
Poprik also believes the Republicans in the district could get a bump in the presence of incumbent MP Brian Fitzpatrick, the last remaining GOP congressman in the Philadelphia area. Fitzpatrick survived the 2018 wave and his race is currently classified as a “Lean Republican” by the impartial Cook Political Report.
But Democrats believe that a combination of Trump as a known greatness and fatigue from the chaos of the past four years will be enough to turn the state blue again. They express concern over voter suppression and the general sowing of chaos when the Trump Justice Department attempted to portray a typo that resulted in nine ballot papers being discarded as a malicious attempt at electoral fraud. Trump's statement during the first presidential debate that "bad things are happening in Philadelphia", however, could not work to his advantage and has managed to inspire a range of t-shirts in the eastern part of the state.
In addition to Trump's comments attempting to undermine the credibility of the elections, the Republican-controlled legislature has refused to pass a law that will allow the pre-election counting of votes to begin. This means that a race call can take days with tight margins. The Republicans unsuccessfully sued for banning the use of secure dropboxes for the return of ballot papers and appealed to the US Supreme Court to overturn a state court ruling allowing ballot papers to be counted as long as they were within three days of election day enter. The GOP also proposed the creation of an electoral integrity commission, which democratic leaders have described as "a dangerous threat to our democracy".
Example of ballot paper at the Doylestown, Pennsylvania electoral authority (Rachel Wisniewski / Bloomberg via Getty Images)
This is also the first time many Pennsylvanians have voted by mail after new laws were passed last fall, which in turn could cause confusion among voters who choose this method. After concerns about "bare ballots" - ballots returned without a second "non-disclosure envelope" - were not counted, vigilance was raised to ensure that those who did not vote in person were following the correct protocols. An analysis by NPR estimated that approximately 37,000 ballots were rejected by the Pennsylvania June area code. And a Philadelphia election official estimated that up to 100,000 general election votes could be lost due to similar errors.
In the end, Fetterman sees three big advantages for Biden that Clinton didn't have in 2016. The first is that because of his family roots in the northeastern state, he is likely to do much better. (A recent poll in a congressional district in an area of state that Clinton won 1 percent found Biden was up 7 percent.) The second is the lack of a Green candidate on the ballot after Jill Stein last year had won nearly 50,000 presidential election votes. The third reason is that Fetterman, who backed Bernie Sanders in 2016, is less concerned about the buy-in of the party's progressive wing after four years of Trump.
"I spent my time in the campaign standing up for Secretary Clinton and it was a tough sell," said Fetterman. “I tried to contrast Trump with her and was classified as a sell-off. I like "are you crazy?" And now has nobody out there who says, "What's the difference, they're the same." That was pretty common four years ago. "
There is a bipartisan consensus in the state on some points. The first is that everyone ignores the polls. Republicans cite Trump's victory four years ago after the poll found Clinton two or three points ahead of the final average. Nothing is taken for granted by Democrats until the final result is in.
"My message is that if you are five points behind I don't care what the polls say," said Fetterman. “Donald Trump is unique in his ability to energize those who would otherwise not vote, and he is utterly impressive. Anyone who tells you they're not popular in Pennsylvania doesn't understand Pennsylvania. "
The Trump campaign office in Union City, Pennsylvania (Christopher Wilson / Yahoo News)
There is also agreement that courtyard signs are a poor way to measure enthusiasm, although depending on the part of the state you are in, you will see many of them for both candidates, with Trump supporters having a particular preference for flags show time around. Both sides believe that there are "shy" or secret voters willing to cast a vote in areas where they are outnumbered by neighbors on the other side.
"I think there is a lot," Chelton said of secret Biden voters. "I've had several people come to the office and they'll tell me they'll vote for Biden, but they're not going to put a sign in their yard or bumper sticker on their car because they're scared. They just don't want the effects of what could happen. "
"I know it is a thing," Poprik said of Trump's secret voters. "I know someone who is a dear friend of mine. I knew she was a big Trump supporter, so I asked if we could make a Trump sign. She said," Oh no, no, I don't want that someone knows, "and then she runs into the house and gives me five plastic straws with Trump on them. She's rabid Trump, she got plastic straws when they put them on paper. She gave them to me and said you can use them, but she wouldn't sign up because she's scared. It's not an idea, it's a fact. "
In such a polarized and emotional political climate, there is concern about what may happen after the vote.
"There are so many parts of the city that are now broken. Will it ever return or will this division continue after the elections?" Hanlin asked himself. "I don't know, I don't have an answer to that. But that is one of my main questions: what will happen when this all calms down, will it ever return to the community?
"That is one reason why some do not set an example: they do not want to create enemies with their neighbors."
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