Kaufman: The most critical commonwealth

Their Second Amendment hostility and limiting natural gas production could cripple Pennsylvania and lead to energy debacles, like we continuously see in Harris' California.

A house decorated with Trump signs and flags in rural southern Pennsylvania. Photo by A.J. Kaufman.

With all due respect to Michigan and Wisconsin, the greatest 2016 electoral shocker was Pennsylvania. We need not rehash outdated clichés of “It’s Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with Alabama in the middle.”

Reinforced by driving through two weeks ago, the Commonwealth is a more diverse and complicated place, as this analysis from four years ago shows. There are different paths to winning its 20 electoral votes, such as the 44,000-vote margin (narrowest since 1840) for President Donald Trump and 85,000 for Sen. Pat Toomey. It had been almost 30 years since a Republican carried the Keystone State.

Philadelphia.

Though Republicans are pleased with a new voter registration surge, they also note increased Democrat primary turnout in Philadelphia “collar” counties. The metro area is nearly half the state’s population, so votes add up fast there, but so can votes elsewhere. Although Biden has maintained a lead for months, multiple recent statewide polls show the race within the margin of error.

A retired lawyer in Yardley, across the Delaware River from Trenton, is a reluctant Trump supporter and elaborated:

“I’ll vote for Trump, even though I have problems with the guy, so I’m voting more against the other side than I’m voting for Trump. I absolutely detest so much of what I’ve heard coming out of the mouths of Democrats that it would take a miracle to convince me that a vote for them would be a vote for the welfare of our country. One wonders how highly-educated suburbanites near me might react to a campaign with a central theme consisting of assertions that the other guy is a ‘bad person,’ when these voters think of themselves as moderately intellectual on political issues. Trump’s highly transactional approach to issues, as opposed to being coherently conservative, doesn’t simplify the analysis for this type of voter. I also wonder how they react to riots Democrats managed to ignore at their convention, even though the rest of us witness it daily. Anyone with a tenuous grasp of Western history should have familiarity with results of the newly-discovered nostrums of the ‘woke’ when they’ve been tried before. Should the election go in the Democrats’ favor, we may see the consequences of history repeating itself for those who refuse to learn its lessons.”

A businessman in his 50s who lives in Philadelphia’s western suburbs is a registered independent:

“While I like some of Trump’s results, and certainly prefer the fiscal philosophies of the Republican party, he’s a narcissist who makes decisions based on emotion, doesn’t listen to experts, and carries himself in a way that’s unbecoming. My biggest concern if Trump loses is keeping the U.S. Senate in Republican hands. Democrats holding the executive and legislative branches would scare me as much as four more years of the status quo. And while I would never vote based on the VP candidate, a 78-year-old president with an extremely progressive VP isn’t comforting. I have grave concerns about our future no matter the results in November.”

One morning I spoke with a graphic designer from a town about 30 miles west of Shanksville, where United Flight 93 went down 19 years ago and Trump spoke on 9/11.

Pittsburgh.

“My wife can’t stand Trump, and he sometimes embarrasses me, but my brother is a cop and how so-called liberals treat police nowadays is appalling,” he said. “Biden had many decades to fix these problems he claims now exist. I know he’s the challenger but what did he say differently from Trump earlier this year on the virus? Then you have Harris, an incompetent phony who can’t answer a question; she could be in the Oval Office.”

Another factor is any backlash Trump faces from Pennsylvania voters feeling the effects of a weakened agricultural economy, especially as we hit harvest season and head into winter. Even a nominal drop in rural enthusiasm could make a difference in crucial states the president won in 2016 and needs to hold. The campaign needs voters in farming regions to credit him for billions in bailout checks he sent to help offset their losses. “Our farmers wouldn’t be existent right now,” Trump claimed in Labor Day remarks. 

He also hopes Biden’s inconsistency on NAFTA and the USMCA will hurt the former VP. Right now, the Biden/Harris ticket seems intent on killing blue-collar jobs

Their Second Amendment hostility and limiting natural gas production could cripple Pennsylvania and lead to energy debacles, like we continuously see in Harris’ California. Rumors that Biden would consider Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as energy secretary or Robert O’Rourke as “Gun Czar” cannot help, especially when gun sales are surging.

Pennsylvania Democrats also continue to impose unconstitutional COVID-19 policies on small business owners already practicing extreme forbearance since March. 

As Noah Rothman wrote this week, “It won’t be easy for Democrats to lose this state again in 2020. Fortunately for Republicans, though, Democrats seem up to the challenge.”