Perhaps you’ve noted the rash of national political stories suggesting our beloved Keystone State will be the decider of next year’s presidential contest.
The short take?
President Donald Trump must win here, as he did in 2016, in order to stay in the White House. And Democrats must retake the state in order to boot Trump out.
So, 2020 is one, true battleground, the place to feed for campaign news, is the home of scrapple, pierogies and the Snack Food Capital of the World.
For the coming race, Pennsylvania is all that and a bag of chips.
Or is it?
One can see how the narrative developed.
Democratic pack leader Joe Biden is running his national campaign from Pennsylvania, headquartered in Philly. A large part of the argument for his nabbing his party’s nomination is that, as a native son with touted connectivity to working-class voters, he can carry the state.
Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign talks up Pennsylvania, taking credit for its upward-bound economy and its record-low unemployment.
Trump adviser David Urban, in a Patriot-News op-ed piece, wrote that Pennsylvania is a major beneficiary of “the Trump economy” and “much better off” than in 2016.
And when the president held a rally in an airplane hangar near the middle of the state last week, he said, “I got to win this state, got to win Pennsylvania.”
Trump ostensibly was in the state to boost a Republican candidate, Fred Keller, in a special election for the rural, conservative 12th Congressional District, an election in which the president later said Keller had only
“a 50-50 shot.”
Keller won by 37 percentage points. I guess one could argue Trump’s boost worked. Except the last Republican to win the district, U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, since retired, won by 32 points in 2018. And Trump carried Marino’s district in 2016 by 36 points.
Point being, Trump wasn’t in Pennsylvania for Keller. Trump was in Pennsylvania for Trump.
But did he/does he have to be?
Pennsylvania is big, diverse, in many ways representative of the nation. Large urban areas at either end. Some good-sized cities spread throughout. Vast rural regions in between.
It’s got (for now) its prized 20 electoral votes. It voted for the winner in eight of the last 10 presidential elections. It’s key in national races. And will be in 2020.
In fact, because there is so much predictably red and blue across the Electoral College map, Pennsylvania is one of just a handful of states – including, let’s say, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin – likely to decide the outcome.
So, yeah, it’s key. It’s just not the key. Especially not for Trump.
And I’m not saying Trump wins the election. I’m saying if he wins, he can do it without Pennsylvania.
George W. Bush did it twice. In 2000 and in 2004. Pennsylvania went for Al Gore and John Kerry, respectively.
And if Biden is the Democratic nominee (and, yes, it’s early, things can change), he’s positioned to carry the state. A Quinnipiac University poll released May 15 shows Pennsylvania backing Biden over Trump 53-42.
But remember, it takes 270 electoral votes to win the White House. In 2016, Trump got 306 electoral votes. He didn’t need Pennsylvania’s 20. He would have won without carrying the state.
There’s another element that could reduce Pennsylvania’s overall role in 2020. There are 32 Democratic primaries and caucuses before Pennsylvania’s primary on April 28.
Maybe Biden stays in front for the next 11 months. Maybe he doesn’t. Either way, with so many primaries, including big-state primaries (California, Texas, Florida, Illinois) ahead of Pennsylvania’s, the race for the Democratic nomination might be over by the time the roadshow arrives here.
That presents the possibility Pennsylvania ends up with no say in picking the Democratic nominee. And that could be the first of a double downer regarding the state’s political impact.
In the general election, Democrats could win the state, which seems likely, and not win the White House (as happened three times in the last half-century: Hubert Humphrey, Gore, Kerry). And Republicans could lose the state and keep Trump in office. Which really doesn’t seem to make Pennsylvania the decider.