Why Clinton and Trump are both targeting Pennsylvania
After two sharply different conventions, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump agree on this: They're both gunning for Pennsylvania. While Republicans have often talked about reclaiming the state's 20 electoral votes - without really coming close - independent analysts and even some Democrats say this year could make for a real battle.
After two sharply different conventions, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump agree on this: They're both gunning for Pennsylvania.
While Republicans have often talked about reclaiming the state's 20 electoral votes - without really coming close - independent analysts and even some Democrats say this year could make for a real battle.
"We think Pennsylvania is going to be a close race," said Marlon Marshall, who is leading Clinton's state campaigns.
Trump's appeal to working-class white voters - the kind who work in factories or on construction crews, as former Gov. Ed Rendell put it last week - is resonating, and could change the calculus in a state that Republicans haven't won in any presidential race since 1988.
"In the past, Pennsylvania has been a bit of a pipe dream for Republican candidates," said Chris Borick, a pollster at Muhlenberg College. But the state - older and whiter than many other swing states - plays to Trump's strengths, particularly in the northeast and southwest. "Trump's unique qualities bring Pennsylvania into play more so than at any time since at least 2004."
As a result, operatives on both sides predicted a barrage of ads and visits by key figures, including Trump, Clinton, and - especially in Philadelphia - the Obamas.
The state could be critical: A Clinton victory could leave Trump with a difficult path to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. A Trump win would knock out a big piece of the Democratic puzzle.
Now till November
Trump has made his focus on Pennsylvania clear. His vice presidential pick, Mike Pence, and his son Donald Trump Jr. spoke to the state's delegation at the Republican convention in Cleveland.
On Wednesday, Trump rallied in Scranton before thousands of supporters, vowing to bring back jobs to that blue-collar, and traditionally Democratic, city. He will visit the Harrisburg area Monday.
"You're going to see Mr. Trump, Gov. Pence, and surrogates throughout the commonwealth from now until November," said David Urban, the veteran Pennsylvania GOP operative who is overseeing Trump's campaign in the state.
Clinton has showered attention on the state, too.
The Democratic convention just dominated news coverage for a week, and on Friday Clinton and her vice presidential nominee, Tim Kaine, rallied at Temple University to kick off a statewide bus tour that had stops scheduled in Harrisburg and Pittsburgh over the weekend before they ride into another battleground, Ohio.
The Clinton team projected confidence they could hold Pennsylvania for two key reasons: organization and numbers.
Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said the organization has 300 people on the ground and 30 offices open in the state. They started airing TV ads this month.
Trump's campaign, meanwhile, is just now hiring up and has relied on the 60-person state Republican Party staff for help, including at the Scranton rally.
"If it comes down to being a close race, our organizing program will pull us over the top," the Clinton campaign's Marshall predicted.
Democrats - and some Republicans - also argue that Trump's success in the state's northeast and southwest will be outweighed by Clinton's gains in the Philadelphia suburbs, where most analysts say statewide elections are won and lost.
Look at the numbers, said David Plouffe, a former Obama campaign manager.
"Where Clinton has the biggest chance to gain votes, there's more voters," he said. "The notion that somehow there's enough working white men between the ages of 40 and 60 to overcome catastrophic losses [for Trump] with the Latino, African American, Asian, suburban women vote and young vote - at some point the math is the math."
Obama won Philadelphia and the four surrounding suburbs by more than 600,000 votes in 2012. Clinton's margin in the area could slip to 500,000, and she would still easily win the state, Plouffe said.
He noted that Obama won Pennsylvania by 5 percentage points last election, without investing heavily.
Recent polls here have varied - a Suffolk University survey released last week showed Clinton leading Trump, 50 to 41, though other surveys have found a closer race. Most pollsters and operatives said a clearer picture would emerge in August, after reactions to the conventions settle.
Clinton may face a tall task in matching Obama's massive turnout in Philadelphia - which is one reason Borick and others predicted that the president and first lady Michelle Obama will be major presences in the city in the coming months.
But Plouffe argued that Clinton may do better than Obama in the Philadelphia suburbs, where her appeal to women and Trump's incendiary style play into her hands.
"In the suburbs, there are voters who didn't think twice about voting for Mitt Romney," said Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook. But those same people "are incredibly concerned about the threat that Donald Trump presents. . . . You have parents who are afraid to have children watching live-stream television of Donald Trump."
Democrats will also attack Trump's standing with blue-collar voters, hoping to undercut his strength by saying his profits come at the expense of the ordinary workers he purports to support.
Vice President Biden, a Scranton native, started pounding that point last week, saying in his convention speech that Trump "doesn't have a clue about the middle class." Clinton kept it up Thursday, listing off Trump products made overseas.
Trump, however, continues to resonate in a state that is 83 percent white and where 17 percent of residents are 65 or older, according to census data.
Not only did some 4,000 people show up at Trump's Scranton rally, said GOP state chairman Rob Gleason - more people were turned away at the door.
"I've seen a lot of elections, and this guy has really caught the attention of a lot of people," he said.
Republicans have added 170,000 registered voters since November, Gleason said - though Democrats still have a nearly one million-voter advantage statewide.
He dismissed concerns about the traditional campaign apparatus, saying that the state party has been building a sophisticated operation for this election and that Trump defies the normal rules of politics.
"This guy sells himself - you should have seen him up there in Scranton," Gleason said.
Urban said the Trump camp won't lack for resources - and won't concede the suburbs.
If so, that could mean a torrid few months of politics in the Keystone State.
Staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald contributed to this article.