President Donald Trump has closed the gap in swing-state Pennsylvania with most of the Democrats seeking to defeat his bid for a second term, according to a new poll.

But there’s a double-whammy hiding in plain sight among the good news for Trump.

Voters give Trump his best marks — 58% approval — on the economy. But some of his worst numbers — 36% approval — are on health care.

The Muhlenberg College/Morning Call poll landed Thursday. That was just a day after Trump addressed the nation from the White House, seeking to downplay distress about COVID-19, the coronavirus spreading around the world from China — even as Trump’s own health advisers warn of the disease’s dangerous potential in the United States.

Those warnings have sent the stock market — an economic indicator frequently touted by Trump — stumbling into a prolonged plummet.

Chris Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, called that a “potentially damning confluence of factors.”

“If the current outbreak does impact the economy, and it’s likely it will, at least to some degree, and his handling of the situation further chips away at his poor marks in health care management, that could be very damaging to his standing,” Borick said. “I think he knows that. You could sense the urgency from the White House.”

Trump’s position in Pennsylvania, which was key to his 2016 victory and is expected to play a similarly decisive role in 2020, has improved since Borick’s last poll in November. Still, 54% of voters said Trump does not deserve a second term, while 42% said he should be reelected. The poll of 424 voters, conducted from Feb. 12 to 20, has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.5 percentage points.

Only U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the current Democratic front-runner, leads Trump in Pennsylvania, 49% to 46%. Such hypothetical matchups so far from Election Day have little predictive value.

The “greatest fall” in numbers, Borick noted, was for former Vice President Joe Biden, who is now tied with Trump at 47%. Biden, who often emphasizes his family roots in Scranton, led Trump in November, 52% to 43%.

“He doesn’t seem to have, at least at this point, a clear message,” Borick said of Biden.

Trump is also in a statistical tie with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind.

Borick found one surprise in the poll’s results: Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg trails Trump, 48% to 45%, despite unprecedented spending by the billionaire on television ads and political infrastructure in Pennsylvania.

“Like Biden, he is someone who is pitching electability,” Borick said. “It seems that key message is tenuous at this point.”

State Rep. Mary Isaacson was the target of a website and robocall alleging misconduct in the circulation of her nomination petitions to be listed on the April 28 Democratic primary ballot in Philadelphia.
Friends of MaryLouise Isaacson
State Rep. Mary Isaacson was the target of a website and robocall alleging misconduct in the circulation of her nomination petitions to be listed on the April 28 Democratic primary ballot in Philadelphia.

Petition season shenanigans: Part One

Tuesday marked the deadline for legal challenges to nomination petitions filed by candidates to be listed on the April 28 primary election ballot.

Jeff Dempsey took a novel approach to that.

Dempsey, one of the Democrats challenging State Rep. Mary Isaacson in the 175th District, saw what appeared to be a buddy’s signature on her petitions. The buddy, John Wilt, denied signing it.

Together, they created a website — notmysignature.com — and a robocall asking people to review Isaacson’s petitions to see if their names were improperly signed.

The result: zero complaints.

Isaacson, needing 300 valid signatures to get on the ballot, submitted 980. No legal challenge was filed.

“We’re not going to spend our money on some high-priced attorney to come up with some fakakta way to get her off the ballot,” Dempsey said.

Isaacson noted there is no proof she or the Democratic committee member from the 31st Ward who circulated the petition in question did anything improper. Someone may have signed Wilt’s name without their knowledge.

“It’s just a shame that in today’s atmosphere, caused by the hyperactivity of political rhetoric, that the man running against me has chosen to start his campaign by being disingenuous with the voters,” Isaacson said.

Former state Representative Vanessa Lowery Brown meets with supporters in the 190th District during her 2012 re-election campaign. Yong Kim / Staff Photographer
Yong Kim
Former state Representative Vanessa Lowery Brown meets with supporters in the 190th District during her 2012 re-election campaign. Yong Kim / Staff Photographer

Petition season shenanigans: Part Two

Former State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, who resigned from office in December 2018 after being convicted of bribery and other charges, said she had a team circulating petitions for other candidates this cycle. One of her clients, Parthenia Izzard, now faces a legal challenge.

Izzard, one of the Democrats seeking to challenge State Sen. Daylin Leach in the 17th District, really didn’t want to talk about it. “I’m finding out things probably at the same time you’re finding out things,” she said before hanging up on Clout.

The challenge filed by attorney Timothy Ford says three out of every four of the 790 signatures submitted for Izzard are invalid for some reason. A few problems of note: The district covers parts of Montgomery and Delaware Counties but signatures appear to have come from five other counties and three other states.

Izzard needs 500 valid signatures from inside the district to qualify for the ballot.

Brown, who signed off as circulator on all of Izzard’s petitions, said she had not seen the legal challenge. She defended her work, saying Izzard came to her in the final week of the three-week petition season.

“I’ve been just doing odd jobs and doing what I can to get by,” said Brown, who is still on probation. “It has not been easy. You’re managing a team of folks and you do the best you can, especially when it comes in at the last minute like that.”