To cover how Pennsylvania is shaping the 2020 election, The Philadelphia Inquirer has launched a new email newsletter. Every Wednesday, you’ll get reporting from counties across the state, insight into issues that impact you, fact checks on what candidates are saying, and more. You can sign up to get it in your inbox here. You can also view the web version of this email.

We're back! We started this newsletter in March, before the pandemic sidelined it. Now we're here for the home stretch, hitting your inbox every Wednesday afternoon — starting with this very busy week.

Joe Biden officially became the Democratic nominee last night. Tomorrow is his acceptance speech. So President Donald Trump is taking his "Sleepy Joe" road tour to Pennsylvania, with a campaign stop right outside Biden's childhood hometown of Scranton on Thursday, just hours before Biden's big moment. It's not Scranton's first moment in the 2020 spotlight — and it won't be the last.

We’re also answering questions about voting by mail in Pennsylvania. And we want to hear from you between now and Election Day. You can do that by emailing election@inquirer.com.

— Julia Terruso, Andrew Seidman (@JuliaTerruso@AndrewSeidmanelection@inquirer.com

Joe Biden kneels to talk with a child during a visit to Biden's childhood home in Scranton, Pa., on July 9.
Matt Slocum / AP
Joe Biden kneels to talk with a child during a visit to Biden's childhood home in Scranton, Pa., on July 9.

Scranton — and northeast Pa. — in the spotlight

Trump is headed to Lackawanna County tomorrow to steal some of Biden's convention spotlight. Hours before Biden makes the biggest speech of his career from an empty convention center in Wilmington, Trump will rally supporters just a few miles from Biden's childhood home.

Both campaigns have lavished attention on northeast Pennsylvania, and with good reason. The region, long a Democratic stronghold, helped elevate Trump to the presidency in 2016. There are signs Trump's support has only grown there, even as his collapse in places like the Philadelphia suburbs has allowed Biden to open a sizable lead in polls of Pennsylvania.

Biden thinks he can reconnect with the white working class voters there who shunned the Democratic Party for Trump. It won't be easy. The region has been a major driver of Republican gains in voter registrations over the last four years. And as we found during a recent trip to nearby Carbondale, Biden's local roots aren't a political panacea: Even a local Democratic mayor plans to vote for Trump

Trump will speak at Mariotti Building Products, a kitchen remodeler in Old Forge, a former coal mining town famous for its pizza, on the border of Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties. 

Biden, meanwhile, will be readying for a historically strange but significant moment, accepting his party’s nomination with no cheering crowd. We’ll be watching how he appeals to the wide variety of Pennsylvania voters he needs to win. How will he embrace both the Bernie Sanders devotees in Fishtown and the Rust Belt moderates in Old Forge?

The virtual convention has already put this balancing act on display. Last night showcased a range of Pennsylvania Democrats, from State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, a Black, openly gay Philadelphia progressive, to U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, a moderate who represents a Trump-friendly district outside Pittsburgh. And of course, there was fellow Scranton native son Sen. Bob Casey, helping to formally nominate Biden from outside that same childhood home.

We’ve said before how important Pennsylvania’s 20 Electoral College votes will be in deciding who wins the White House, and that hasn’t changed. Candidates keep coming here. The airwaves are flooded with campaign commercials. The Democratic convention has been full of Pennsylvania voters and imagery. And Trump is coming back.

Get ready for more. 76 days left.

A voter drops off a mail ballot at a ballot drop box outside Philadelphia City Hall in May.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
A voter drops off a mail ballot at a ballot drop box outside Philadelphia City Hall in May.

Issue of the week: Voting by mail

I'm hearing about problems with voting by mail. What's going on?

For weeks, people across Pennsylvania and the U.S. have experienced significant mail delays. The U.S. Postal Service has been short-staffed during the pandemic, a problem exacerbated by cost-cutting policies implemented by new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump campaign donor appointed in May.

DeJoy's changes came with Trump increasingly making false claims that heavy mail voting will result in a "rigged" election — leading Democrats to fear he was undermining the post office to aid his reelection

Those concerns reached a fever pitch when USPS warned Pennsylvania and other states that some mail ballots might not be delivered on time. That prompted Pennsylvania to ask the state Supreme Court to order that mail ballots be counted as long as they are received no more than three days after the Nov. 3 election (instead of by 8 p.m. that day).

Pennsylvania and about 20 other states are suing USPS and Dejoy. And DeJoy, under growing fire, said he would suspend changes until after the election to "avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail." 

OK, but is it still safe to vote by mail?

Yes, if you do it early enough. So request a mail ballot as soon as possible, because the earlier you request your ballot, the earlier you can return it and ensure your vote is counted. 

Counties will begin sending out mail ballots around mid-September. If you requested to vote by mail or registered to vote earlier this year, you may actually have already signed up to receive your November mail ballot. Contact your county elections office to check.  

What we’re paying attention to

Overheard on the campaign trail

“You’re the key. You’re the key for who will be the next President of the United States of America.”

— Joe Biden, addressing Pennsylvania Democrats during a virtual event Tuesday

Watching the airwaves

The Biden campaign has been spending about $2 million a week on TV commercials in Pennsylvania, across all six media markets. Last week it started airing ads promoting his plan to fight the coronavirus, calling for "nationwide mask mandates" and accusing Trump of "failing to act." Another ad focuses on seniors: "I will not abandon you," Biden says in the 30-second spot. 

The Trump campaign paused its advertising in the state at the end of July, but a pro-Trump super PAC has spent close to $1 million a week over the last month hitting Biden on fracking. And the National Rifle Association is going on the air in Pennsylvania this week. It will spend $1.4 million over the next three weeks, according to the ad tracking firm Advertising Analytics.

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