Trump’s anti-Biden attacks aren’t working in Pennsylvania — a state the president can’t afford to lose: report

Trump’s anti-Biden attacks aren’t working in Pennsylvania — a state the president can’t afford to lose: report
Credit: Gage Skidmore

Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio are the four states that GOP strategists have been describing as President Donald Trump’s “Rust Belt firewall” — states that went to President Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012 but favored Trump over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016. But that “firewall” has not been holding up for the president. Trump’s reelection campaign has "temporarilysuspended its advertising in Michigan, although it continues to advertise in the other three — all of which are clearly in play for former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee. And Philadelphia-based reporter Holly Otterbein, in an article published in Politico on August 2, stresses that so far, Trump’s attacks on Biden have not been resonating in Pennsylvania.

“Senior citizens and suburban voters are sinking President Donald Trump’s campaign across the country,” Otterbein explains. “But here in Pennsylvania — home to one of the largest populations of residents age 65 or older and where suburbanites comprise more than half of the electorate — their defection to Joe Biden is hurting Trump even more acutely. It’s a very big problem in a swing state that’s central to his Rust Belt path to victory.”

Comparing Trump’s poll numbers in Michigan and Pennsylvania, one can see why his campaign is focusing on the Keystone State In July, polls found Biden leading in Michigan by 12% (CNBC/Change Research), 10% (Morning Consult and YouGov/CBS News) or 11% (Fox News). The polls in Pennsylvania haven’t been quite as bad for Trump — although they haven’t been encouraging either. Recent polls have found Biden ahead in Pennsylvania by 9% (Franklin and Marshall), 8% (Morning Consult), 11% (Fox News), 6% (CNBC/Change Research) or  4% (Mason-Dixon).

Politico discussed Trump’s performance in Pennsylvania with some major politicians in that state, including Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (who won a third term by double digits in 2018). Casey told Politico, “Joe Biden — his party is not in power. So, just by definition, he’s the candidate of change. That’s a huge advantage. No matter what Hillary Clinton did with her campaign schedule, she was running after eight years of a Democratic president. So, when you’re running after eight years of your party, you are not the change candidate.”

Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle, who represents Pennsylvania in the U.S. House of Representatives, believes that Biden doesn’t inspire negative feeling among the GOP base the way that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez do.

Boyle told Politico, “Hating Joe Biden doesn’t juice up their base and their Fox News viewers the way going after Hillary and Nancy Pelosi and AOC do. You can make certain assumptions and wonder why that is. Is gender a factor? Is race a factor? I don’t know. I have certain suspicions.”

In 2016, Trump became the first Republican to win Pennsylvania in a presidential race since George H.W. Bush in 1988. Trump, Otterbein recalls, “won Pennsylvania by 44,000 votes by taking a path that defied expectations: he won blue-collar, often traditionally Democratic areas in northeastern and northwestern Pennsylvania, surged in rural regions, and performed poorly in the moderate Philadelphia suburbs. Overall, he carried suburban voters by 8 points and seniors by 10 points in the state, according to exit polls.”

Of the four Rust Belt states that Trump was able to flip in 2016, Ohio is the most GOP-friendly. Polls have shown a close presidential race in the Buckeye State in 2020. But in Wisconsin, some polls have not been encouraging for Trump’s campaign. Recent polls have shown Biden ahead in Wisconsin by 10% (Redfield and Wilton), 5% (Change Research), 8% (Gravis Marketing) or 7% (Morning Consult).

If Biden carried every state that Clinton won in 2016 but flipped Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, he won be elected president. But the Rust Belt is not the only part of the U.S. in which polls have shown Biden to be quite competitive in swing states: recent polls have shown him performing well in Florida, Arizona and North Carolina.

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