By Alex Mangie: If there is a way for Donald Trump to win Pennsylvania in 2020, it might be through the Northwestern part of the state. Arguably it was one of the reasons Trump was successful in retaking the state for Republicans the first time since 1988 when Bush beat Dukakis. Erie, Mercer, Lawrence, and Beaver Counties combined for a 50,000 vote swing to the Republican presidential ticket, and Trump ended up beating Hillary Clinton by 44,292 votes statewide. That is not to say Northwest Pennsylvania was solely the reason for Trump’s victory—in 2012, Mitt Romney lost by 310,000 votes to Barack Obama, so Northwest Pennsylvania contributed about 1/6 of the additional votes needed to reduce that deficit in 2016—but that is still a substantial amount that Trump badly needed. He will need them badly again in 2020.
In 2008 at the height of Barack Obama’s popularity, Pennsylvania had a turnout of 6,015,000 votes. Comparatively in 2016 at the height of Donald Trump’s popularity, Pennsylvania turned out 6,165,000. Turnout in 2016 was better than 2008 by 150,000 votes, and interestingly the counties Obama did very well in predominantly added votes to Clinton’s totals rather than losing them. In a lot of the state however, Clinton did lose ground in what was a combination of lack of enthusiasm for the candidate as well as more voters turning out for Trump that had not voted before previously.
Butler County added 7,600 votes between 2012 and 2016, and Trump ended up acquiring 4,700 more votes than Mitt Romney got while Hillary Clinton added 34 votes to what Barack Obama got in 2012. Gary Johnson picked up the balance of those additional votes in Butler. In this county, Republicans found a chunk of votes while Democrats didn’t see any decline in their previous cycle vote totals.
Looking north to Erie County, it was a similar situation but also different. Between 2012 and 2016, Erie County added 5,000 votes, but Trump ended up getting a 21,000 vote swing to his favor. Hillary received 9,900 less votes than Barack Obama, and Trump received 11,000 more votes than Mitt Romney, which would indicate there was some definite crossover in Erie that year. What is even more interesting about this county is that something very similar happened in the county of Chester, but working to Clinton’s favor. It could be argued that whatever gains Trump made in Erie were cancelled out by the losses Trump had in Chester in 2016 arising from the same set of circumstances.
In Mercer County to the south, the county added 1,446 votes between 2012 and 2016, but Trump was again on the receiving end of an 11,000 vote swing. What is interesting about this county is while Clinton had 5,500 fewer votes than Obama, Trump had 5,600 more votes than Romney representing an almost equal swing of votes from one party’s candidate to another.
The situation in the counties of Lawrence and Beaver as well as other counties like Venango, Crawford, and Columbia were also similar. Northwest Pennsylvania was very kind to Trump in 2016, and it would behoove him to try and shore up that support there again. In my opinion, it is likely Trump will keep the majority of voters he picked up in this region in 2016, but he will lose some ground as most incumbents do when dealing with difficulties in their previous term. Trump has had more than his share of difficulties, and by virtue of that he will likely see a modest drop off in his totals. But in order to win Pennsylvania again, he will have to keep a majority of what he picked up in 2016 in the northwest region.
To beat Joe Biden in Pennsylvania, Trump is going to need to find a way to keep his supporters engaged and excited in spite of every bad thing that has been going on in the world since March. It is still July and the real campaign has yet to begin in earnest, but it will make for an unusual election depending on what happens with COVID-19 and what Pennsylvania ends up doing as far as how it will run its General Election—the Trump campaign has brought suit against the Secretary of State and County Elections Boards in Pennsylvania regarding its drop box method of ballot collection and that outcome is still pending. If it is found Pennsylvania has been violating its own election laws as far as ballot collection as the Trump campaign alleges, it will certainly be a benefit to his campaign should they win that suit.