Is Trump already toast in Pennsylvania?
Never Trumpish Republican consultant Liz Mair has an analysis out about Pennsylvania's rural voters and voter registrations/voter registration switches that makes for an interesting read.
The post is being taken by Trump fans as an indicator that Liz doesn't think Trump can win Pennsylvania. That is explicitly not what she says in the post, noting that "I can see how Trump could still hold onto Pennsylvania, it’s a little easier to see how he does not — and his behavior with regard to this one area of policy hints that his advisers may be seeing an even dicier picture than I am in looking at these numbers."
It does, however, highlight problems for Trump, namely:
Slightly more people have switched their registration to Democratic than Republican, statewide: 86,645 to 81,933
Among new voter registration applications and change applications, more Democratic registrations have been sought than Republican: 294,045 to 215,998.
Biden has nearly 3 times the headroom with Democratic voters in rural counties (including Westmoreland which as noted probably shouldn’t really be counted) as Trump does with Republican voters: 336,479 to 127,008. In other words, Biden needs to pick up only about 13% of registered Democrats who did not vote for Clinton to eliminate Trump’s 2016 winning margin in Pennsylvania (44,292), and this is discounting anything that happens in big cities or suburbs.
In fact, if Biden just got every registered Democrat in Westmoreland to vote for him, he would almost entirely have closed that gap (42,344 is the difference between the number of registered Democrats there and the number of people in the county who voted for Clinton).
It’s worth noting that Trump has multiple rural Pennsylvania counties in which the number of Republican voters from 2016 was higher than the current number of registered Republican voters — meaning in those counties, he’s likely starting behind where he was in 2016. Westmoreland, by the way, is one, by a few thousand.
Biden, by contrast, has zero counties where the number of registered Democratic voters is equal to or less than the number of votes for Clinton in those counties in 2016. Zero.
The TL;DR version is: Trump actually did a pretty good job of maximizing rural voters in Pennsylvania in 2016, which means he doesn't have that many more who should based on their registration be obviously inclined to him and which he can turn out. Also, that matters because Biden is likely to run up the numbers in Pennsylvania's big cities and suburbs, which technically do include Westmoreland County, where Trump has been placing special emphasis.
But there's one big reason I think Liz might be wrong about this. I think Trump may have deeper appeal with a certain sector of more rural Democrats than he did in 2016: Pro-life Democrats.
Unlike in many other states, these actually exist in Pennsylvania, and the numbers are pretty sizable. Sen. Bob Casey is one. So was his Dad. And this matters given how many registered Democrats in rural areas Hillary Clinton couldn't turn out, and some headwinds Biden is facing-- which are entirely of his own creation.
The 2008 iteration of Biden probably would have been acceptable to most or virtually all of them, meaning he could make real inroads into the headroom Liz identifies. But the 2020 version of Biden is different. Very different.
Biden in 2020 has been dragged left by his staff on abortion. He used to support the Hyde Amendment; not anymore. He probably still opposes late-term abortion, but we haven't heard him talk about it much at a time when the Democratic Party, writ large, has been moving towards legalizing late-term abortion at the state-level. Some of this has been done on Pennsylvania's border, in New York, so it has not gone unnoticed.
Trump is no Rick Santorum, and I'm not even fully convinced personally that he is pro-life (though he has been professing to be for about five years now). But he has appointed pro-life judges and taken a stance of very publicly defending religious liberty.
Ironically, that might help him more than Santorum's commitment on these issues ever did. There are a lot of true believers where life and religious liberty issues are concerned who would rather have as their designated fighter a guy who looks pretty liberal, agnostic, secular and who no one expects to hear a pro-life or pro-religious liberty message from (but will stick up for them) than... the deeply-committed fellow traveler. One of these things is "man bites dog," the other is "dog bites man."
This is why I think you've been seeing the Trump-Pence ticket sending deeply religious conservative Mike Pence into rural Pennsylvania. Yes, maximizing every single rural Pennsylvania Republican vote is important for Trump. But he also wants to bring those pro-life Democrats who feel that Biden is literally in the act of flip-flopping to the left on abortion on board the Trump Train, and do it now.
Given Biden's flip-floppery, it just might work, too.