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In the closing days of the 2020 presidential campaign, both President Trump and Joe Biden are focusing on Pennsylvania, the potential tipping point state in Tuesday’s election.
On Sunday, the former vice president visited Philadelphia to kick off a final barnstorming of the state. On Monday, Biden, his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris and their spouses are set to travel all across the commonwealth, with the Bidens handling the western portion of the state while Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, are campaigning in the east.
Democrats have made concentrated efforts to avoid their disaster four years ago, when the party’s narrow focus on the state’s urban centers resulted in Trump flipping some swing areas and running up his margin of victories in rural counties.
In 2016, Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,292 votes, the first time a Republican presidential candidate had carried the state since 1988. Of the three Rust Belt states that flipped to the Republican column in 2016 — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — the Keystone State appears to be the one in which Trump has the best chance of prevailing, according to current polling.
The latest surveys released over the weekend showed Biden with consistent leads, albeit within the margin of error: Up 5 points per Muhlenberg College/Morning Call, up 6 per the New York Times/Siena College and up 7 per ABC News/Washington Post. Hillary Clinton’s average lead in the state was roughly 3 points going into Election Day, per the final polls in 2016.
Trump and his team have visited the state repeatedly over the campaign’s final weeks. The president spent all of Saturday in Pennsylvania, holding four rallies spanning across the commonwealth. He’s also set to visit again Monday afternoon, holding one of his final pre-election events in Biden’s hometown of Scranton.
“We love this section of the world, it’s a beautiful section,” Trump said to open a rally in Bucks County, his first on Saturday, adding, “This is the state where the story of American independence began. It’s the state where the American Constitution was signed — think of that — and three days from now, this is the state that will save the American dream.”
“You know what’s looking good, Pennsylvania is looking good,” he added later at a rally in Reading. “And if we win Pennsylvania, it’s over.”
If Trump loses Michigan and Wisconsin but is able to hold onto every other state he won in 2016, including Pennsylvania, he will just cross the 270 electoral vote threshold necessary to win a second term. If the three Great Lakes states all flip against him, it would almost assure a Biden victory, barring a major surprise elsewhere on the map.
On Sunday, Biden attended a drive-in “Souls to the Polls” event in Philadelphia, attempting to boost turnout among Black voters there.
“We have to earn our democracy. We have to get out and vote, and as my late friend John Lewis reminded us, freedom is not a state, freedom is an act,” Biden said, referring to the late congressman and civil rights icon. “We have to defend it. We have to vote and this is the most important election of our lifetimes. We’re at an inflection point so we have to vote like we never did before.”
“President Trump is terrified of what will happen in Pennsylvania. He knows the people of Pennsylvania, if you have your say, he doesn’t stand a chance,” continued Biden, adding, “My message is simple: Pennsylvania is critical in this election. I live in Delaware but I’m a Pennsylvania boy, born in Scranton.”
The Democratic campaign is recruiting high-profile musical help on Monday, with Lady Gaga joining Biden for his final event in Pittsburgh and John Legend doing the same with Harris in Philadelphia.
There has been overlap in the candidates’ schedules, as both made October visits to Erie, the northwest-most corner of the state and a key swing area. Trump won Erie County with 48.5 percent of the vote in the last election, a big shift from the 57 percent Barack Obama got in 2012.
Both Biden and Trump have also already visited Johnstown, located in the central county of Cambria. The county has seen a large swing in the last three presidential elections, with Republicans going from 48 percent of the vote in 2008, when Obama won the county over John McCain, to Trump winning 66 percent of the vote eight years later.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, has consistently pushed his party to campaign everywhere in the state and joined Biden for his stop in Johnstown.
“My message is, run like you’re five points down, I don’t care what the polls say,” Fetterman told Yahoo News in early October. “Donald Trump is unique in his ability to energize those that would otherwise not be voting and he is absolutely formidable. Anyone who tells you he’s not popular in Pennsylvania doesn’t understand Pennsylvania.”
Trump’s path to victory in the state is to turn out even more low-propensity voters than his campaign did in 2016, making up for his sinking polling with senior citizens and suburban women. Trump has also made up some ground with Black men, according to some polls, which could provide him a small boost. A report from Bloomberg on Friday said that the Biden campaign was concerned about Black turnout, including in Pennsylvania.
Republicans in the state are also attempting to limit the number of votes that are counted via a number of lawsuits in local, state and federal court. Despite Democratic pushes to allow pre-canvassing — the process of opening ballots as they come in prior to Nov. 3, in order to have them ready to be counted — the Republican-controlled Legislature declined to do so.
Some counties have already said they won’t begin counting mailed ballots until Wednesday.
Polling has consistently shown Biden doing much better with those who are using vote-by-mail and Trump better with in-person voters, and the earliest results will likely skew toward the incumbent. A report from FiveThirtyEight, a polling-analysis website, found that even if Biden were to ultimately win the state by 5 points, Trump could have as much as a 16-point lead on Tuesday night because of his edge with in-person voters.
On Sunday morning, Trump adviser Jason Miller implied that if the president had a lead on Tuesday night, the campaign would fight to stop additional ballots from being counted.
“If you speak with many smart Democrats, they believe that President Trump will be ahead on election night, probably getting 280 electoral [votes] somewhere in that range, and then they’re going to try to steal it back after the election,” Miller said on ABC News.
“We believe we will be over 290 electoral votes on election night, so no matter what they try to do, what kind of hijinks or lawsuits or whatever kind of nonsense they try to pull off, we’ll have enough electoral votes to get President Trump reelected.”
Pennsylvania officials — including the Democratic governor, secretary of state and attorney general — have announced they’re going to separate ballots that arrive after Election Day from the others out of concern that Republican-led lawsuits may attempt to invalidate a large chunk of mail ballots.
“A careful decision was made to try to stave off the anticipated legal challenges by Donald Trump and his enablers,” state attorney general Josh Shapiro told the Washington Post last week.
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