Trump file

President Donald Trump 

HARRISBURG — Ahead of the 2016 presidential election, Dwayne Heisler knocked on thousands of doors to talk to voters and he was amazed at how many Democrats in Central Pennsylvania told him they were going to vote for Donald Trump.

Heisler, chairman of the progressive caucus for the state Democratic Party, said he tried to warn other Democratic leaders about the level of enthusiasm for Trump.

“All I heard was: Republicans are smarter than that,” and won’t support Trump, Heisler said.

But buoyed by support from blue-collar Democrats, Trump ended up flipping counties that have historically voted for Democrats, and ran up dominating numbers in rural parts of the state that traditionally vote for Republicans, said Kevan Yenerall, a political science professor at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.

Supporters like Carol Lynne Ryan of Lawrence County are confident that Trump will prevail in Pennsylvania again.

“I think he’s in better shape than he was in 2016 at this time,” Ryan said. “I think there’s a silent majority of Americans who support the president.”

Ryan said that Trump still appeals to voters who think the president is supporting the nation’s military and “putting America first.”

2012 to 2016

It's not difficult to pinpoint how Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016.

President Barack Obama won Erie County by 19,000 votes in 2012; Trump got 2,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton there four years later.

Obama won Northampton County by 6,000 votes in 2012; Trump won the county by almost 5,500 votes.

And in the biggest swing, Obama won Luzerne County by 6,000 votes in 2012; Trump won that county by 26,000 votes.

In an election where Trump won the state by just over 44,000 votes, the swing in those three counties made the difference, he said.

On top of that, while Clinton won in Philadelphia handily, she got almost 5,000 fewer votes than Obama did in 2016 and Trump got 12,000 more Republican votes than Republican Mitt Romney did in 2012 in Philadelphia.

'Trickier' this time

Marc Scaringi of Cumberland County said he became a Trump supporter in 2015 because he thought the then-candidate was hitting the right notes on trade, foreign policy and immigration.

“He captured so much of the conservative base that has been ignored by the Republican Party establishment,” Scaringi said.

But with the state and nation grappling with the impact of a pandemic and no way of knowing how bad the coronavirus outbreak will be in the fall when voters head to the polls, it’s difficult to be certain about Trump’s prospects for winning again, Scaringi said.

“This time it’s trickier,” he said.

Scaringi said that he thinks Trump has identified messages that will appeal his supporters in pushing back against moves to remove historic monuments.

“He’s hitting his stride with his full-throated defense of traditional American culture and defending monuments from vandalizing and removal,” Scaringi said.

Biden gaining

Whether those appeals will be enough certainly isn’t clear, according to national polls.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball, produced by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics last week moved Pennsylvania from a “toss-up” to “Leans Biden.” The Center also shifted Florida from “Leans Trump” to a “toss-up.”

Any conclusions about the state of the race in July “need to be taken with a grain of salt,” Yenerall said, noting that at this time, polls had Clinton leading, as well.

Most pundits under-appreciated the level of support that Trump was generating in 2016, he said.

One key difference in 2020 will likely be that Democrat voters may be more energized to seek to unseat Trump than they were when voting in 2016, Yenerall said.

“It’s hard to imagine that Democrats will be complacent in 2020,” he said.

Heisler said that because the 2016 election was so close in Pennsylvania, it’s hard to pick the exact tipping point that gave Trump the victory.

He remembers thinking that Clinton had committed a serious blunder in March 2016 when she said at a town hall that her energy policy would “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”

Heisler said that he also thought that media reporting focusing on Clinton’s health was damaging.

Randy Shannon of Beaver County said that for Democrats, the election is going to be more about Trump than Biden.

“Biden doesn’t matter. Trump is what matters. Getting him out is paramount,” Shannon said.

While Biden may not be an exciting candidate, Democrats recognize that with him in office, they will be able to focus on issues important to them, including expanding access to government-provided health care coverage, he said.

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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PA Presidential results by county (2012 and 2016)

County Hillary Trump Obama Romney
Adams 14,219 31,424 15,091 26,767
Allegheny 367,617 259,480 352,687 262,039
Amrstrong 7,176 23,484 9,045 20,142
Beaver 32,531 48,167 37,055 42,344
Bedford 3,645 19,552 4,788 16,702
Berks 78,437 96,626 83,011 84,702
Blair 13,958 39,135 16,276 33,319
Bradford 6,369 18,141 8,624 14,410
Bucks 167,060 164,361 160,521 156,579
Butler 28,584 64,428 28,550 59,761
Cambria 18,867 42,258 24,249 35,163
Cameron 531 1,589 724 1,359
Carbon 8,936 18,743 11,580 13,504
Centre 37,088 35,274 34,176 34,001
Chester 141,682 116,114 124,311 124,840
Clarion 4,273 12,576 5,056 10,282
Clearfield 8,200 24,932 11,121 20,347
Clinton 4,744 10,022 5,734 7,303
Columbia 8,934 18,004 10,937 14,236
Crawford 10,971 24,967 13,883 20,901
Cumberland 47,085 69,076 44,367 64,809
Dauphin 64,706 60,863 64,965 57,450
Delaware 117,402 110,667 171,792 110,853
Elk 3,853 10,025 5,463 7,579
Erie 58,112 60,069 68,036 49,025
Fayette 17,946 34,590 21,971 26,018
Forest 626 1,683 896 1,383
Franklin 17,465 49,768 18,995 43,260
Fulton 912 5,694 1,310 4,814
Greene 4,482 10,849 5,852 8,426
Huntongdon 4,539 14,494 5,409 11,979
Indiana 11,528 24,888 14,473 21,257
Jefferson 3,650 15,192 4,787 13,048
Juniata 1,821 8,273 2,547 6,862
Lackawanna 51,983 48,384 61,838 35,085
Lancaster 91,093 137,914 88,481 130,669
Lawrence 14,009 25,428 17,513 21,047
Lebanon 18,953 40,525 19,900 35,872
Lehigh 81,324 73,690 78,283 66,874
Luzerne 52,451 78,688 64,307 58,325
Lycoming 13,020 35,627 15,203 30,658
McKean 4,025 11,635 5,297 9,545
Mercer 18,733 31,544 24,232 25,925
Mifflin 3,877 14,094 4,273 11,939
Monroe 33,918 33,366 35,221 26,867
Montgomery 256,082 162,731 233,356 174,381
Montour 2,857 5,288 3,053 4,652
Northampton 66,272 71,736 67,606 61,446
Northumberland 9,788 25,427 13,072 19,518
Perry 4,632 15,616 5,685 13,120
Philadelphia 584,025 108,748 588,806 96,467
Pike 9,256 16,056 10,210 12,786
Potter 1,302 6,251 1,897 5,231
Schuylkill 16,770 44,001 24,546 32,276
Snyder 4,002 11,725 4,687 10,073
Somerset 7,376 27,379 9,436 23,984
Sullivan 750 2,291 1,034 1,866
Susquehanna 5,123 12,891 6,935 10,800
Tioga 3,901 13,614 5,357 11,342
Union 6,180 10,622 6,109 9,896
Venango 6,309 16,021 7,945 13,815
Warren 5,145 12,477 6,995 10,010
Washington 36,322 61,386 40,345 53,230
Wayne 7,008 16,244 8,396 12,896
Westmoreland 59,669 116,522 63,722 103,932
Wyoming 3,811 8,837 5,061 6,587
York 68,524 128,528 73,191 113,304
PA 2,926,441 2,970,733 2,990,274 2,680,434

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