For the Democrats, one of the benefits of nominating Joe Biden was supposed to be the fact that he’d secure Pennsylvania, one of the states President Trump had unexpectedly flipped in 2016.
Delaware contains parts of suburban Philadelphia, after all. As the Democratic presidential candidate pointed out at an event in Philly on Sunday, he had the “moniker of being known as Pennsylvania’s third senator.”
For most of his career, Biden has also had an appeal among blue-collar voters that Hillary Clinton never did — something that was supposed to be a huge advantage in the industrial parts of the Keystone State.
So why, then, did Biden spend much of the final Sunday of his campaign in Pennsylvania?
The state has closed up in the polls significantly, for one. The RealClearPolitics polling average, which showed him with a 7-point lead for much of last month, is now at 1.2 points.
And then there’s the enthusiasm gap.
In an article by Sean Sullivan in Monday’s Washington Post, Pennsylvania-based Democratic strategist Neil Oxman said there were concerns about how many voters the Democrats were going to be able to turn out.
“I am worried about Pennsylvania,” Oxman said, adding that one of those concerns was that Trump’s base “will come out just a little bit stronger than our base.”
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, has the same concerns.
Unlike Biden, President Trump’s rallies in the state weren’t drive-in affairs. Biden’s events also ended up getting far fewer attendees than Trump’s rallies in the state. The difference was stark enough that Fetterman noted it on his social media account.
First, here’s a picture from one of Biden’s events on Sunday in Pennsylvania, a “Souls to the Polls” (yeah, seriously) in Philly:
As rain falls in Philly, Biden’s Covid-safe, drive-in approach coming in handy as supporters stay dry ahead of his “Souls to the Polls” voter outreach event pic.twitter.com/8itteJhjGy
— Geoff Bennett (@GeoffRBennett) November 1, 2020
And here’s Fetterman noting the slight enthusiasm gap:
The President is popular in PA.
I don’t care what polls say.
With 700K ballots still out there, you need to BANK YOUR BALLOT.
Use a Dropbox.
Get them in. https://t.co/YANdwqbdYG
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) October 31, 2020
“The President is popular in PA,” Fetterman wrote regarding the Saturday rally in Butler, Pennsylvania. “I don’t care what polls say.
“With 700K ballots still out there, you need to BANK YOUR BALLOT. Use a Dropbox. Get them in.”
He made it clear, too, that this picture wasn’t just from Trump-friendly sources:
“She is with Politico. This is not MAGA propaganda,” he tweeted.
“That’s not photoshop,” he said. “The Battle for Pennsylvania, and maybe the Presidency will be won or lost by you.”
That’s not just him, by the way. Appearing on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, FiveThirtyEight impresario Nate Silver said that “without Pennsylvania, then Biden becomes an underdog.”
That’s a problem if Trump is energizing voters from the areas of the state where he’s strong — something Fetterman thinks he’s doing.
“Donald Trump is doing things that have never been done in Pennsylvania politics in terms of the raw barnstorming across small county Pennsylvania,” Fetterman said during a Sunday appearance on CNN. “It’s hard to predict with certainty how that’s going to activate not only his base of voters from 2016, but also those that sat it out, too.”
“I’m not saying Donald Trump is going to win Pennsylvania, but what I am saying is he’s doing everything that he can to maximize his chances,” he added.
Meanwhile, there’s another problem for Joe Biden in the more urban parts of Pennsylvania he’s counting on.
As The Associated Press reported Saturday, “some Democrats worry that voters of color may not be excited about Biden and won’t show up in force to support him, which could be devastating in fiercely contested battleground states like Pennsylvania and Michigan.
“The challenge is exacerbated by the Democratic push this year to encourage voting by mail. But that runs counter to the tradition of some black voters who prefer to vote in person on Election Day.”
“Most black voters in Philly have been skeptical of mail-in voting,” Democratic operative Joe Hill told the AP.
“A lot of us have gotten our ballots already,” Hill said. However, he said that “Election Day has always been everything in Philadelphia.”
The enthusiasm gap has always been an issue with Biden, but the assumption was that voting against Trump would be enough of an incentive to get out the vote. That doesn’t seem to be the case.
Fetterman was actually understating the problem when he said there were “700K ballots still out there.” According to The Associated Press, as of Thursday, the total for Pennsylvania was closer to 1 million.
Remember, those mail-in ballots were what the Democrats spent the better part of this year clamoring for — not just because of COVID-19 concerns but because it was supposed to give them an electoral advantage. Instead, they’re beginning to panic over how many of them remain unreturned.
That’s why, on the last weekend of the campaign, Joe Biden was in the last place he wanted be: Pennsylvania, a state the Biden campaign would have hoped was sewn up by now.
No such luck, apparently.
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