Pennsylvania poses problems for ‘Scranton Joe’

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President Biden goes by “Scranton Joe,” he references Pennsylvania often in speeches and his campaigns have spent millions of dollars there in political ads. 

In 2020, the president set up his campaign headquarters in Philadelphia — before the COVID-19 pandemic — and he visited the state more than any other battleground that cycle.

It was also the state that catapulted him to the White House, after he won the state and clinched the electoral college. 

But now, some Democrats say it’s a state that could cause Biden’s blue wall to rupture. 

They point to a pair of recent polls that show former President Trump with a narrow lead — in what amounts to a near tie.

But what’s concerning to them isn’t the top-line numbers, but the erosion happening within the Democratic base. 

A New York Times/Siena College/Philadelphia Inquirer poll out earlier this month showed Biden’s support among young voters in the state has slipped since 2020 from 62 percent to 47 percent. And his backing from Black and Hispanic voters has also waned from 71 percent to 57 percent.

The Times/Siena/Inquirer survey also showed Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) — who is running for reelection against Republican Dave McCormick — outrunning Biden by as many as 10 points.

If Biden is performing so poorly, in a state where he has strong ties, what does that say about the rest of the blue wall? 

“Statewide Democrats have done very well in the state in recent years and there’s no reason Biden couldn’t do the same,” said one top strategist, pointing to the elections of Gov. Josh Shapiro and Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.). “We all know it’s a battleground state but it should never be a dead heat. Biden should always be ahead and the fact that he’s not should sound alarm bells.” 

Former Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) said he has also found the recent polls perplexing. 

“I’m surprised that things aren’t going so well,” Altmire said. “If there’s any place where he should be doing well or better than President Trump, it’s Pennsylvania because of the personal connection, because of the work he’s been putting in for decades, and because the state is trending blue.” 

Still, Altmire said he thinks Biden will ultimately prevail: “I think he’s doing everything he can do. They’ve pulled out all the stops.” 

Biden will be back in the state Wednesday, when he will campaign in Philadelphia. Biden aides say they have poured significant resources into the state, including opening 24 field offices, giving them what they say is a significant infrastructure advantage over Trump. 

Those in Biden world say voters still aren’t tuned in to the campaign, but as they start to pay more attention to the race, they’ll recognize the accomplishments Biden has made since taking office. 

The campaign also said they launched key coalitions across the state to organize in communities that will be key to winning the state, including Out for Biden-Harris, Women for Biden-Harris and Latinos Con Biden-Harris. 

Campaign aides also say they are making a significant play for voters who supported Nikki Haley during the Republican primary. Haley received 157,000 voters in the Pennsylvania primary, and the Biden campaign says it can peel off some of those voters who don’t want to support Trump. 

“In 2020, Donald Trump lost Pennsylvania and the White House. Since then, he has only become more extreme, embracing January 6th and bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade,” said Jack Doyle, the Biden campaign’s communications director in Pennsylvania. “Pennsylvanians will reject Trump’s chaos and will deliver for Joe Biden again this November.” 

But as of now, the most recent polls in Pennsylvania show a tight race.

A Muhlenberg College poll of voters in the state out earlier this month showed Trump leading Biden 44 percent to 41 percent in a head-to-head match-up. The previous survey done by the college showed Biden ahead by 42 percent to 41 percent. 

Christopher Borick, the director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, said Biden was underperforming particularly with young voters and Black voters compared to his 2020 results. He is also underperforming compared with other Democrats in the state in recent statewide elections. 

“The most loyal Democratic voters — and the share we see within that group — is lower than what we have traditionally seen and that’s very problematic for Biden,” Borick said.  

He attributed the lag in support during this election cycle to the economy.

Just as troubling from the Biden perspective, while the president is losing support among specific voting blocs key to a Democratic victory, Trump is making inroads.

In recent days, the former president has made direct appeals to Black and Hispanic voters while seeking to slam Biden’s handling of immigration, which has become a top issue to voters.

Speaking at a rally in New York on Thursday, Trump said the “biggest negative impact” of undocumented workers is “against our Black population and our Hispanic population who are losing their jobs, losing their housing, losing everything they can lose. They’re the ones that are affected most by what’s happening.” 

The Biden campaign says they aren’t taking voters for granted, and they’ve opened offices in Black neighborhoods earlier than ever before. The campaign says it is communicating with local communities about Biden’s accomplishments, including record low unemployment. 

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) insisted that overall, Biden is “in fairly good shape” in the state.

“I am confident if the election were held tomorrow, he would win,” Rendell said in an interview, adding that Biden has had some legislative wins, particularly on infrastructure, that are having “major impact.” 

But the former governor acknowledged some worry about Biden’s waning support among key demographics. “It’s worrisome because it’s so tight,” he said of the recent polls.

Rendell and other Democrats said the Biden campaign should continue to run ads targeting groups like young voters and pointing to their successes on the environment and student loan debt. Likewise, he said, they should target Black voters to highlight Biden’s accomplishments. 

Altmire predicted that Pennsylvania would be the least likely of the Northern blue wall states, which also include Wisconsin and Michigan, to flip back to Trump since his 2016 victory there over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. 

But he added, “If Biden loses Pennsylvania, he will lose the presidency. 

“I can say that with 100 percent confidence,” he said. “I don’t think Pennsylvania itself is the deal breaker but the trend would carry over to other states.” 

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