Vice President Joe Biden this week told reporters he hopes to carry Pennsylvania by the “grace of God” and called it a “big deal to me personally as well as politically.”
His top campaign strategists are more confident — at least outwardly — that Biden would carry the state of his birth because they added final trips for him and for surrogates to the traditionally Republican states of Georgia and Texas while boasting about expanding his electoral campaign map.
Flush with cash, the Biden team is putting up new ads in Georgia, Iowa, and Ohio, another state that few predicted could be competitive for Democrats at the beginning of this election cycle. But the moves are making some Democrats, still stung from Donald Trump’s surprise 2016 victory, very nervous.
Their fear is that if Biden loses Pennsylvania and goes down in defeat, he will have repeated Hillary Clinton’s monumental mistake of trying to run the table instead of bolstering Democrats’ traditional firewall.
Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to stoke those fears.
“I invite Joe Biden to expend his limited campaign travel on states he's not going to win in 2020,” Trump Campaign Manager Bill Stepien told reporters on a conference call this week.
Biden still has a path to victory without Pennsylvania, but it’s a narrower one. His clearest roadmap relies on flipping several Rust Belt states where Trump edged out Clinton: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Biden’s leads in the latter two appear more solid, but in the Keystone State he’s only within the polling margin of error, and a number of recent surveys by more conservative entities show an even tighter race. (The RealClearPolitics poll average has him up by 3.8 percentage points.)
Several shifting factors that could influence the outcome are still very much in play. Pennsylvania election officials are still scrambling to finalize plans for their first year of vastly expanded mail-in voting. The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday denied a request by the Republican Party to fast-track a decision on whether to overturn a ruling by the state’s Supreme Court to extend the mail-in deadline.
It’s also unclear how voters will respond to the police killing of a knife-wielding black man in Philadelphia earlier this week. Violent protests and looting broke out two days ago, with dozens of police officers injured and curfews declared in an attempt to quell the unrest.
Team Trump isn’t making it easy for the Scranton native to put Pennsylvania in his rearview mirror. The president held three rallies across the state Monday, slamming Biden’s pledge during the last debate to “transition” from the oil industry if elected and ripped his new position on fracking – that he didn’t want to end the practice entirely, as he said in the primary, but only put a stop to it on federal land. Over the weekend, Biden clarified his stance even further, saying he meant he would end federal oil subsidies and aim for carbon neutrality by 2050. But Trump wasn’t inclined to give Biden the benefit of the doubt.
“He is going to destroy the oil industry,” Trump said in his last debate with Biden. “Will you remember that, Texas? Will you remember that, Pennsylvania? Oklahoma?”
This week, the Trump campaign also hit Biden for what they describe as his “fracking cleanup tour” when the former vice president ventured out a few miles from his home in Delaware for an unannounced stop in Chester, Pa., on Monday.
“Biden cannot erase the numerous times he has openly admitted that he supports a fracking ban, fully knowing that a fracking ban would kill 19 million U.S. jobs and shrink the economy by $7.1 trillion,” said Tim Murtaugh, communication director for the Trump campaign. In Pennsylvania alone, a ban on all fracking would cost 600,000 jobs, Murtaugh asserted.
First Lady Melania Trump made her first solo campaign appearance of the year in Atglen, a borough of Chester County, on Tuesday, and the president’s daughter Ivanka plans swings through Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Waymart on Thursday. Donald Jr. is set to rev up crowds with Ted Nugent and professional bowhunter Cameron Hanes in York Springs and Altoona on Friday.
Trump is focused on driving up turnout, the only card left he has to play because far fewer voters remain undecided this time, according to Terry Madonna, a professor of public affairs and director of polling at the Franklin & Marshall College.
The polls have been “very static” in the state amid all the changes that have taken place in the campaign and in politics over the last several months, said Madonna, noting that the college will release another poll Thursday that “shows the consistency of past polls.”
“I don’t see much in the way of something I’d call transformational” [happening] in the final days, he added.
Biden has been reaching out to white, working-class voters in Allegheny County that Trump won by huge margins, something Clinton didn’t do, Madonna said.
Even though Biden has kept a much less active campaign schedule than Trump, he has visited Pennsylvania eight times in the general election, far more than any other battleground state. Former President Obama also stumped for Biden in Philadelphia last week, his first in-person event of the campaign.
On Wednesday, Obama’s onetime No. 2 received a briefing from public health experts about the coronavirus pandemic, which he amplified in brief remarks at a theater in Wilmington.
“I’m not running on the false promise of being able to end the pandemic by flipping a switch,” Biden said. “But what I can tell you is this: We will start on Day 1 doing the right things. We’ll let science drive our decisions. We will deal honestly with the American people. And we will never, ever, ever quit.”
After a week of sporadic in-person stumping, Biden will head to Iowa, Georgia, Wisconsin and Florida in the final stretch. During his stop in Chester on Monday, he argued that he’s not “overconfident about anything,” but is simply trying “to earn every vote possible.”
Biden went on to predict that he’ll carry Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, while insisting that he also has a “fighting chance” in Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia, and Iowa.
“So, fortunately, [because of the late fundraising advantage] we’re able to compete in a way we haven’t been able to compete before in all these states,” Biden said.
The strategy will test not only Biden’s reliance on the airwaves instead of heavy campaign travel amid a pandemic, but once again Democrats’ continued trust in polling to make those decisions.