WASHINGTON, Sept 2 – U.S. President Joe Biden’s fiery speech against “MAGA Republicans” on Thursday at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall will be followed by a rally on Saturday in the same state of original MAGA Republican Donald Trump.
As Democrats and Republicans wage fierce battles across the United States ahead of the Nov. 8 midterms, Pennsylvania is getting a lot of attention. There are 18 House seats, a governor’s seat, and a Senate seat at stake, but much more is at stake, political scientists say.
With fewer than 13 million people, a median household income below the national average, and a voting base that is more than 80% white vs. 69% nationally, Pennsylvania does not stand out for its size, wealth, or diversity.
But what the state has reliably done, at least over the last four presidential elections, is swing — from Democrat to Republican and back again, providing a window into the political sensibilities of voters who can sway to one side or the other — especially white ones.
Pennsylvania is a “permanent battleground,” said Daniel Hopkins, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania. It’s central to understanding American politics, and especially the modern Republican Party, “because the mainstream of the nation is present here,” Hopkins said.
Pennsylvania Republicans, traditionally more centrist candidates, are now “wrestling with the question of how to be economically conservative and whether to introduce false allegations about the integrity of the election,” Hopkins said, just as party members have been statewide.
Margins in recent presidential elections in the state have been slim, with Biden beating Trump by less than 82,000 votes in 2020 and Trump beating Hillary Clinton by about 44,000 in 2016. But because the state controls 20 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, the also a potential king.
Gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, who supports Trump’s campaign lies and has pledged to change the state’s voting practices, could have a particularly heavy impact on the 2024 election if he wins in 2022. But his struggling campaign could pose a danger to Republicans across the country.
On Saturday, Trump will meet with Mastrian and Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, or what political action committee Save America calls “the entire Pennsylvania Trump ticket.”
The state was the model for Biden’s 2020 winning strategy: chip away at Republican electoral dominance with blue-collar white union workers in steel and coal country, build solid majorities in the suburbs that surround cities, and ensure strong turnout in urban areas like heavily black Philadelphia.
He held his first rally in Pittsburgh and located his headquarters in Philadelphia. As president, he traveled to the state more times than anyone other than his home state of Delaware. Trump’s Saturday rally is preceded by Republican headliners Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in August and House Leader Kevin McCarthy this week.
“Pennsylvania includes multitudes,” explains Laura Putnam, chair of the history department at the University of Pittsburgh.
The small but meaningful margins won by the state’s presidential winners come at a time when Pennsylvania is going through “a huge regional upheaval,” she said.
Pennsylvania’s suburbs, once reliably Republican, have shifted Democratic over the past five years, and Rust Belt areas that have historically been Democratic strongholds have shown some of the strongest support for Trump — mirroring suburban and rural areas across the country.