Trump launches desperate bid to win over undecided Pennsylvania voters

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Trump won the swing state in 2016 by a razor-thin margin. 2020 may be a different story.

Donald Trump will appear Tuesday night in an ABC News town hall, in a last-minute appeal to uncommitted voters in the key swing state of Pennsylvania.

With just seven weeks left until Election Day, Trump will field live questions from both an in-person and online audience, with queries ranging in topic from his administration's coronavirus pandemic response to mounting racial tensions in the country.

Trump's Pennsylvania appearance comes on the heels of new polls indicating Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is taking a narrow lead statewide. A recent survey by Marist College shows Biden leading Trump 53% to 44%, while a new AARP public opinion survey finds Biden ahead 49% to 46%.

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Pennsylvania is a notorious battleground in presidential elections. Historically, the stakes are high and winner takes all. Philadelphia and Allegheny counties, as well as the southeast suburbs, tend to vote Democratic, while the northeast, which includes both urban hubs like Scranton and Allentown as well as more conservative counties, is often unpredictable.

It was the state's 48 working-class, rural counties that bleed — and vote — red, that handed Trump a narrow victory in 2016, 48.58% to 47.85%, making him the first Republican to win the state since former President George H.W. Bush in 1988.

"Trump is just on the wavelength of rural America in a way previous Republicans were not," Boston College associate professor of political science David Hopkins told the New York Times last week.

Hopkins added that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's lack of appeal to rural voters may have cost Democrats the election in 2016. Biden, viewed as more moderate, stands a better chance. "My guess is that it will be a slightly less overwhelming margin in rural America, but still pretty red," he told the Times.

The tide may be turning in Pennsylvania. In 2018, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, made a strong showing in his reelection, defeating his Republican opponent with 57% to 41% of the vote. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has also since mandated a redrawing of the congressional districting map to quash gerrymandering seen as effectively disenfranchising Democratic voters.

Biden, born in Scranton to a working-class Irish Catholic family and the first Democratic presidential candidate without an Ivy League degree since Jimmy Carter, challenges the election narrative with his broad support among white working-class voters without a four-year degree, traditionally seen as Trump's base. A 2019 New York Times/Siena College poll indicated in battleground states like Pennsylvania in the Democratic primaries, Biden had twice as much support among white voters without a college education as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

A Hart Research poll in May 2020 found that in five critical swing states, including Pennsylvania, 51% of white working-class voters who voted for a third-party candidate or didn't vote at all in the 2016 election said they were unlikely to cast a ballot for Trump and viewed Biden more favorably.

One thing is clear: Biden, who gave the first speech of his candidacy in Pennsylvania, as well as a speech on race relations on Aug. 31, exhibits a heart for Pennsylvania and its people, who may serve him well come Election Day.

Alison Dagnes, a Shippensburg University political science professor and author of several books on American politics, told Philadelphia's ABC 6 in July that Biden appeals to many voters in Pennsylvania because he's a "regular guy."

"He's been around a while, and he seems like he could live in Pennsylvania and it wouldn't surprise you," she said.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.