The Trump campaign is trying to intimidate voters in the heavily Democratic city of Philadelphia, which could decide the outcome of the race in the state.
Pennsylvania is one of the most important states on the map this fall, with both Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden hoping to put the state's 20 Electoral College votes in their column.
"Pennsylvania is so important that our model gives Trump an 84% chance of winning the presidency if he carries the state and gives Biden a 96% chance of winning if Pennsylvania goes blue," FiveThirtyEight tweeted in September.
Critical to the outcome of the election in Pennsylvania will be how the city of Philadelphia votes. In the state's most populous city, Democrats make up 76% of the electorate. And Trump's plan to win the state appears to be to intimidate voters in Philadelphia and keep Biden's margin down.
Trump made that plan clear at the first presidential debate, when he said, "In Philadelphia they went in to watch. They're called poll watchers. ... They weren't allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia, bad things."
"I'm urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that's what has to happen," Trump said.
Election experts called Trump's call an intimidation tactic: Having a bunch of Trump supporters — some of who have recently come to protests armed with guns — show up at the polls could scare voters into leaving without casting their ballots.
Observers are worried about the conduct of the election. Richard Hasen of the University of California, Irvine, told the New York Times, "While I was worried about Trump norm-breaking in 2016, it is far worse for a sitting president to be undermining the integrity of the election. Whether Trump means the things he says or not, he's convincing his most ardent supporters that the only way he loses is if the Democrats cheat."
A federal court ruled in 2016 that poll watchers in Pennsylvania must be certified by a campaign or political party and live in the county where they watch the polls. That makes it harder for Trump to amass enough poll watchers in the overwhelmingly Democratic city.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney told the Philadelphia Inquirer that police will be ready to arrest any illegal poll watchers.
"People are simply not allowed to stand around there and intimidate people," Kenney said.
Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA), whose district is located in the heart of Philadelphia, said he's not surprised Trump and the GOP are targeting the city. But he called Trump's attempts at voter intimidation "disturbing" nonetheless.
"His rhetoric at the last debate is one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever heard said by an American president," Boyle told the American Independent Foundation. "First, he refused to condemn an armed white supremacist group. Then he singled out Philadelphia, saying 'bad things happen in Philadelphia.' He’s not even trying to hide it."
The Trump campaign is not giving up the fight.
Last week, the campaign sued to allow poll watchers to go to satellite election offices to watch people registering to vote and turning in mail-in ballots.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the suit is unlikely to be successful.
Ultimately, Trump's poll-watching demand appears to be a last-ditch desperate effort to win the state.
Updated with a comment from Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA).
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.