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Battleground state: PA GOP wooed in Cleveland as Trump’s polls surge

Updated: 11 a.m. Tuesday

There’s one thing top Republicans and Hillary Clinton seem to actually agree on: Pennsylvania is in play for the general election.

Though a Republican hasn’t won a presidential election in Pennsylvania since 1988, the latest polls show Donald Trump is surging in our state and the Republican party is confident it can make up for a serious voter registration gap and claim Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes. Welcome to the new Pennsylvania: A swing state once again.

That’s evidenced by big moves from both sides this week, including a negative ad buy in Pennsylvania from Hillary Clinton and the fact that delegates from Pennsylvania are being feted with talks from the top brass at the RNC in Cleveland this week. 

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan addressed the Pennsylvania delegation on Monday, the very first day of the convention. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst is speaking to them today and Donald Trump Jr. made a surprise appearance. And Ohio Gov. John Kasich has a slot tomorrow. Each had 50 states to choose from. They chose — or were told to choose — Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania is the priority,” David Urban, a Trump advisor, told The Inquirer. “If it’s not the number one state, it’s one or two.”

What the latest numbers say

We’ve said before that it’s difficult for Republicans to win statewide in Pennsylvania, largely because Democrats boast a voter registration advantage of a million people. So during presidential elections, when voter turnout among Democrats is historically higher, the left prospers more often in Pennsylvania.

George H. W. Bush was the last Republican presidential candidate to win Pennsylvania and even at the beginning of this election cycle, Democrats reportedly didn’t consider our state even remotely Republican-leaning. It was firmly blue.

Not anymore. In the last month, analysts and pollsters have changed Pennsylvania from blue to purple, saying it’s now one of the biggest toss-ups of the year and could help decide the election in favor of either Clinton or Trump. Here’s what Washington Post analysts had to say:

If there’s any state where Trump can appeal to and turn out large numbers of white working class men dissatisfied with the national Democratic Party (and things in general) it should be Pennsylvania. Outside of Philadelphia in the east and Pittsburgh in the west, the state is strikingly conservative minded, rural and open to Trump’s message of economic populism.

Trump got some good news out of Pennsylvania last week after a new Quinnipiac Poll showed he led Clinton in Pennsylvania, with Trump garnering 40 percent of the vote, Clinton grabbing 34 percent and third-party candidates splitting the rest. Still, the preponderance of national polls have Clinton leading and an NBC poll also released last week shows Clinton leading Trump by nine points in Pennsylvania.

“At this juncture, Trump is doing better in Pennsylvania than the GOP nominees in 2008 and 2012,” Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll, told The (Allentown) Morning Call. “And the two candidates are about where their party predecessors were at this point in Ohio and Florida.”

What will be interesting is how the vote turns out in the Philadelphia suburbs. Clinton will easily win in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia by landslide proportions. Trump will likely take what’s called the “T” portion of the state, those rural areas that would form the letter if you looked at a map of the state.

Pennsylvania is won and lost in the Philadelphia suburbs, the four counties outside of Philadelphia that are high in voter registration — a third of the state’s 8.2 million registered voters are in Philly and its suburbs — but have fluctuated in their political leanings over the last decade or so. Here’s what voter registration looks like in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties: 

Among counties in Pennsylvania, Trump did the worst in the Philadelphia suburbs during the Republican primary, garnering 48 percent of the vote in Montgomery County, 46 percent in Chester, 52 percent in Delaware and 56 percent in Bucks. He managed to score more than 60 and 70 percent in more rural counties across the state.

The GOP clearly thinks PA is in play

Why else would Paul Ryan talk to the Pennsylvania delegation on the very first day of the Republican National Convention?

State delegations typically host speakers during breakfast at their respective hotels. It’s a tradition in both the RNC and the DNC. Pennsylvania’s delegates are being treated to an all-star lineup of top RNC brass like Ryan, Ernst, Kasich and probably others that haven’t been announced yet. Safe to say safely blue states aren’t getting the same RNC treatment.

During its meeting with Ryan on Monday, the Pennsylvania delegation was treated to the statement that “You could win this whole thing, Pennsylvania.” According to PennLive, he waved a Terrible Towel, too. Sorry, Eagles fans.

“We see a country that is not heading in the right direction. We see a country where our fellow citizens, seven out of 10 of them, think this country is heading in the wrong direction,” Ryan said. “We know it is going in the wrong direction. And so the questions in these kinds of moments and these kinds of times are ‘What are you going to do about it?'”

This morning, the Pennsylvania delegation is hearing from Ernst, who was rumored to be on one of the many shortlists for Trump’s running mate, and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, one of Trump’s most enthusiastic backers. Wednesday they’ll hear from Kasich, the Ohio governor and one-time presidential candidate — and the chief executive of the convention’s home state.

Clinton’s stepping up her PA game

Whether or not Clinton’s campaign would want to admit it, her campaign clearly sees that Pennsylvania isn’t guaranteed.

In June, several analysts wondered why Clinton wasn’t spending big money in Pennsylvania. Dave Wasserman at FiveThirtyEight noted more than 70,000 Pennsylvania Democrats have switched to the GOP and Pennsylvania has trended Republican, saying “It’s surprising that so far, neither Clinton nor her allies are taking more aggressive steps to shore up her Rust Belt standing.”

That’s apparently changed. Her campaign announced Monday that it’s rolling out three TV ads in Pennsylvania ahead of the DNC that will begin airing Wednesday. All three go negative against Trump.

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