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Biden and Trump Battle for Pennsylvania Primary Pole Position

Primary day in PA could be very revealing.

Pennsylvania polls open at 7 a.m. today (April 23) for a primary contest in perhaps the most hotly contested battleground state. Most will remember that it was the Keystone State that put Donald Trump over the top in 2016. Likewise, his loss of Pennsylvania in 2020 was vital to Joe Biden’s victory. So, what can this primary tell us about the upcoming election?

The Keystone State has been a veritable seesaw of polling data. In the first quarter of 2024,  Trump edged out Biden in six polls; however, the incumbent leads in five polls with a boost in the RealClearPolitics average of a mere half a percent. These numbers may be misleading as an outlier poll conducted by Franklin & Marshall served up a 10-point advantage for the man from Scranton. (The survey size was smaller than usual, and registered voters were sampled, which is considered less reliable than likely voters.)

Pennsylvania Primary — The Nuts and Bolts

The Keystone State has a closed primary, meaning only party members can vote in their respective contests, but both parties permit write-in candidates. Absentee or mail-in ballots must arrive at statewide county boards of elections by 8 p.m., when the polls close tonight.

Significant down-ballot races include congressional matches that could ultimately shift the balance of power in the US House, including contests in three districts. In the 12th District, which covers Westmoreland County just west of the greater Pittsburgh area, first-term Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, an outspoken critic of Israel, faces a party challenge.

At the other end of the state lies the first district, which encompasses Bucks County, just south of Philadelphia. Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is in a tight race with challenger Mark Houck. Then there is PA’s 10th, represented by Rep. Scott Perry (R), which lies between these two districts. Six Democrats are battling it out to take on Perry, who had his cellphone confiscated by the FBI as part of the Jan. 6 investigation.

Pennsylvania Party History

Long considered part of the famed “blue wall,” the Keystone State actually has a checkered past regarding party allegiance. From 1850 to 1932, PA was the big red wall except for a Progressive Party win in 1912 by Teddy Roosevelt. Pennsylvania once carried as many as 38 electoral votes as a second state in the Union. In 2020, it held only 20. Due to a diminished population, it will lose one of those electoral votes and have only 19 to offer a candidate this year. The recent move to sell the iconic US Steel Company to Japanese-owned Nippon Steel is one reason why.

Shareholders voted overwhelmingly to support the $14B sale, but they may not get their wish. Both Trump and Biden are taking a hard line against selling the 122-year-old steel company. In a campaign swing through PA last week, the president was unequivocal in his opposition to the sale, asserting, “American-owned, American operated by American union steelworkers — the best in the world — and that’s going to happen I promise you.”

However, Trump may have the edge in the battle for working-class voters. While in office, he instituted a tariff system that protected the steelworker, and he seems to have been awarded the undying favor of many steelworkers. He was quoted in January by Politico:

“’I would block it instantaneously. Absolutely,’ Trump said after a meeting with the president of the Teamsters labor union, which represents workers in the transportation industry. ‘We saved the steel industry. Now, U.S. Steel is being bought by Japan. So terrible.’”

The acquisition of US Steel by the Japanese may be the only issue Trump and Biden have in common. Today, both are poised to win their respective primaries, but the real question is which candidate can win the hearts and minds of the blue-collar worker – once a Democratic stronghold. Voter turnout in today’s Pennsylvania primary will also indicate which of the two gentlemen has the enthusiasm factor, a critical element in winning an election.

Read More From Leesa K. Donner

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