Sam DeMarco rejects the notion that Joe Biden has a lock on Pennsylvania’s electorate.
DeMarco, who chairs the Republican Committee of Allegheny County, says based on his observations and conversations with politicos and constituents in recent weeks, excitement for President Trump in Western Pennsylvania seems to be outpacing the level of support on display in 2016.
Among factors fueling the North Fayette Republican’s confidence in Trump’s reelection, despite recent polling showing Biden has a 6-point lead statewide: DeMarco says he knows of a growing number of Democrats and some once-wavering Republicans who say they are voting for Trump, even if there are things about the president that irk them.
“There may be people who don’t like Trump but will vote for him because of his policies. I can tell you, I’ve had no less than a dozen elected Democratic officials tell me that they were voting for Donald Trump,” DeMarco, an at-large member of Allegheny County Council from North Fayette, told the Tribune-Review.
“You can not like the president. You can not like the way he tweets or the way he communicates. I’m not a big fan of some of these things,” DeMarco said. “But at the end of the day, what matters are the policies put in place that allow you to feed your family and put a roof over your head. … People don’t like riots in the street. People want law and order.”
Less than a month before Election Day, the vast majority of likely American voters have made up their minds about the presidential candidates.
“We have a level of support the likes of which nobody has ever seen before,” Trump boasted Saturday afternoon from a terrace overlooking the White House lawn as supporters cheered him on and chanted, “We love you!”
Democrats were quick to criticize Trump for saying from the balcony that the “China virus” is “going to disappear and is disappearing” on a day when the United States logged 57,429 newly confirmed cases of covid-19 and Pennsylvania reported 36 new deaths and 1,742 new cases — the highest since April 10. The coronavirus has killed more than 213,000 Americans and infected more than 7.7 million.
But the persisting pandemic and even Trump’s covid-19 diagnosis “probably doesn’t matter” much in terms of gaining or losing his base of loyal supporters, said Harry Wilson, director of the Institute for Policy & Opinion Research at Roanoke College in Virginia.
“His supporters can’t be shaken away from him. The people on the other side who despise him,” said Wilson, “despise him no matter what.”
The slivers of undecided and moderate-leaning voters who choose to “hold their nose” and vote Trump over Biden, or vice versa, are among those with the potential to tip the outcome in battleground states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
“In 2016, there was a very large number of ‘hold-their-nose’ voters,” said Wilson, “and I think there’s probably a significant number in 2020 as well.”
Some view the election not just as a choice between the two candidates, but as a referendum on one of many hot-button issues: the future shape of the nation’s highest court, how to respond to civil unrest over injustice and whether to preserve the Affordable Care Act.
Wilson said the Sept. 29 presidential debate in Cleveland disappointed supporters on both sides: “Anybody who watched that debate, whoever you’re backing, it’s really difficult to come out of that and say, ‘Gee, I’m really excited about this guy, and this guy is really what the country needs right now.’ ”
The rush to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court is a central issue but “seems to be working in Trump’s favor,” Wilson said.
“We see that Justice Ginsburg’s death could lead to a wildly different race than we were expecting,” said Dennis Plane, professor of politics at Juniata College in Huntingdon. “It’s an issue that some people care a whole lot about, and it’s one area where Donald Trump has been very successful, in getting his nominees onto the courts.”
Anti-Trump vs. pro-Biden
Enthusiasm levels remain a challenge for Biden, a 77-year-old lifelong politician. Polling consistently indicates Biden supporters are motivated more by opposition to Trump, 74, than by excitement about Biden.
“I question if those people are going to be motivated enough to vote,” DeMarco said.
Around the corner from Biden’s invite-only, brief stop at the Amtrak station in Downtown Pittsburgh on his Sept. 30 “Build Back Better Express” train tour, the day after the Cleveland debate, Karen Krieger stood outside the Greyhound bus station waving an American flag in each hand while displaying a large double-sided sign draped over her shoulders that read “Vote Trump Out.” The 74-year-old retired counselor from Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood has spent more than two weeks at highly trafficked intersections around Pittsburgh and suburbs such as the North Hills on a one-woman mission to persuade people to cast a vote against Trump.
“Sometimes I walk, sometimes I stay at intersections where I can get the most eyes. I don’t think I’m changing anybody’s mind, but I’m trying to drum up excitement for those who might be on the fence, or for those who are actually voting for Biden anyway,” Krieger said.
Meanwhile, Trump’s support has remained unusually steady throughout his presidency, bucking historical norms.
“His numbers are just impervious to events,” Wilson said. “His numbers have been the same numbers for three-plus years. The economy gets better, it doesn’t matter. We get the pandemic and the economy tanks, it doesn’t matter. The economy starts recovering from the pandemic, it doesn’t matter.”
Two in five registered voters say they believe Trump has been doing an “excellent” or “good” job as president in the latest Franklin & Marshall College poll, which was released Thursday, with 80% of Republicans saying so compared with 5% of Democrats and 35% of independents.
Sanders supporters left cold
In addition to appealing to centrists, the Biden campaign is striving to turn out votes from progressives who don’t find the former vice president and his priorities nearly as appealing as former Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The Democratic Party is desperate to avoid a repeat of 2016, when ideological divides and Democratic regions flipping red helped Trump win the White House.
After dropping out of the race, Sanders told the Associated Press it would be “irresponsible” for his supporters to sit back and see “the most dangerous president in modern American history” elected to a second term.
But an AP VoteCast survey of primary voters across 17 states in February and March found that 54% of Sanders backers said they would be dissatisfied if Biden were the nominee. Only 28% of all Democratic primary voters said the same. In three states that voted March 17 — Florida, Arizona and Illinois — some Sanders supporters went further, vowing not to support Biden.
Thirteen percent said they would definitely not vote for Biden, and an additional 10% said they probably would not.
Some Sanders delegates lamented feeling left out of most of the virtual events during the Democratic National Convention in August, voicing concerns about bridging divisions and policy gaps within the party rather than making vague appeals to the masses.
“As long as people who say they want to vote for Biden do go and vote for Biden, then it shouldn’t be that big of an issue,” said Camille Ingham, 22, of Harrisburg, who showed support for Biden outside his closed-door campaign stop in Downtown Pittsburgh along with a couple friends who live in the city. “Young people are realizing that as a group we have a big voice.”
Although Trump scored a narrow, 44,000-vote victory in the Keystone State in 2016, a recent Franklin & Marshall College poll showed Biden leading Trump by 6 percentage points among likely voters.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, email@example.com or via Twitter .
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