Trump Could Win Pennsylvania, May Not Debate, Ex-Governor Rendell Says

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Ed Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania, speaks during a Bloomberg Politics breakfast on the sidelines of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 28, 2016.

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg
  • Rendell says Clinton needs to seek advice outside inner circle
  • Hickenlooper says Trump has alienated ‘family values’ voters

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said Thursday he’s skeptical that Republican Donald Trump will take part in the three debates against Democrat Hillary Clinton scheduled for this fall.

“He not only doesn’t put any meat on the bones, I think if you asked him for specifics he couldn’t tell you, and that’s why I think he may duck the debates,” Rendell, a Democrat, said at a Bloomberg breakfast in Philadelphia during his party’s national convention.

Trump could upend the pattern of the last six presidential elections and win Pennsylvania thanks to a “simple” message that appeals to angry and unemployed voters, Rendell said. The most recent Republican to win in Pennsylvania was George H.W. Bush in 1988; Barack Obama won the state in 2012 by over 5 percentage points.

Rendell spoke alongside Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who said that he was “very confident” Clinton will win his politically divided state if current conditions hold, partly because Trump has alienated Colorado Republicans who vote on “family values.”

Debate Advice

Rendell said Americans consider the general-election debates “sacred,” but they thought the same about presidential candidate releasing their tax returns and Trump hasn’t done that either, citing Internal Revenue Service audits.

If he were advising Trump, Rendell said he would tell him to study three hours per day for the debates. If Trump didn’t want to do that, Rendell would suggest an adviser such as former UN Ambassador John Bolton travel with Trump for a week.

“Trump is not a dumb man, he’s a very smart man,” Rendell said in the question-and-answer session with reporters, calling the billionaire real estate developer “complex” and “charming.”

“He’s not insane by any means.”

Inner Circle

Rendell said it’s “absolutely a problem” that Clinton appears to surround herself with people who won’t challenge her opinions. There’s “no question” that if she had, it would have saved her some of the political trouble she ran into for using a private e-mail server as secretary of state, he said.

“They should occasionally bounce some stuff off other people,” Rendell said.

Hickenlooper spoke of another, positive side to the remarkable loyalty he has observed among Clinton’s longtime aides. It could help Clinton alleviate her problem with the high share of voters who consider her untrustworthy or dishonest, he said.

“Somehow the Clinton campaign, somehow they have to figure out how to get this sense of loyalty and devotion that people have towards her” out into voters’ view, Hickenlooper said. On trust issues, “she has to live with it” and “she’s also got to work at it.”

Suffolk Poll

Clinton led Trump 50 percent to 41 percent among likely voters in a Suffolk University poll of Pennsylvania released Thursday. Trump had a 3-point lead among male voters while Clinton had a 19-point lead with women. The poll was conducted July 25-27.

Still, Rendell said Trump has “already made inroads” with traditionally Democratic voters, based on registration figures. That’s despite Rendell’s view that advancing technology, not the international trade agreements that Trump regularly trashes, is the more likely culprit for many of the job losses in Pennsylvania’s manufacturing sector.

Trump’s likely gains among Democrats will probably be offset by Clinton’s pick-ups in the Pennsylvania suburbs and among independents, he said.

Clinton can’t recreate President Barack Obama’s turnout in key areas of the state, but “this president is on fire” to help her, Rendell said a day after Obama spoke on Clinton’s behalf at the convention.

“He may work harder to generate turnout than he did for himself,” Rendell said.

Pennsylvania is “right up there among the primary targets” for the fall contest, Rendell said. Trump is an “X factor” for the state who is also polling strongly in the battleground state of Florida right now, he said.

“The Russia thing should hurt him but nothing has,” Rendell said. Trump said Wednesday that he hoped Russian hackers could find thousands of e-mails from her time as secretary of state that Clinton deleted from her private server because she said they were personal.

Effective Surrogates

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Clinton’s primary-election opponent, could be Clinton’s best surrogate in Colorado, Rendell said. Hickenlooper added that Obama and his wife, first lady Michelle Obama, could also be very effective for Clinton.

On Clinton’s struggle to appeal to white male voters, Rendell said Representative Joe Crowley of New York should have been tapped to help put Clinton’s name into nomination at the convention -- beyond just having a pre-primetime speaking slot -- because he “looks like the white man we’re trying to get” and was impacted by 9/11, a key issue for Clinton when she served in the U.S. Senate.

Reflecting on a sense that voters are hungry for change after eight years of a Democrat in the White House, Rendell said, “if you’re hurting, it’s hard to convince you that you should vote to keep the people” who are already in office.

He said he suggested to Clinton aide Huma Abedin that when Clinton talks about the Black Lives Matter movement, she also say that the majority of police officers are good. Rendell said he was pleased to see that message incorporated into the convention, along with support for the U.S. military -- a traditionally Republican theme.

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