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Clinton Sends Troops to the Battle of Pennsylvania

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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For Hillary Clinton, Pennsylvania is a fail-safe state. If she wins there, Donald Trump's path to electoral victory becomes much harder. Her debate performance on Monday night brightened what Democrats believe were already good odds.

That was evident on Tuesday when Vice President Joe Biden highlighted a get-out-the-vote rally at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He brought up the debate often, praising Clinton and flaying Trump to an enthusiastic crowd.

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Democrats have worried about how to motivate young voters, so they were relieved that some Drexel students said the debate made them more likely to vote for Clinton. Black voters also came on board, according to Dwight Evans, a veteran Democratic state legislator favored to win a Congressional seat in November in a mostly-black Philadelphia district.

"When Trump demeans Barack Obama with the crazy birther issues and others it makes people mad," Evans said. The Republican nominee repeatedly criticized the Obama presidency at the debate, and refused to take responsibility for spreading the lie that Obama wasn't really born in the U.S.

Still, Democrats aren't taking Pennsylvania for granted. Michelle Obama will head to Philadelphia on Wednesday for a stop at LaSalle University. Biden's visit was his third in the last two months and more are planned. Obama campaigned for Clinton in Philadelphia on Sept. 13.

Clinton has already been to the Keystone State four times since the Democratic convention in July (which was also in Philadelphia), and has toured the state by bus. Her running mate, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, has hit four medium-sized Pennsylvania cities. His wife, Ann Holton, has visited once. Bill and Chelsea Clinton have shown up multiple times.

In contrast to tight contests in Florida or Ohio, Democrats are confident that Clinton will win Pennsylvania despite a few polls showing the race narrowing.  A recent private Democratic poll showed her still with an eight-point lead.

Republicans still think Trump can win Pennsylvania, although the party has lost the last six presidential elections in the state. They are calculating that a heavily negative campaign will discourage voters from turning out in Philadelphia and its heavily populated suburbs, where Democrats do well, and will alienate Democratic-leaning younger voters.

Turnout is central to whether Pennsylvania will be close or not. In 2012, the nonwhite vote, which went overwhelmingly for Obama over Mitt Romney, was 21 percent of the electorate. In 2014, when there was no presidential contest, it fell to 18 percent. That's why low turnout favors Republicans.

College-educated whites, who are trending toward Clinton, were almost half of the Pennsylvania electorate in 2012 but less than 40 percent two years ago. The percentage of young voters also declined.

Democrats hope that rallies like Biden's and the Obamas' will help them achieve a turnout close to 2012 levels.

At Drexel on Tuesday, several students who said they were considering staying home in November or voting for the Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson, said the debate pushed them into the Clinton camp.

"I've never seen someone as bad as Trump," declared Will Ashman, a 19-year-old sophomore. Nick Daroshekski of New Jersey and Natalie Blair of California said they were persuaded at the event to register to vote in Pennsylvania instead of in their home states, where Clinton is shoo-in. 

Biden hammered away at Trump's debate performance, noting that the New York billionaire seemed proud that he hadn't paid taxes and had profited from the mortgage crisis. That showed, Biden told the Drexel audience, that Trump lacked a conservative "moral center" like President Ronald Reagan's.

If this message helps capture the state's 20 electoral votes it is, in Biden's phrase, a big deal. Then even if the Republican wins Florida and Ohio it will be difficult for him to get the 270 electoral votes necessary for victory. That's a firewall.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jonathan Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.net