Clinton campaign seeks to shut door on Trump in Pennsylvania


Hillary Clinton’s allies are working to close off Donald Trump’s gains in Pennsylvania and keep the pressure on the presumptive GOP presidential nominee in an important state to his bid.

The Clinton effort hadn’t prioritized early ad spending in the Keystone State, whose electoral votes haven’t gone to a Republican since 1988.

{mosads}Although neither the campaign nor its main supporting super-PAC included Pennsylvania in its first round of ad buys, the super-PAC Priorities USA announced a $10 million ad campaign across the state last week after two polls this month pegged the race as a statistical tie. 

“The fact that the Clinton campaign itself isn’t directly spending in Pennsylvania is interesting, given the slight trend there in favor of Republicans,” said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. 

“It’s being treated in some ways as a secondary state in importance by the Clinton campaign in terms of their ad-buy strategy.”

Justin Barasky, the communications director at Priorities USA, denied that the new buy stemmed from the recent polls, saying the campaign’s strategy is to do “everything we possibly can” to stop Trump.

“That means spending money in swing states — and Pennsylvania is a swing state,” he said.

Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, said the buy counters the campaign’s surprising move not to advertise in Pennsylvania.

Now, the outside group brings the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s message to the airwaves unopposed — Trump hasn’t launched a television campaign in Pennsylvania or any other state.

“They want to keep the pressure on Trump and make sure his negatives stay so high that he’s viewed as unacceptable,” said Madonna.

It’s a strategy similar to that pursued by President Obama in 2012, Madonna added.  Obama’s campaign largely passed over the state until the home stretch, he said, and still won by about 5 percentage points, which could explain why former Obama aides Dan Pfeiffer and David Plouffe praised the Clinton strategy as disciplined.

Pennsylvania’s abundance of rural and white blue-collar voters and its Rust Belt identity make it a constant target for Republicans statewide.

But come Election Day, the Democrats’ massive registration advantage, based in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas, typically wins out.

The state has seen some recent shifts, however, that experts believe could put Pennsylvania within reach for Trump.

The Democrats’ voter registration lead in the state, while still a formidable 800,000, is at its lowest point in years. President Obama barely outperformed his national average in the state in 2012. Independents appear to be warming to Trump.

Skelley pointed to research from FiveThirtyEight’s Dave Wasserman that showed the western part of the state is becoming a darker shade of red, especially in pockets of the white rural voters who overwhelmingly back Trump.

On top of that, Trump’s polling has vastly improved over the past eight weeks.  

While six of the seven polls between January and May showed Clinton leading, with two showing a double-digit lead, each of the two polls conducted in June found a statistical tie.

Public Policy Polling last week found the narrow margin was due in part to the reluctance by more than a quarter of Bernie Sanders supporters to jump on board the Clinton train, with 10 percent of them flipping to Trump. And Quinnipiac’s poll, conducted both before and after the mass shooting in Orlando, found that Trump scored much better on handling a terrorist attack and on creating jobs.

Many of those factors prompted Skelley and the Center for Politics to reclassify the state last week in Trump’s favor from “likely Democrat” to “leans Democrat,” less than three months after the organization moved the state in Clinton’s favor. Skelly said the updated rating is a better reflection of where the race currently stands.

“Everything is suggesting he’ll have a shot there,” Skelley said.

“But there are a number of serious challenges for the Trump campaign to overcome in that state and elsewhere.”

In order to do so, observers in the state believe Trump has to step up his game.

His Tuesday speech in Monessen, a former steel town outside of Pittsburgh struggling to rebuild, marked his first general election event in the state weeks after Clinton swung through.

He emphasized his trade platform off the bat, calling to “make America wealthy again” in a direct appeal to the rural voters he needs so badly.

“From the moment he had the nomination sewn up, he should have been pounding the turf in states like Pennsylvania,” Skelley said.

“If he’s going to mount this blue-collar offensive, he should have been on the ground there the day after the Indiana primary.”

Clinton has a strong presence in the state, even without a television buy. Democrats have more than 100 organizers on the ground, including Clinton’s statewide apparatus, according to The Washington Post. By comparison, Trump’s ground game is largely in the hands of the Republican National Committee (RNC), which has 54 organizers in the state, the publication reported. 

Pennsylvania Rep. Lou Barletta (R), a Trump supporter, admitted there isn’t much formal organization outside of the RNC, but he said a wealth of staffers is not “necessary.”

“This is an organic, grassroots campaign that doesn’t need much organizing to be active. Most campaigns, you need paid staffers, you need to drag people in to make phone calls, but this is organic,” he told The Hill.

“It’s not going to take us as many staffers as it’s going to take Clinton.”

The Clinton campaign told The Hill it expects a close race, which is why it is relying on building out its team to blanket the state. It’s confident that the controversy following Trump will rally Democrats and help goad educated suburban Republicans into considering Clinton.

The Clinton campaign also kept the door wide open on adding television spending in the near future, noting that it’s only announced one general election buy and will continue to make additional investments depending on how the race shifts.

Barletta said he isn’t concerned that Trump’s campaign or advertising schedule will stop his candidate from mounting a strong challenge to Clinton.

“He’ll make the stops here in Pennsylvania,” he said.

“They know that if they win Pennsylvania, I think he’s going to be president of the United States. Pennsylvania can make the difference in the election.”

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