Pennsylvania: the Sisyphean Task that Needn’t Be

Recently, The Resurgent’s Steve Berman asked me what I thought about the one state I’ve obsessed over more than any other. After writing the longest article to ever appear in National Review on the topic, and a post-convention follow-up, I figured the subject was thoroughly exhausted, but a funny thing happened in the week leading up to the debate: Clinton’s margin in the Keystone began falling again.

As of the time of this writing there hasn’t been any polling released since just before the debate (Muhlenburg, Harper, CNN, and Mercyhurst all released last Saturday through Monday), so we go where the RCP average isĀ as of October 2nd based on the most recent releases: Clinton+2.4%. Clinton has led him all year in the average, but it has followed a tighten-balloon-tighten-balloon pattern for much of the year. Trump had finally made some progress, it seemed, in the weeks leading up to the debate, improving across the board enough that Nate Silver recently had to defend his election model giving him a very good chance of winning.

Trump’s ultimate problem may be a wall of his own: he seems to approach a certain percentage of the vote, then falls back into the high thirties, then reapproaches the same low-forties percentage, and falls again. His problem has been with college-educated white voters, who have voted Republican in nearly every Presidential election for half a century. This time, they are more inclined to vote third Party or Democratic, and this is where his struggle with Pennsylvania starts and ends.

Republicans have historically done well in the central portion of the state and, until the late 1980s, in the Philadelphia suburbs. But as moderates turned against the Republican party, they rapidly lost counties like Delaware and Montgomery, and had to shore up margins elsewhere to win in off-year races. Donald Trump’s core voting bloc, some-t0-no-college whites, seems to be helping him stretch Republican margins beyond historical norms in the northeastern region. But he’s losing metro Philadelphia by thirty points, mainly because of his almost deliberate attempt to turn off suburban voters possessing degrees.

Trump’s problem in Pennsylvania reflects his national one: he’s performing stronger with a bloc that didn’t give Mitt Romney much attention, but losing one that not only swung back towards the GOP in 2012 but piled on in 2014. These voters, legion in the Philly Collar, are also going to ultimately foil Mr. Trump in Colorado, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin. Even if Hillary Clinton loses Nevada, Maine2, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio and Florida, she still wins. He absolutely must convince enough of the grad set he’s not crazy to cross 270.

He went into last Monday evening desperately needing to do this, and failed miserably. While we have no new Pennsylvania numbers from those pollsters mentioned earlier, Clinton’s mini-bounces in other surveys will almost certainly materialize here, as Trump’s climb had over the course of September. It would be one thing for Trump to have been trailing badly all year and losing in an expected blowout. But that wasn’t the case this time.

As a Repubican obsessed with the Keystone state, I leave you with this: Mr. Trump’s polling average deficit to Mrs. Clinton in Pennslyvania is the smallest of any non-incumbent Republican in early October since 1988. Heck, at 2.4% the deficit is only barely wider than Bush’s during his re-election effort.

It really was right there.

And now, the boulder begins rolling back down the hill.