Donald Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 by a scant 44,000 votes out of 6 million cast. Democrats see Trump’s victory as a fluke, an anomaly. Trump was the first Republican to capture the state since 1996 and Democrats believed the state was trending in their direction.
So 2016 was a rude awakening for Democrats. You would think they’d redouble their efforts to recapture the state in 2020. Indeed, the national party has been pouring staffers and money into the state, vowing not to repeat Hillary Clinton’s mistake of taking Pennsylvania for granted the last two weeks of the campaign.
But Republicans have not been standing still and resting on their laurels. And since 2016, despite the best efforts of Democrats, Republicans have registered seven times more voters than the opposition.
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The GOP has added almost 198,000 registered voters to the books compared to this time four years ago, whereas Democrats have gained an extra 29,000. Though Democrats still outnumber Republicans by about 750,000 voters in the state, the GOP has seized on their uptick in party members as a sign that Trump is on track to win this critical Rust Belt swing state a second time.
“It’s one of the reasons why I am very bullish on Donald Trump’s prospects in Pennsylvania. I think he will win again, and I think he will win by more votes than he did in 2016,” said Charlie Gerow, a Harrisburg-based Republican strategist who has worked on presidential campaigns in the state. “Trump is doing what Ronald Reagan did 40 years ago, which is moving a lot of traditional Democrats into the Republican column.”
Overall, registered Democrats now make up 47 percent of voters, down from 49 percent in 2016. GOP registrants have increased from 38 to 39 percent. That’s a lot of movement in a state Trump won by less than 1 percent in 2016.
The impetus for this surge in GOP registrations is unquestionably Donald Trump.
“It’s Trump, Trump, Trump,” said Gloria Lee Snover, chair of the Northampton County Republican Party. When she has signed up voters, she added, “They’re like, ‘Oh, I want to be in the Trump party.’ It’s kind of funny. … I’m like, ‘You mean the Republican Party?’ They’re like, ‘Oh, yeah.'”
Democrats are unconcerned. It appears they’re overconfident — again.
They view the numbers as a lagging indicator that distracts from other strengths the party has with new voters and independents in the state. The biggest shift in Pennsylvania in recent years, they said, has been Democrats making electoral gains since 2016, particularly in the suburbs.
“It probably means less than meets the eye,” said J.J. Balaban, a Democratic consultant in Pennsylvania. “There’s reason to believe the shift is mostly ‘Democrats’ who haven’t been voting for Democrats for a long time, choosing to re-register as Republican.”
“Democrats who haven’t been voting for Democrats” now registered Republicans? I’d say that’s whistling past the graveyard. There’s a reason they’re not Democrats anymore and ignoring that reason will lead to a Trump victory in the state in November.