As 2020 candidates focus on early primaries, a liberal super PAC targets Pennsylvania voters



The burgeoning field of Democratic presidential candidates may be zeroed in on Iowa, New Hampshire and the other early primary states, but the key role Pennsylvania will play in next year’s electoral math is already on the minds of national Democrats and outside groups poised to spend very heavily.


One of the largest Democratic super PACs, Priorities USA, will begin pouring money into Pennsylvania shortly, telling reporters recently it sees the state as potentially the tipping point in next year’s election.

The super PAC spent roughly $200 million supporting Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid in 2016, and says it will spend $100 million in Pennsylvania and three other states, reaching out to voters through digital advertising and staffers on the ground.

“Pennsylvania is one of the four states that are most critical to reaching 270 electoral votes,” Josh Schwerin, the group’s spokesman, said Thursday. “This initial wave of investment is starting in the near future and will run through early 2020, but Pennsylvania will continue to be a focus for us through Election Day.”

That’s a reflection of the critical role Pennsylvania played in the last presidential election. President Donald Trump won the state by 44,292 votes, making him the first Republican presidential candidate to do so since 1988.

“We’ve re-emerged as one of the prime swing states because we swung,” said Chris Borick, a political science professor and pollster at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

For Democrats, the focus will be on how to swing it back.

“It’s a state that Democrats should not have lost in ’16, and cannot in ’20,” said Larry Ceisler, a Democratic consultant in Philadelphia.

The Democratic National Committee has tapped Pennsylvania as one of a handful of states where it will launch an organizing effort to recruit and train nearly 1,000 students who expect to graduate by the end of next year’s primary season and place them as field organizers.


Meanwhile, Priorities USA will reach out to voters here — plus Wisconsin and Michigan, two other keys in Trump’s win, as well as Florida — with a message that staffers say will focus more on issues such as health care and wages than on the president’s tweets or temperament.

The group's polling found Democrats had the biggest advantages when messaging on those issues, and intends to link them to the Trump administration’s policies. Health care in particular was an issue Democrats were able to use to their advantage in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in last year’s elections, Borick said.

As Democrats frame their pitch to voters, former Gov. Ed Rendell cautioned that as the field embraces progressive policy overhauls like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal it should be careful not to do so in a way that bolsters the president’s efforts to paint the candidates as radical, out-of-touch socialists.

“That’s particularly true in Pennsylvania, because we have those working-class, blue-collar voters who voted for [Trump],” Rendell said.

Trump’s campaign also is gearing up its efforts in Pennsylvania. His political staffers met with the state Republican Party last month, and Pennsylvania’s GOP chairman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the party is working on ensuring that the voters Trump mobilized in 2016 will turn out again to support him and other Republicans.

There’s a long time to go until voters head to the polls here, with the state’s April 2020 primary positioning it near the back of the national pack. That could be an exciting position, with the massive size of the Democratic field raising the possibility Pennsylvania primary voters could play a more decisive role than usual.


While most of the action of candidates wooing voters is happening elsewhere, there have been some 2020 sightings already in the Keystone State. Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the University of Pennsylvania last Tuesday, but he declined to shed light on where he’s leaning regarding another presidential bid.

“People are talking about it. You can run into a presidential candidate on Walnut Street,” Ceisler said, adding that South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg headlined a breakfast at a Center City law firm this week.

Those sightings will only get more frequent as 2020 draws closer.