Pa. shaping up to be the key battleground state for 2020

Michael Yoder//February 14, 2020

Pa. shaping up to be the key battleground state for 2020

Michael Yoder//February 14, 2020

If there was any doubt Pennsylvania will once again play a major role in deciding the presidential election, pundits are pointing out last week’s focus on the Keystone State in the national politics is just a taste of what’s to come for 2020.

A day after President Donald Trump gave the State of the Union Address in which he personally called out Gov. Tom Wolf for his veto of House Bill 800 that awarded tax credits to businesses donating to scholarships for Pennsylvania students, Vice President Mike Pence was in Central Pennsylvania with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Feb. 5 as part of a Women for Trump event held at the Radisson Hotel in Camp Hill.

At the event, Pence emphasized promises made by Trump in the 2016 campaign, including border security, national defense and healthcare reform. With his trademark staccato cadence of “Jobs, jobs, jobs,” Pence also highlighted the Trump economy, focusing on tax cuts, deregulation and the signing of trade deals like with China and the replacement of NAFTA with the USMCA.

“This president has called for free and fair trade that puts American workers first, and the American economy is booming,” Pence said. “The man who wrote ‘The Art of the Deal’ made a great deal for America with the USMCA.”

Bernadette Comfort, vice chair of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, said the timing of Pence’s visit was “fantastic” with all the events that were taking place, including the State of the Union address the night before and the final impeachment vote held just an hour before the rally.

The appearance of the vice president in Pennsylvania during a historic week is not a coincidence, showing the importance the state will play in the election. She said Pence has been in the state multiple times in the last year, and Trump himself has been a presence, including his December rally held at the Giant Center in Hershey.

“The state’s a priority, and we all know it,” Comfort said. “The road to the White House is through Pennsylvania, and I think the Trump campaign knows that.”

In 2016, Comfort said her most important issues for the presidential election were national security and the judiciary with the economy coming in third. But in 2020, she said Trump is not only able to tout issues like criminal justice reform or the creation of the Space Force, but she said in the end “it’s about the business” with historic levels of the stock market and unemployment.

“The campaign is certainly going to hit home on the economy,” Comfort said. “You’re seeing it, because it’s such a great turnaround. And it’s going to continue to grow. Unprecedented levels in the stock market; just look at your 401K. That’s all you have to do.”

From the other end of the political spectrum, Nancy Patton Mills, chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, was quick to respond to Pence’s visit, leveling criticism on DeVos who has been a lightning rod for denunciation among educators for her support of private schools.

Mills said the Trump administration’s education agenda “sells out” students in Pennsylvania to special interests.

“The Trump administration continues to hand massive tax cuts to the wealthiest and well-connected, while going after vital resources for everyday students,” Mills said in a press release. “Trump, Pence and DeVos have worked to gut public school funding, eliminate resources for low-income college students and have undermined programs that help survivors of sexual assault seek justice.”

Inside the Radisson, former CNN political commentator and Central Pennsylvania resident Jeffrey Lord sat off to the side of the podium, listening to Pence and the other speakers.

Lord, who was one of Trump’s most outspoken supporters on cable news in 2016, said the most important thing his campaign can focus on in Pennsylvania for 2020 are the job numbers, with unemployment sitting at 4.5% in the state compared to 5.2% when he took office in 2017.

Lord said another winning strategy for Trump is to highlight fracking in the state, including the existing 8,000 wells and 300,000 jobs in the industry. He said many of the Democratic candidates in 2020 are campaigning on eliminating fracking, which would devastate the Pennsylvania economy.

Having Pence come to Camp Hill signifies that Pennsylvania is once again one of the key battleground states and the campaign, Lord said, and Trump and his surrogates “will be back over and over and over again.”

“The Trump campaign focused on Pennsylvania a lot in 2016, and they carried it for the first time since George H.W. Bush,” Lord said. “So they’ve got the lesson down.”