Things did not go as expected for Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania. But for all the hand-wringing over the importance of Philadelphia’s suburbs, securing votes in the city may have been paramount.
The city’s collar counties were supposed to unlock Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes and a smooth path to the presidency, with Bucks County as the key. Everyone who was paying attention knew it would be a close race, but even the latest polls had Clinton with a narrow, but stable lead in the state.
“If we win here, we’re gonna win,” Tim Kaine said in Newtown just two weeks out from the election.
That didn’t happen, and even if it did, there was no clear path for a Clinton win. Donald Trump infiltrated the Blue Wall, Pennsylvania included, despite Clinton’s well-organized ground game in the state, and Bucks County in particular.
Kaine was one of a handful of Democratic headliners who came through Bucks. That list included two visits from Joe Biden, and one from Bill Clinton. Volunteers staffed campaign offices in Bristol Borough and Doylestown, where they pushed for votes up and down the Democratic ticket.
The election closed with numbers narrowly in Clinton’s favor in Bucks. She led Trump by about 2,000 votes, less than the near-4,000 votes that placed Barack Obama over Mitt Romney in 2012. But it was a win for Clinton in what was repeatedly called the most important county in a state that could tip either way.
In Montgomery County, Clinton led Trump by 90,069 votes. In Chester County, she led by 24,606. Both were significant improvements for Democrats compared to 2012. Her lead over Trump in Delco was even about 1 percent higher than Obama’s over Romney in 2012.
But the main difference in 2016 compared to 2012 for the Philadelphia region was the city itself.
In Philadelphia, Clinton nabbed 560,542 votes to Trump’s 105,418 with about 99 percent of divisions reporting. That’s 84.41 to 15.5 percent. In 2012, that number was 588,806 to 96,467 for Obama, a total difference of about 37,000 votes in a state that Clinton lost by about 73,000.
That means Bucks voters shifted by less than 1 percent, compared to more than a 4-percent change in Philadelphia.
Clinton made several visits to Philadelphia throughout her campaign, including one final rally on Election Day Eve. The city was host to the Democratic National Convention, where Clinton left with a near-10 percent bump in national polls.
The simple answer for Trump’s relative success in Philadelphia is that the campaign just resonated more with working-class voters in a city that usually backs Democrats to the bitter end. The truth is probably more tenuous.
In Bucks, the numbers were likely closer than the Clinton campaign anticipated.
Immediately following Trump’s “locker room talk” controversy, a Bloomberg Politics poll had Clinton with a 9-point lead in Pennsylvania, with a 28-percent lead in the four collar counties. The actual lead among those counties ended up averaging around 13 percent, with Bucks County as the closest at about a half-percent margin.
Clinton had the funding, the ground game, the offices and the political support in Bucks, but Trump had the people.
“They may be reluctant because that’s not the candidate they wanted … but the majority are behind Trump,” Bucks Republican Chairwoman Pat Poprik said early on of the party base in the county. “They will never vote for Hillary. She’s the worst disaster we can think of.”
One quick sweep through the county, and you could see Trump-Pence signs outweighed Clinton-Kaine.
Trump supporters were enthusiastic about his campaign, and ultimately almost as effective.
That was evident the night of his Newtown rally, where about 2,000 supporters came out to cheer him on as he ran through his long list of campaign goals.
That rally was hosted by a Trump delegate at the Republican National Convention and owner of the Newtown Athletic Club, Jim Worthington. He wasn’t affiliated with the campaign in any official capacity, but in the grassroots.
Perhaps if Clinton had visited Bucks herself, or if Obama made a stump stop in, say, Northampton Township, where over 700 voters chose third party candidates, it could have energized more undecideds toward Clinton.
Trump didn’t win Bucks, but he came close. He didn’t win Philadelphia, but he improved from Romney.
In the end it may have been a wash. If those two counties stayed the same as 2012, Clinton was still out by around 35,000 votes in Pennsylvania.
“This is a movement like you and the media have never ever seen before,” Trump said that night in Newtown. “When we win, the change you’ve been waiting for will finally arrive.”
Starting this January, he will have a chance to prove himself right again.