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Candidates Fight Early For Pennsylvania


Pennsylvania is not an early stop in the 2020 presidential primary calendar, but Donald Trump's very narrow victory in the state last time has put Democrats on notice. And as a result, the campaign season in the state appears to be in full swing already. Joe Biden will be there later today. President Trump holds a rally on Monday. And there are many others. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Here's the usual drill before a presidential election in Pennsylvania - by the time the state holds its primary, most other states have voted. And so most of the drama is over. But this time, things are very different. The primary is still late. But already, the candidates are rolling through.


ELIZABETH WARREN: And when we see a government that works great for those with money and not really for anyone else, that is corruption.

GONYEA: That's Elizabeth Warren in Philadelphia this past Monday. Beto O'Rourke has been through. This was at Penn State University.


BETO O'ROURKE: Our democracy right now is as broken as it has been in our lifetimes. It is captured. It is corrupted.

GONYEA: And Bernie Sanders attended a town hall in Bethlehem and rallied supporters in Pittsburgh in April.


BERNIE SANDERS: We are going to win in Pennsylvania.


SANDERS: We're going to win in Michigan.


SANDERS: We're going to win in Wisconsin.


GONYEA: That list of states, by the way, represents the so-called blue wall, states that Democrats had won in every single presidential election going back to 1992 but all carried by Donald Trump in 2016, providing his margin of victory. Brigid Harrison, a political scientist at Montclair State University, says these early visits by Democrats send a message that they see Pennsylvania as the place to derail Donald Trump's re-election.

BRIGID HARRISON: For many of these candidates, they're really seeking to dig their heels in early because it is one of the three most important states when it comes to the electoral vote in the general election.

GONYEA: In 2016, Hillary Clinton did what Democrats usually do when they win in Pennsylvania. She dominated in urban centers and won the suburbs but not enough to offset Trump's big turnout in rural areas and with white working-class voters. This time, some Democrats are targeting Trump's base. Joe Biden held his very first official campaign rally at a Pittsburgh Teamsters hall.


JOE BIDEN: By the way, I make no apologies. I am a union man - period.


GONYEA: And he reminds voters here he was born in the working-class town of Scranton, Pa. Already pushing back against all of this is President Trump. His rally, this coming Monday in the town of Montoursville, will be his sixth in the state since his election. Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin and Marshall College, says don't expect the battle for Pennsylvania to look just like last time. He says Democrats need to speak to rural voters. And Trump will face a more highly motivated group of voters in the suburbs, Democratic territory.

TERRY MADONNA: I don't think the Trump campaign can simply rely on blue-collar workers in the old mining and mill towns of this state. They're going to have to fight hard to win the Philadelphia suburbs or do much better than they did in 2016.

GONYEA: Last time, Trump's margin of victory was less than 1% in the state, so all of these Democrats dropping in now are thinking every friend they make today could make the difference come November of next year. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.