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Presidential Campaigns Focus On Pennsylvania During Final Days


We're just a few days away from Election Day, and 90 million people have already voted, that according to the U.S. Elections Project. And as you'd expect, the major party presidential candidates are spending most of their time in swing states trying to rally support among the millions of likely voters who have not yet cast their ballots. Donald Trump is in Pennsylvania today while Joe Biden and Barack Obama are in Michigan. To get the latest, we're joined by White House correspondent Tamara Keith and political correspondent Scott Detrow. Hello to you both. Thanks for joining us.


SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good afternoon.

MARTIN: So let me start with Tam. Tam, you are traveling with President Trump today all throughout Pennsylvania. So let me start there. Why is Pennsylvania getting so much of the candidate's attention?

KEITH: Yeah, right now, I'm in Reading, Pa., which is the second of four stops. And, you know, this is a state that Trump won in 2016. Surprisingly, he won. And, increasingly, it is one that his team thinks is the key to him winning reelection. It's the one of the three so-called blue wall states, these traditionally Democratic states that Trump won last time. It's the one where they think he has the best chance to win.

Now, he is still behind in polls but not as far behind as some other places. And, you know, he is focusing on areas where he won handily, trying to drive up turnout among his base to make up for losses that they're expecting in suburban areas. And unlike many other states, Pennsylvania has no truly - has no true in-person early voting. So most Pennsylvanians will vote on Election Day, which means that if he can turn these people out, that will help them.

MARTIN: Let's go to Scott Detrow. Pennsylvania is also getting a lot of attention from the Biden campaign. Why is that?

DETROW: That's right. Biden will head to Philadelphia on Sunday. And Monday, the last full day of campaigning, he and Kamala Harris will be barnstorming the state. I'll be traveling along with Biden that day. And remember - Pennsylvania is actually the one swing state that Joe Biden campaigned in from June to September, just driving around Pennsylvania, and that was it. He of course grew up in Scranton as he talks about, as President Trump often talks about as well. And a big part of Biden's appeal with Democratic primary voters back this spring was his argument that he was uniquely positioned to win back places like Pennsylvania.

One interesting thing that the Biden campaign is doing - it's similar to what the Trump campaign is doing today. In addition to hitting those big population centers of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Biden has made a point to spend a considerable amount of time focusing on places that often don't vote for Democrats. And he's betting big on the argument that you hear a lot from Barack Obama, that the Democrats need to focus, pay attention and still lose those places but lose them by smaller margins. And the thinking is that that, combined with the big anti-Trump vote that is expected in the suburbs and cities, will be enough to give Biden Pennsylvania back.

MARTIN: Now, Scott, a lot of attention has been on vote counting, particularly in Pennsylvania. Could you just tell us how that's expected to go in this critical state?

DETROW: Yeah. And that conversation really boils down to two distinct things. First is legitimate vote counting and also how President Trump's attacks and his attempts to sow doubt could affect the political climate if it's close in Pennsylvania.

So let's take the first. Unlike other key states, Pennsylvania will not begin processing its millions of mail-in ballots until Election Day itself. And given how many Democrats have voted by mail, that means there is a good chance the in-person vote that we get earlier in the night could lean Republican. And then as the mail-in ballots start to get counted very, very late Tuesday or Wednesday or even later, the Democrats will gain more votes. If it's close, we just might not know who won in Pennsylvania for several days. And that is why you have seen President Trump attack mail-in voting and the idea that the election should be called right away. For months now, he's been doing this, knowing this could be close.

There is also a contentious legal battle over how long after Election Day mail-in ballots can be accepted in Pennsylvania. The state Supreme Court ruled that they can come in for three extra days because of the pandemic. The U.S. Supreme Court has now twice declined to block or overturn that, but the U.S. Supreme Court has left open the possibility it could weigh in after the election. So if it's close in Pennsylvania and it's the deciding state, that could be the central legal battle over the election outcome.

MARTIN: Tam, from the Republican side, what is the view of the count in Pennsylvania and potential legal issues?

KEITH: Well, I mean, the president even just today has really amped up his language around this, saying that if you don't have an election result on Election Day, then you could have bedlam in this country. That was his term - bedlam. And he was critical of the Supreme Court for not siding with Republicans on this. You know, they - Republicans are concerned about the expansion of mail-in voting. They call - say it was sloppy here in the state of Pennsylvania. And, you know, a Republican Party official that's working on legal issues described Pennsylvania as the epicenter of their legal focus. They have dozens of people already deployed here to monitor the situation. And they are looking for there to be problems here.

MARTIN: A lot to watch out for. That's White House correspondent Tamara Keith and political correspondent Scott Detrow. Thank you, Tam and Scott. Thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.