If President Trump is able to outperform the polls in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, it will be because he re-energized white, blue-collar voters in places like Butler County.
A city employee assisted voters in line at City Hall in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
BUTLER, Pa. — “Here he comes!” cried Jeannie Cook over the chomp of rotor blades as a fleet of helicopters flew out of the setting sun, blinding thousands of eyes turned toward the arrival of President Trump in the heart of red America.
No president had ever visited Butler County, according to that day’s Butler Eagle. “It almost feels like Christmas Eve,” the newspaper editorialized.
But rather than Santa Claus, it was Mr. Trump dropping in for the third of four rallies in Pennsylvania in one day, mostly in places where he had trounced Hillary Clinton in 2016. If Mr. Trump is able to outrun the polls in Pennsylvania and other battlegrounds that show him trailing Joseph R. Biden Jr., it will be because he re-energized the white blue-collar voters in places like Butler County, home to a steel mill that employs 9,000.
Supporters like Ms. Cook, 62, viewed the president in heroic terms and had no doubt that he would be re-elected. “Because he’s the greatest president,” she said.
As voters cast ballots on Tuesday, Pennsylvania loomed large as the potential tipping point for the presidency, and perhaps Mr. Trump’s best hope to maintain his hold on one of the so-called blue wall states, along with Michigan and Wisconsin, that he narrowly won four years ago to secure the White House. His advisers believe the state is on a “knife’s edge,” the closest contest on the map.
Mr. Biden spent all or part of the final three days in Pennsylvania, the surest sign of its significance, visiting his childhood home in Scranton on Tuesday.
Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, after visiting his childhood home and the home of a family friend on Election Day in Scranton, Pa.
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The Biden campaign expressed confidence that it had run up a cushion of support in early voting, after Democrats returned 1,641,000 mail-in ballots by Tuesday morning, compared to 586,000 that were returned by Republicans.
Republicans were expected to vote disproportionately in person on Tuesday, and Mr. Trump’s campaign had made a far larger investment in ground operations.
Both polling and analysis of the more than 100 million votes cast before Tuesday nationwide suggests that Mr. Trump has lost ground with college-educated voters compared to four years ago. To compensate, he must drive up his advantage with white working-class voters even higher than in 2016.
In Armstrong County, where Mr. Trump won 74 percent of the vote four years ago, Pat Fabian, a Democrat on the county commission, predicted that Mr. Biden would “shave that by 10 or 15 percent” — an improvement that if repeated across Pennsylvania would likely doom Mr. Trump.
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How to Follow the Election Results
Here’s a guide to The Times’s election night coverage, no matter when, how or how often you want to consume it.
- If you just want results… There will be a results map on The Times’s home page, and yes, the infamous needle will be back — but only for Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, the only states providing granular enough information for our experts to make educated projections of uncounted votes.If you want constant updates… Times reporters are live-blogging all day and night. This will be your one-stop shop for minute-by-minute updates: race calls, on-the-ground reporting from swing states, news about any voting issues or disruptions, and more.If you want to check in every so often… Times journalists are also producing a live briefing from roughly 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. ET, with an overview of what’s happening in the presidential race, the Senate and House races, and the voting process itself.
The Trump campaign in Pennsylvania has pointed to its months of in-person canvassing and outreach to low-frequency voters, which in some counties resulted in a surge of newly registered Republicans. The state includes 2.2 million non-college-educated white voters who didn’t vote in 2016, more than in either of the other blue wall states of Michigan and Wisconsin, which had gone steadily Democratic for years until 2016.
In Bucks County on Tuesday, Wendy Hummel, a 72-year-old Republican, was waiting to cast her vote for Mr. Trump because he was “for life and not death,” referring to abortion. She was willing to overlook Mr. Trump’s own less-than-pious personal history. “He is in his walk with the Lord,” she said, “and he’s learning like the rest of us.”
Across the hallway, in a middle school where the line to vote zigzagged throughout the school and where so many cars had piled into the lot that many were parking on the grass, Jessica Voutsinas had been clutching her vote-by-mail ballot for more than two and half hours. She was concerned with Republican efforts to disqualify such ballots, and planned to surrender it and vote in person instead.
Ms. Voutsinas, 24, called herself a climate change voter and was unsure how Bucks, a swing county in a swing state, would vote.
“It seems aggressively moderate to me,” she said.
County government workers pre-canvass mail-in and absentee ballots on Tuesday at the Lackawanna County Government office in Scranton, Pa.Credit…Robert Nickelsberg for The New York Times
Outside the Trump rally in Butler, a supporter named Jeff, who declined to give his last name because he distrusts the media, acknowledged that “it looks bad” for Mr. Trump winning a second term. He blamed the media for not reporting the president’s successes and “the criminal activities the Biden family has been involved in.’’
Among the president’s triumphs, he named “rescuing a lot of women and children who were abducted” for sex trafficking, part of the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory.
Mr. Trump has fanned myriad conspiracy theories. For months he has raged that he will only lose if the election is “rigged’’ and he has insisted that mail-in votes counted after Nov. 3, which are expected to favor Mr. Biden, would be fraudulent — a groundless charge.
In such an atmosphere, with Mr. Trump’s base unprepared to accept a loss as legitimate, Mr. Biden’s task of bringing together the country, should he become president, would be immeasurably more difficult.
President Trump at a rally at the Pittsburgh-Butler Regional Airport in Butler, Pa., on Saturday.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times
On the final pre-election weekend, Emily Skopov, a Democrat running for the State Legislature, canvassed in an affluent suburb of brick homes north of Pittsburgh, where almost every resident was a registered Republican. Almost no one was willing to speak with her.
One couple who did listen to Ms. Skopov’s pitch (“I’m not a communist or a socialist!’’ she quickly said) was Brian and Patty O’Connor, whose opinions mirrored the gender gap that has imperiled Mr. Trump.
Mr. O’Connor, a lawyer, denounced Mr. Trump’s personality but said he would vote for his re-election. Ms. O’Connor said she was “embarrassed” to have voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 yet she remained undecided days before the election. “We have five kids, we put them through schools; taxes are a big issue to us,’’ she said. “We are practicing Catholics. Abortion’s a big issue — sometimes. Personally, I don’t like Donald Trump.’’
“I don’t know, I really tell you, I’m undecided,’’ she added.