Biden said he will win Scranton. Trump said he will only lose if it's rigged. Who's right?
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden spoke about systematic racism at a town hall in Pennsylvania hosted by CNN's Anderson Cooper. USA TODAY
Pennsylvania has a long history of voting Democrat for president.
In every presidential election since 1988, Pennsylvania has given its electoral votes, which have ranged from 23 to 20 in the last 30 years, to the Democratic nominee.
That pattern changed in 2016, when then-Republican nominee Donald J. Trump won the state narrowly by 44,000 votes, or less than 1 percent. Those 44,000 voters wouldn't fill half of the capacity at Penn State's Beaver Stadium.
But they were enough to decide the razor-thin 2016 election in Pennsylvania, where more than 6.1 million people voted.
Analysts have been predicting another close race in battleground Pennsylvania. But if the results aren't in Trump's favor, it's because the election was rigged, the president has said.
Then a candidate, Trump in 2016 was down in the polls and said the election was rigged. He won.
Trump is down in the polls again and saying that mail-in balloting will allow widespread voting fraud, rigging the election. His campaign's lawsuit against mail-in balloting in Pennsylvania produced no evidence of fraud in the state's primary.
But there are foreign influences working to undermine the U.S. presidential election, according to the FBI.
U.S. intelligence officials have said Russian operatives worked to interfere with the 2016 election and are doing it again, spreading false information through social media. Four years ago, Russian meddlers were trying to make Democrat Hillary Clinton lose and help Trump win, according to the FBI.
This year, Russian operatives are working to help Trump win, while China and Iran want a Joe Biden victory, intelligence reports say.
New investigation in Pa.
Pennsylvania's Republican majority Legislature passed a voting reform package in 2019, months before the coronavirus was detected in China and nearly half a year before it was detected in Pennsylvania.
The legislation enabled mail-in voting, which Gov. Tom Wolf says will help protect vulnerable Pennsylvanians who may be susceptible to COVID-19. For example, the virus has been most deadly to seniors in the state, accounting for about 70 percent of all the covid-related deaths in Pennsylvania.
But mail-in voting is coming under scrutiny in a contentious presidential election year, and a new federal investigation in Luzerne County, a swing county in blue-collar northeastern Pennsylvania flipped by Trump in 2016, is adding fuel to the president's claims against election integrity.
The Justice Department on Thursday said it is investigating potential issues with nine military mail-in ballots. Of the nine ballots involved in the inquiry, seven ballots were marked for Trump and were "discarded," according to a letter from U.S. Attorney David Freed to the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections.
Military ballots are supposed to be stored and unopened until no earlier than 7 a.m. on Election Day, according to state law.
It was explained to investigators the envelopes used for official overseas, military, absentee and mail-in ballot requests are so similar that the staff believed they were receiving ballot requests and didn't want to miss them, Freed said in the letter.
"Our interviews further revealed that this issue was a problem in the primary election — therefore a known issue — and that the problem has not been corrected," Freed said.
The Justice Department is working to make sure every vote is counted by Election Day.
Why this matters
Two counties in northeastern Pennsylvania — Luzerne and Lackawanna — make up one of the most important areas in the 2020 election, especially for Trump.
He was propelled to the White House on the backs of blue-collar workers in the northeast and southeast corners of Pennsylvania who had previously voted for Democrats.
Recent polling shows some of those voters are favoring Biden and going home to their party, and the president is also losing ground with older workers.
"President Trump needs working-class voters in the northeast and southwest if he's going to win Pennsylvania again," said Terry Madonna, a pollster and political analyst at Franklin & Marshall College.
"It's different for Joe Biden," said Jesse White, a political strategist at Perpetual Fortitude, a Democratic consulting and digital management firm. "If Biden wins, it will be on the backs of suburban women across the state."
Both Biden and Trump like their chances in the northeast, especially in Biden's hometown of Scranton. And in a tight race in Pennsylvania, where Biden's lead is within the margin of error, that area could be a difference-maker.
After a CNN town hall in Scranton last Thursday, Biden was asked by reporters if he could win his hometown. Former President Barack Obama, with Biden as his running mate, won Scranton by double digits in 2008 and 2012. Four years ago, Trump almost won Lackawanna County, where Scranton is, and he did flip neighboring Luzerne County.
“I will win Scranton," Biden said. "Listen to me. I will win Scranton. And we were losing Scranton and Lackawanna County til I got put on the ticket. This is home. I know these people.”
He was then asked if he thinks he is why Obama won Scranton.
“I know I helped in this county," Biden said. "I helped in this state. We were losing by seven points in Pennsylvania. I get announced as the candidate. Five days later, we were up by 6.”
Biden is up by 6 points again in the latest Franklin & Marshall poll, but Trump said he will win Scranton and Pennsylvania.
During a campaign stop last month in Old Forge, just 10 minutes south of Scranton, Trump repeated his claim that the only way he will lose is if the election is rigged and again raised concerns about mail-in voting.
"So this is just a way they’re trying to steal the election, and everybody knows that," Trump said. "Because the only way they’re going to win is by a rigged election. I really believe that."
He leaves no room for the idea that, if Biden wins this year, the state is returning to a decades-long pattern of electing a Democrat for president.
Trump has, during multiple campaign stops in Pennsylvania, said he would win Pennsylvania "bigger" this year than he did four years ago.
And this week, the president wouldn't commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the Nov. 3 presidential election.
“We’re going to have to see what happens,” Trump said at a news conference. “You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.”
In 2016, Trump also wouldn't commit to honoring the election results if Clinton won, breaking a practice among candidates and sitting presidents to show confidence in the the foundation of American democracy and its electoral process.
Biden has also raised concerns about the integrity of the election, accusing Trump of sowing fear and chaos.
“It’s my greatest concern. My single greatest concern. This president is going to try to steal this election,” Biden in July told Trevor Noah on "The Daily Show." "This is the guy who said all mail-in ballots are fraudulent — voting by mail — while he sits behind a desk in the Oval Office and writes his mail-in ballot to vote in the primary."
President Trump mailed his vote to Florida and said that state's mail-in voting system can be trusted because it's managed by a Republican governor. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is a Democrat, and Trump said he doesn't trust mail-in balloting in states run by Democrats.
Trump this week said he was filling the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death because the court would need all nine jurists to decide election issues. Democrats worry Trump is trying to stack the bench and win in a scenario similar to 2000 when the Supreme Court decided the race between former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Al Gore.
"I don't see how we get out of this election without multiple lawsuits," Madonna said.
Candy Woodall is a reporter for the USA Today Network. She can be reached at 717-480-1783 or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.
President Donald Trump again declined on Wednesday to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the Nov. 3 presidential election. Democratic challenger Joe Biden said Trump "says the most irrational things." (Sept. 24) AP Domestic