Actually it was the Northeast which ended up being the most pivotal portion of the commonwealth. For example, look at Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties, home to Scranton and Wilkes-Barre respectively.
In 2012, Barack Obama won Lackawanna by 26,753 votes and Luzerne by 5,982 votes. Four years later, Hillary Clinton’s victory in Lackawanna was by just 3,599 and she lost Luzerne by 26,237. That’s a 55,373 vote flip in a state where Clinton ultimately fell 44,292 votes short.
Given these results, this region was always going to be crucial for the 2020 Demcratic presidential nominee. That importance is amplified, though, by the fact that Joe Biden was born and spent his early years in Scranton.
Can Democrats bounce back here, and if so, how? Well, Congressman Matt Cartwright (D, PA-8) serves as an example of how to fight against the tide.
After all, as Hillary was faltering at the top of the ticket, down-ballot Rep. Matt Cartwright was able to hold on for re-election with 53%.
Naturally his status as a Democratic incumbent in a Trump district only meant that he was bound to be an even bigger target in 2018. The new court-ordered congressional map didn’t help him either as his new seat, which occupies most of the state’s Northeastern corner, still went for Trump by nine and a half points.
Yet Cartwright did win another term in the 2018 blue wave by garnering 54% of the vote. His reward, of course, was another tough cycle in 2020. This time against a Trump Administration official with Donald Trump himself again on the ballot.
By comparing the results of the 2016 presidential race in PA-8 with the 2018 congressional contest we should be able to discern a roadmap for both Biden and Cartwright as they look to prevail in November.
As you can see, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre corridor is the major difference between these two maps. Clinton suffered major setbacks there in places like Dickson City, Moosic, Old Forge and Pittston. Meanwhile, Cartwright was able to keep the thread together. Being a native of Moosic obviously helped and that’s a positive sign for Scranton Joe.
Another target for the Dems should be that blue cluster in northwest Lackawanna that contains towns like Clarks Summit and Dalton. Maps from J. Miles Coleman show that, thanks to a high concentration of college-educated voters, this area is trending Democratic. A good performance there could offset any poor showing in a town like Carbondale that’s moving towards the GOP.
Additionally, Cartwright’s 2018 performance suggests that cities like Hazelton and Nanticoke represent a good opportunity for Biden. Also not to be overlooked are the central and northwestern parts of Monroe County, which have a higher-than-expected non-white population that could prove promising for the Biden-Harris ticket.
The final lesson is that reducing the margins in rural areas is a prerequisite to winning in the district and elsewhere. Biden will need to improve on Clinton’s abysmal numbers there and in similar places throughout Pennsylvania.
After proving so harmful to Democratic hopes four years ago, Northeast PA may not only send a Democratic incumbent back to Congress, it could also propel a native son to the White House.