“The Luzerne County voter was the definition of the forgotten men and women. Nobody in Washington was standing up for them. They’d lost hope,” said former GOP Rep. Lou Barletta, a top Trump ally in Pennsylvania who represented a Luzerne-based district. “I don’t believe the president lost any support from 2016 here. If anything, he may have even gained more.”
Trump won working-class Luzerne by 26,000 votes in 2016 — nearly 60 percent of his margin of victory in a state that he narrowly carried. As part of his strategy to win Pennsylvania again, his campaign is betting on increased turnout in the small cities and rural reaches of the northeast.
For Biden, who was born in neighboring Lackawanna County, the region is also critical: His campaign wants to cut its losses in Luzerne County to a significant degree or perhaps, in the best-case scenario, flip it. Even some of Biden’s biggest supporters doubt he can pull that off — Trump beat Hillary Clinton there by nearly 20 percentage points — but they’re nonetheless looking for him to make serious inroads.
“He won’t carry it, but he’ll lose it by a lot less than Hillary did,” said former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell. “It’s changed over time. The demographics have changed. Trump is popular in Luzerne. But Joe has got some fans in Luzerne.”
A historic coal region, Luzerne County was a longtime Democratic stronghold with a proud labor tradition. Residents are predominantly white and the vast majority do not have college degrees. The county supported President Barack Obama twice, but in recent years, has been moving sharply toward the Republican Party.
Much like Democrats have spent the last four years turning red seats in the state’s suburbs blue, Republicans have seized power in ancestrally Democratic areas in northeastern Pennsylvania over the same period. Local GOP leaders said Democrats are dreaming if they think that Luzerne County is in play this year.
“This is a blue-collar, hard working area, and they just want to vote for someone who’s going to give them jobs and someone who’s speaking their language,” said Justin Behrens, chair of the Luzerne County Republican Party. “And the Democratic Party is no longer speaking that language. They’ve left them. And now we have a president who is speaking that language.”
Trump is trailing Biden by 7 points in Pennsylvania, according to RealClearPolitics’ polling average. His allies in the state said that it is critical for him to run up the score in northeastern Pennsylvania to offset the large gains Biden is expected to make in the suburbs surrounding Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The Republican National Committee has boasted that it invested $ 350 million to upgrade its data program, which is expected to help Trump locate scores of first-time or irregular voters in such areas.