PHILADELPHIA (AP) – When President Donald Trump told the world that “bad things are happening in Philadelphia,” it was in part a blunt assessment of his party’s struggles in the country’s sixth most populous city.
For decades, Philadelphia has been the cornerstone of Democratic victories on the battlefield – producing democratic margins so massive that winning nationwide has been a long shot for most Republican presidential candidates.
But it is a long shot that Trump pulled out in 2016 and is trying to repeat again. His debate stage contempt for the city̵
This fight has involved court challenges and State House fighting for mail-in voting and voting monitoring, efforts that Democrats characterize as oppression of voters.
And that came when Trump openly declared without quoting any evidence that the only way he can lose Pennsylvania to former Vice President Joe Biden is through a massive fraud constructed by Democrats in the city of 1.6 million.
But Trump cannot change the basic political math of the state: one in eight registered voters lives in Philadelphia, a city that continues to deliver ever-increasing democratic margins, routinely gives one in five votes to Democratic presidential candidates, and encourages a left-wing orientation in the populated suburbs around it.
“Trump is right, ‘bad things are happening in Philadelphia,’ especially for him,” said Philadelphia Democratic president Bob Brady. “And bad things will happen to him in Philadelphia on election day.”
Recent polls show Trump and Biden in a competitive race in Pennsylvania or Biden ahead with a figure in a state Trump won by just over 44,000 votes – less than a percentage point – in 2016.
Trump’s victory was the first by a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, and it shocked the Pennsylvania Democrats to the core.
In Philadelphia, Biden’s campaign places great emphasis on rejecting black and Latino voters, bringing former President Barack Obama to campaign there. Trump’s campaign appeals to its black and Latino voters, hoping for even better results with its white working-class base.
Brady predicted that Philadelphia would carry the rest of Pennsylvania and produce a larger margin of victory for Biden than the 475,000 it produced for Hillary Clinton in 2016. That gap was slightly smaller than the historic margins Obama had in 2008 and 2012.
The Biden campaign has several “voter activation” centers around the city, not to mention Biden’s campaign headquarters.
The Trump campaign, meanwhile, opened offices in bright black west Philadelphia and in bright white northeast Philadelphia.
Thanks to a year-old state law that greatly expanded mail-in voting, people now have weeks to vote, and turnout is fast at newly opened polling stations around the city, where voters can fill out and cast ballots.
It gives hope to the Philadelphia Democrats after the city’s predominantly black chambers did not show up as strongly in 2016 for Clinton as they did for Obama, including some that delivered 10% fewer votes.
“The line went around the block,” the rep said. Chris Rabb, whose district is 70% black, about a newly opened election office there. “It’s not something I’ve seen since 2008, and I’ve been working on the polls for 16 years now.”
In a city that is 42% black, the belief that Trump has accelerated a racist wave is widespread.
Dexter Ayres, a lifelong Democrat, said he had already voted for Biden in hopes of improving the way black people are treated in America.
Some of his friends are skeptical that voting will change anything. Ayres, who is black, admitted that it makes him wonder, “Wow, why did I vote?”
“But then I look at it, ‘Well, maybe my voice will make a difference,'” Ayres said. “I just pray and leave it in God’s hands.”
Latoya Ratcliff, a Democrat, sat on her porch in western Philadelphia this week and said she would vote for Biden and see more enthusiasm in her neighborhood to vote Trump out than in 2016 to vote for Hillary Clinton.
The crucial problem for Ratcliff, who is black, is racism.
“They understand a little bit more about getting out and getting that voice out,” Ratcliff, 39, said.
In northeastern Philadelphia, Trump saw unexpectedly strong support from an area with a reputation for being home to union members, police officers and firefighters. Republicans say they now expect even stronger support for Trump there.
The “Back the Blue” sign and flag with thin blue line are everywhere in some neighborhoods, the city police union approved Trump again, and the city firefighters and paramedic union also supported him and broke with his international association’s affiliation with Biden.
After leaving his hometown in northeast Philadelphia to shop recently, lifelong Democrat Joe Dowling said he would vote for Trump after supporting Clinton four years ago. The question that changed his mind, he said, has been the violence in the wake of George Floyd’s death and a setback against police.
“It’s out of control,” said Dowling, 60, who is white. “There is no reason why no one respects the police.”
Democrats acknowledge slipping in northeast Philadelphia in 2016 – the fluctuation was about 11,000 voters from 2012.
Still, the area backfired on Democrats in 2018, and U.S. Representative Brendan Boyle, who represents it in Congress, said he expects Biden to do better there than Clinton.
He recalled a paper-splitting incident, his office last fall, in which hundreds attended the parking lot of the plumber’s union office in northeast Philadelphia.
“I was surprised by the animosity towards Trump, where people unsolicited said, ‘Gotta get him out of there, he’s a disaster,'” said Boyle, a Democrat. ”
Stephen Lomas, a long-registered Republican living between two Trump supporters in northeast Philadelphia, said he would vote for Biden.
Lomas, 84, who is white, said Trump and members of his administration “break down our belief in the system. … They’s out-and-out villains. They are almost traitors to our Constitution. ”
Besides mail-in voting, another thing that is different in this presidential election is a network of allied liberal issues and community groups in Philadelphia, say organizers with a long-term focus on reaching out to people who are unlikely to vote in predominantly blacks. and Latino neighborhoods.
Briheem Douglas, vice president of Unite Here Local 274, an association of casino, food service and hotel workers who support Biden, said he canars harder than ever.
Douglas, 36, tells a personal story to everyone he meets who does not plan to vote: He takes care of the infant of his 21-year-old niece, Brianna, who died in September from coronavirus.
“So I’m laser-focused on covering more than in 2016,” Douglas said.
Levy reported from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/timelywriter and Mike Catalini at www.twitter.com/mikecatalini
The AP’s advance voting guide gives you facts about voting early, by email or absent from each state: https://interactives.ap.org/advance-voting-2020