Trump Turning Ds into Rs

Party switchers in Pennsylvania, elsewhere have Republicans bullish on 2016 race

All across the politically important state of Pennsylvania, voters are turning in their Democratic voter registration cards and getting new ones that say, “Republican.”

Since the beginning of the year, 65,376 Democrats in the Keystone State have switched to Republican.

Since the beginning of the year, in fact, 65,376 Democrats in the Keystone State have switched to Republican. At the same time, 20,918 Republicans went in the other direction, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State. That results in a net gain of 44,458 voters for the GOP.

The number is small compared to 8.2 million registered voters in the state, but it is another sign of an enthusiasm gap that has been on display throughout the primaries. Turnout in Republican primaries and caucuses has reached all-time highs in many states, while Democratic turnout has been off of the record-setting pace of 2008.

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The trend in Pennsylvania has raised hopes among Republican officials that they might be able to end the Democrats’ six-election winning streak in presidential contests in the state. Pennsylvania GOP spokeswoman Megan Sweeney attributed this year’s party switchers to a “groundswell of support” for Donald Trump.

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“You’re just seeing a complete switch of the seesaw,” she said. “Our phone was ringing off the hook for weeks before the primary.”

Sweeney noted that Trump won every Pennsylvania county on April 26 at a time when his nomination was still in doubt. She predicted the enthusiasm will carry to November.

“It was just a complete domination,” she said. “We’ve heard from a lot of people who aren’t usually involved in politics. It’s historic.”

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Pennsylvania is not the only potentially competitive state where Republicans have gained ground. Since the beginning of the year, the Republican ranks have swelled by 5 percent in Florida, nearly twice the pace of Democrats. It is a continuation of a years-long trend. Republican Party registration has grown by 8.2 percent since 2010, while the Democratic rolls are up by just a half-percent.

The Democratic voter registration edge is now barely more than 62,000 in the Sunshine State, which Trump almost certainly has to win in order to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

North Carolina, which backed President Obama in 2008 and then Republican Mitt Romney four years ago, has added registered Republicans at triple the rate of Democrats since the beginning of the year. Since January 2010, Democratic registration actually has shrunk by 114,886 voters, while GOP registration is up by almost 4 percent.

In Arizona, a state where a growing Hispanic population has some Democrats thinking they can put it in play in November, Democratic registration has outpaced the Republicans this year but is down 4.3 percent since 2000, while GOP registration is up by 3.1 percent over the same period.

In Pennsylvania, also, the Republican trend predates Trump. Since December 2008, Republicans have gained 112,453 more voters switching from Democrat than they have lost to their rivals.

“This is a couple of cycles now,” said Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College.

But Madonna downplayed the significance of the party-switchers. “We’re still talking about a relatively small percentage,” he said. “Yeah, it’s been a trend, but it’s not likely to shake out to a win in one way or another.”

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Democrats still outnumber Republicans in Pennsylvania by almost a million voters, and the Democratic primary outdrew Republicans by 86,952 voters. In addition, and despite confident talk every four years about winning the state, Pennsylvania has produced remarkably stable results for the most part — a Democratic victory in the range of about 5 percentage points. That margin, by the way, is roughly Clinton’s edge in the Real Clear Politics polling average in the Keystone State.

Madonna said Trump’s key probably rests with maximizing turnout among blue-collar voters in the western part of the state and holding down his likely deficit in Philadelphia and its suburbs.

“He does stand a chance to win the old mining and middle towns in our state, places were iron and steel and coal were king,” he said.

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Clinton’s challenges do not just show up in primary returns and voter registration statistics. They are apparent in head-to-head polls pitting her against Trump. A Washington Post/ABC News poll earlier this month indicated that a fifth of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ supporters would vote for Trump over her. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey taken around the same time suggested that 44 percent of Sanders’ supporters would not vote for Clinton in the fall.

Many analysts believe that such opposition will soften considerably once Clinton formally locks up the nomination and, presumably, wins the Vermont senator’s endorsement. But Harlan Hill, a Democratic strategist who has vowed to back Trump over Clinton, said he believes the New York developer will retain a large chunk of Sanders supporters.

“It’s totally different [than previous elections]. I believe it,” he said. “I talk to people all the time. There are members of Sanders’ campaign — not just his supporters, but even members of the Sanders campaign — who are part of this never-Hillary bandwagon.”

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