Trump flipped 3 Pennsylvania counties that went to Obama in 2012
For nearly four decades, suburban Philadelphia's four "collar" counties served as Pennsylvania's bellwether — every presidential candidate who carried the state since 1980 won the largely affluent area that includes Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties.
That wasn't the case this year. Democrat Hillary Clinton won the counties by a combined 179,243 votes, but lost to Donald Trump, who became the first Republican presidential candidate to carry Pennsylvania since 1988.
Trump's appeal in three blue-collar counties where manufacturing jobs have disappeared by the thousands and Democrats outnumber Republicans helps explain how the billionaire businessman pulled off Tuesday's stunning victory.
"We are kind of the poster child for the type of community that found Trump to be appealing. Erie County has been hit incredibly hard by this economic transition we've been undergoing for decades," said Joseph Morris, director of Mercyhurst University's Center for Applied Politics in Erie.
Erie, Luzerne and Northampton counties are traditional Democratic strongholds that went for President Obama in 2012, but Trump flipped them in his favor, according to unofficial results. They were the only counties to turn on Democrats in such a way.
A Republican hasn't won Erie County since 1984, said county Republican Chairman Verel Salmon, a former school superintendent.
Obama won there by 16 percentage points in 2012, but Trump scored a 2-point win Tuesday, records show. Clinton under-performed Obama by 10.6 percentage points, while Trump outperformed Mitt Romney, the GOP nominee in 2012, by 7.5 points.
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Statewide, Trump improved on Romney's margins of victory in 58 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties, while Clinton performed worse than Obama in 65 counties, records show. In totl, Trump collected 206,764 more votes than Romney; Clinton got 177,031 fewer votes than Obama did.
Trump defeated Clinton by about 74,000 votes in Pennsylvania, unofficial tallies show.
"Working men and women are just totally frustrated and mad at the government. They just aren't feeling the wonderful situation that people are describing on the Democratic side," Salmon said.
One of the area's top employers, locomotive manufacturer GE Transportation, laid off 1,500 of its 4,500 employees this year. West 12th Street, once a bustling manufacturing corridor, is lined with buildings that are vacant or soon will be. The city's population recently dipped below 100,000 for the first time since the 1920s.
Trump drew more than 10,000 people to a rally there in August.
"His agenda will certainly benefit Erie, I have no doubt about it," Salmon said.
Northeast Pennsylvania is dotted with old industrial towns, from towns just north of Scranton in Lackawanna County to Wilkes-Barre in Luzerne County.
Clinton's campaign failed to connect with voters in Duryea Borough, a former coal-mining and silk mill town of nearly 5,000 people along the Susquehanna River in Luzerne County. It's been a reliably Democratic area since the Reagan years, said Mayor Keith Moss, a Democrat.
This time around, voters wanted change so they voted for Trump, he said.
"They didn't want a politician in there," Moss said.
"A lot of traditional, blue-collar, old union-type voters were Trump voters this time around," said Michael Decosmo, chair of the Luzerne County Democratic Committee. "A lot of the old-time industrial areas just seemed to track to Trump."
Republicans flipped Luzerne County, where the voting trend in presidential elections mirrored Pennsylvania's — the last time a Republican presidential nominee carried the county was 1988. Republicans reversed the trend Tuesday as Trump carried the county by nearly 26,000 votes over Clinton. Trump topped Romney's total by about 16,000 votes while Clinton under-performed Obama's total by about 15,000 votes.
Decosmo said there was some ticket-splitting by Democrats in his county, where they supported Democrats locally and for state row offices but threw support to Trump and Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey.
Neighboring Lackawanna County, anchored by long-time Democratic bastion Scranton, remained blue this election — but not by much.
Clinton, who claims roots to the Scranton area through her late father, received roughly 10,000 fewer votes than Obama did in 2012. Conversely, Trump received about 13,000 votes more than Romney had.
In 2012, Lackawanna gave Obama his second-best percentage margin of victory next to Philadelphia. But Trump's strong push to appeal to white, working-class voters in the economically depressed area helped to chip away at the Democrats' hold on the region.
Northampton County, which borders New Jersey just northeast of Allentown, was another upset for Trump that reflected the failure to keep traditional supporters in the Democrats' column, said Matt Munsey, county Democratic chair.
"We unfortunately lost people who should have been in our coalition," he said.
It wasn't just a Pennsylvania problem, said Thomas Baldino, a political science professor at Luzerne County's Wilkes University.
"It's a problem for the Democratic Party beyond Clinton. You could see that not just in Pennsylvania, but in Wisconsin and Michigan," Baldino said.
Tom Fontaine and Kevin Zwick are Tribune-Review staff writers.
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