Do or Die for Democrats in the Rust Belt

How Pennsylvania has Become Battleground

Democrats were left shell shocked in 2016 when not just one, but three separate Democratic strongholds casted their votes for Donald Trump. For many, it was unfathomable; for others, it was the obvious result of Democrats choosing to highlight identity politics over economic issues. And in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — where the automotive and coal industries see year-over-year decline — economic issues reign supreme. Of course, voters in these states supported the candidate who told them exactly what they wanted to hear — in four words, no less. “Make America great again”. Two years later, though, the economic status quo has remained the same — an economy that works for the few, instead of the many — and voters have started to take notice. And if Pennsylvania is any indication, voters are planning on sending another message to Washington, this time Democratic.

With six of its eighteen seats labelled as competitive this election, Pennsylvania has become a testing ground for Democrats hoping to retake the House in November. Their messaging has been effective thus far. They emphasize the massively unpopular Republican tax bill, which has by and large benefited the corporate elite, much to the harm of the working class — and the budget deficit. This last point has proven especially effective, as Republicans have signaled their desire to limit medicaid and medicare in an attempt to shore up the 1.4 trillion dollars the GOP tax bill will add to the decifict. Combined with Trump’s massively unpopular trade policies, Democrats have been going on the offensive. And it has some Republicans rattled.

Carlos Gutierrez, the former Commerce secretary under President George W. Bush, warns that some issues, like tariffs, will only compound as we approach November. “We’re already hearing complaints [about tariffs] now from companies, so by the time we get to the midterms, you’re going to be hearing governors, mayors, Congress complaining about jobs, about cost increases, about problems.” Gutierrez isn’t wrong. We’re seeing trade policy decisions loom large in small towns like Farrell, Pennsylvania — where steel mills are still some of the largest employers. “We need tariffs,” Dan Moore, a steelworker in Farrell, told NPR. “But when it starts to impact the company where you work … you’re thinking, well wait a minute, timeout!” A trade war for Pennsylvania, and the country, could mean less jobs and more expensive products. In fact, average car prices possibly going up by $6,000, according to the WTO. That’s a disastrous consequence for any policy, and one that Democrats have been quick to hammer home in TV ads across the country.

So far, Democrats’ strategy is paying off, both in steel country and nationally. In Pennsylvania’s 7th District, Democrat Susan Wild is just edging out her Republican rival, Morty Nothstein — this despite Nothstein receiving the unbridled support of sitting GOP congressman, Charlie Dent. Similarly, in the Pennsylvania’s 1st, Democrat and philanthropist Scott Wallace is neck and neck with sitting GOP congressman, Brian Fitzpatrick. But in both cases, Wild and Wallace have outraised and outspent their GOP counterparts, and Republicans are being stretched thin just to play defense. Worse for Republicans, there are signs that their defense nationally is crumbling. Ted Cruz and his supporters have already lit the beacon calling for help, indicating that the Texas senator’s seat is in real jeopardy from Democratic congressman, Beto O’Rourke. If traditionally conservative bastions like Texas are no longer safe for the GOP, then Republicans have every right to fear — and liberals every reason to celebrate — a blue wave this November.