| November 03, 2020 12:00 AM
PITTSBURGH — Somewhere within Pennsylvania’s 46,000 square miles lies the answer of who will be president for the next four years: President Trump, or Joe Biden? The Keystone State is home to 67 counties, each with distinctive economies, cultures, populations, and traditions, all of which affect their voting patterns.
Elected officials across the state have cautioned voters and the media that the winner of Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes almost certainly won’t be known on Tuesday night, especially because they won’t start counting mail ballots until the morning of Election Day. An overwhelming majority of votes are expected to be counted by Friday.
As county-by-county numbers roll in, here are factors that will help you gauge which way this race might be heading:
Allegheny County — Keep an eye on this blue county, home to Pittsburgh. Trump will never win it, but if he exceeds 39% support there, he might be having a good night.
Washington, Fayette, Westmoreland, Greene, and Cambria Counties — This cluster of western Pennsylvania counties turned out in a big way for Trump in 2016. He needs not only to match his 2016 success but also outperform those numbers by 3 percentage points to have a good night. Fayette, Washington, and Cambria had a Democratic majority in voter registrations in 2016, but Trump won them with at least 60% of the vote.
Northampton County — This northeast county is a solid bellwether. It voted for Trump in 2016. The campaign’s grassroots operation in the county is epic, but it has to outperform 2016 by 1.5 percentage points to help Trump over the finish line. In 2016, Trump and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey lost neighboring Lehigh County. If Trump is holding even with Biden in Lehigh, the election might be swinging his way.
Bucks County — Trump barely lost this county in 2016. Suburban votes here could be a boost for Joe Biden.
Luzerne and Lackawanna Counties — The turnout for Trump in Luzerne was insane in 2016. It needs to be equally insane for Trump to snag a victory. Neighboring Lackawanna went for Clinton in 2016. Trump needs to get more voters there than the 48,000 he got in 2016. He won’t win the county. He just needs to minimize the damage.
Tioga, Bradford, Lycoming, and Clinton Counties — Trump needs to increase turnout in these areas by 2.5%. He also needs to hold neighboring Wyoming and Susquehanna, but their cultural connection to Lackawanna could be a drag.
Erie County — This is the bellwether. Trump barely won there in 2016, with 48% to Clinton’s 46.4%. He is struggling to match that and needs to break even there if he is going to win the state.
Biden will win Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties easily. Former Republican counties Chester and Delaware are now in the Democrat camp. If Biden is exceeding Barack Obama’s 2008 numbers out of that cluster of counties, it will be hard for Trump to make up the difference in rural areas.
If Biden’s citywide vote share in Philadelphia drops below 460,000, as Hillary Clinton’s did in 2016, then Trump likely wins Pennsylvania again. But if Biden gets 500,000 votes from Philadelphia, then he probably wins the state.