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Clinton has strong advantage in Pennsylvania

Trump allies say there's enthusiasm surrounding the GOP nominee

Philadelphia CNN  — 

On paper, Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes look like a slam-dunk for Hillary Clinton

So why isn’t anyone here acting like it?

“Predictions would be foolhardy” says Terry Madonna, presidential historian and longtime Pennsylvania pollster at Franklin and Marshall College. “Yes, Secretary Clinton has a sizable lead now, but this year almost anything can happen.”

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Clinton has several strengths here. Her statewide campaign operation is enormous and growing. The state has 800,000 more active Democratic voters than Republicans. She got a huge bounce from the Democratic convention held in Philadelphia. And the last time a Republican presidential candidate won Pennsylvania, Kokomo by the Beach Boys was topping the charts – that was in 1988 by the way.

A Quinnipiac poll of likely voters released Tuesday found Clinton leading Trump 52% to 42% in Pennsylvania. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll also released Tuesday found Clinton leading Trump by 11 points.

But David Urban, senior adviser to the Trump Campaign for Pennsylvania, says there is one thing Clinton doesn’t have – enthusiasm.

“When Hillary is here she gets maybe 1,000 people at her rally” says Urban. “When Trump is here, we’re talking 10,000.”

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Working in Trump’s favor, Pennsylvania voters are traditionally working class and not particularly ideological. Barack Obama handily beat John McCain in 2008 but won by a much smaller margin against Mitt Romney in 2012.

Republicans here also point out that the party performs quite well at the state level. After all, the GOP controls both houses of the state legislature and 13 of the state’s 18 congressmen are Republicans.

“We’re part of the so-called Rust Belt theory,” says Madonna. “Win the white blue-collar workers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin and you got an electoral college mix that could get Donald Trump to 270.”

Consequently, the Clinton campaign appears to be leaving little to chance. It views Pennsylvania as a firewall; stop Trump here and one forecloses a menu of options for him getting to 270. This week alone, the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party opened eight offices statewide. It’s even going after conservative votes. Soon it will have offices in 12 conservative counties won by Romney in 2012.

Clinton’s Pennsylvania headquarters is a hive of activity, located high up in a gleaming Philadelphia office tower. To date, she has three dozen offices scattered across the state and soon will have four dozen.

By contrast, the Trump campaign is only just this week opening its first three major Pennsylvania offices, in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

“I think the Clinton campaign is a little bloated,” says Urban. “We don’t need 500 people in Pennsylvania right now. When needed, we’ll be able to match them toe-to-toe.”

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The Clinton campaign, as of the convention in late July, had 300 people on the ground in Pennsylvania staffing its offices across the state. In addition to Lebanon, Clinton has also opened an office in York, which is a Republican leaning county.

The Trump campaign says it will have around a dozen staffers by the end of this week and the RNC says it has 80 staffers that will focus on the campaign.

Urban says the RNC has sunk time and money into Pennsylvania and would be a much bigger part of the ground game no matter who the candidate turned out to be.

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Trump’s Pennsylvania woes also look bleak when it comes to political advertising.

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Since early June, the Clinton camp spent just over $4 million across the state on ads through this week, according to Kantar Media/CMAG that tracks such spending. In the same period the Trump campaign spent $0.

Despite all of it, according to pollster Madonna, the key ingredient this election cycle is turnout.

In Pennsylvania, that means performing well in the suburban counties surrounding Philadelphia, where about a third of all votes in the state exist.

“As Willie Sutton used to say when he was asked why he used to rob banks, ‘cause that’s where the money is,’” says Madonna. “Where do you go in politics? Where the votes are.”

The Clinton campaign is targeting a traditional Democratic constituency: women, minorities, students and the elderly. But it is also pushing into conservative territory looking for votes among college educated Republicans or swing voters turned off by Trump.

Republicans say their best shot at winning Pennsylvania is finding voters upset with the establishment and the status quo and getting them to realize Trump represents change.

“Neither of the candidates are particularly well liked so it’s going to come down to policy,” says Andy Reilly, Delaware County GOP Chairman. “When it comes down to policy and Trump’s policy, he will win. He just has to show some discipline. It’s not unexpected what he’s done because he’s not a politician, he’s a businessman who thinks common sense first. Hopefully he’ll get his sea legs and bring the Republican Party together. We have the ground game to do it.”

CNN’s Yon Pomrenze, Greg Wallace and Terence Burlij contributed to this report