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Pennsylvania primary flashes warning signs for Trump and Biden

Published 04/23/2024, 06:07 AM
Updated 04/24/2024, 01:31 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Combination picture showing former U.S. President Donald Trump attending the Trump Organization civil fraud trial, in New York State Supreme Court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., November 6, 2023 and U.S. President Joe Biden p
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By Jarrett Renshaw and Stephanie Kelly

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) -Voting in the battleground state of Pennsylvania on Tuesday highlighted weaknesses for U.S. President Joe Biden and Republican challenger Donald Trump, as Biden struggled with voter turnout and a protest movement and Trump was hit by strong turnout from loyalists to former Republican candidate Nikki Haley.

Biden, a Democrat, and Trump both easily won their separate party primaries, according to state election data. But the contests highlighted tepid voter enthusiasm in a campaign marked by both candidates' low approval ratings.

Pennsylvania, with 19 Electoral College votes toward the 270 needed to win, is a top prize and a toss-up in the 2024 presidential election featuring a Biden-Trump rematch.

Biden received 929,798 votes, or 93.1% of the Democratic total, according to unofficial state election data. Dean Phillips, a Democratic congressman who dropped out of the race, got 68,523 votes, or 6.9%, state data shows. Some 50,000 Democrats wrote in candidates, most of which are expected to be "uncommitted" votes signaling anger at Biden's support of Israel's attacks on Gaza.

Trump received 789,155 votes, or 83.4% of the Republican total, state data showed. Haley, who dropped out the race, got 156,993, or 16.6%, a significant number for someone who is no longer a challenger.

Haley, a former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador, remained on the Pennsylvania ballot after dropping out of the race in March. Primary voting in the state is confined to registered Republicans, locking out the independent voters who favored her.

Her substantive results show that some chunk of Republicans continues to be unhappy with Trump, who is on trial on 34 criminal counts in New York.

Haley did particularly well in the counties of Montgomery, Delaware and Chester, suburbs of Philadelphia, where she received about one out of every four votes, state election data showed.

"That's an area that's highly educated, more moderate in its politics, and crucial for winning Pennsylvania," said Christopher Borick, professor of political science at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. "We saw that in 2020, if you wanted to pick one spot in Pennsylvania that ended Trump's chance here, it was the Philadelphia suburbs."

In 2020, Biden won Pennsylvania by less than 1.5%, or roughly 80,000 votes. Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton there by fewer than 45,000 votes in 2016.

UNCOMMITTED, LOW TURNOUT

Muslim and Arab-American voters mounted an "Abandon Biden" campaign in Pennsylvania to protest the president's handling of the Gaza crisis. He faced similar efforts in battleground states like Arizona, Wisconsin and North Carolina, with the biggest turnout a 13% uncommitted vote in Michigan's primary.

There were over 50,000 write-in votes on Tuesday, Borick noted, almost all of which were projected to be write-in "uncommitted" votes as part of the protest. Official results, however, were not available because the votes have to be entered manually.

Organizers in Pennsylvania were aiming to get 40,000 write-in "uncommitted" votes.

Democrat turnout in crucial Philadelphia county was also weak. On Tuesday Biden got 131,298 votes there, compared to 239,492 votes in the 2020 primaries. The smaller Allegheny county had better turnout than Philadelphia, posting 144,184 votes for Biden on Tuesday.

"Historically Philadelphia has been the electoral engine that drives Democrats to win Pennsylvania," Borick said. In 2020, Biden received 81.4% of the vote, or 603,790 votes, there.

Biden clinched the Democratic nomination and Trump secured the Republican nod in early March, and neither faces serious opposition on the primary ballot.

Biden and Trump have visited the state in recent weeks and focused on the general election rather than Tuesday's vote.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Combination picture showing former U.S. President Donald Trump attending the Trump Organization civil fraud trial, in New York State Supreme Court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., November 6, 2023 and U.S. President Joe Biden participating in a meeting with Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 1, 2024. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid and Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo/File Photo

Biden was born and spent part of his childhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and has for decades been a fixture in the politics of neighboring Delaware.

Incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger, Dave McCormick (NYSE:MKC), were both unopposed in their primaries. The race, which opinion polls show as close, could help decide whether Democrats retain control of the Senate.

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