County Activists Starting Early in Pennsylvania for the 2020 Elections

By Tom Glancy.

There is growing evidence that the 2020 presidential election will be decided in Pennsylvania.  That presents a unique opportunity for Marylanders to help move our neighbor to the north into the Democratic column next year, thereby bringing an end to the Trump presidency.

The 2016 election is particularly instructive as to the importance of Pennsylvania to our electoral politics.  When most polls showed Hillary Clinton with a consistent lead over Donald Trump in the popular vote, the Trump campaign increasingly focused its attention on disaffected voters in a small number of Midwestern states.  Those efforts apparently included an August 2 meeting between then Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian national with suspected ties to Russian intelligence.  At that meeting, held at a private cigar club located a few blocks from Trump campaign headquarters, Manafort provided Kilimnik with internal polling data compiled by the Trump campaign concerning the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Three months later, Donald Trump became the President-Elect.  Although Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2.8 million, Trump carried the electoral college on the strength of his razor thin victories in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.  The biggest prize was Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes.  Trump won that state by less than 45,000 votes out of a total of more than 6.1 million cast, for a margin of victory of 0.72%.

Will history repeat itself in 2020?  It certainly could.  Some political forecasters have already suggested that the next Democratic nominee could win the popular vote by as much as five million, only to have Trump secure a second term by threading the needle once again in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin for an electoral college victory.

Therefore, it is critical that Democrats carry Pennsylvania next year.  In fact, no Democratic candidate has been elected president without winning that state since Harry Truman in 1948.  Although the political landscape certainly can change between now and election day 2020, most analysts now believe that Pennsylvania will be a key battleground state once again.  See, e.g., G. Terry Madison, Real Clear Politics, As Goes Pennsylvania, So Goes the 2020 Election, July 10, 2019; Tampa Bay Times, Florida Insider Poll:  Pennsylvania, not Florida, will be THE Swing State in 2020,  April 18, 2019; Pennsylvania Real Time News, PA is ground zero for 2020 presidential election – it’s showing already, May 20, 2019.


Pennsylvania’s central role in next year’s election presents both a challenge and an opportunity for Marylanders who are concerned about the path our country has been following for the last two and a half years.  There is no compelling case for ignoring the Keystone State in the year to come.  Maryland decidedly will not be a battleground state in next year’s presidential election.  There will also be no United States Senate races in Maryland, nor any state or local elections.  Moreover, none of the Maryland races for the House of Representatives are expected to be competitive.  Therefore, it is across the border in Pennsylvania that Marylanders can make the biggest impact.

For that reason, busloads of Marylanders will undoubtedly be heading to Pennsylvania next fall to register voters, knock on doors, and to volunteer for phone banks.  However, that may not be enough.  Presidential elections are frequently won or lost on the basis of groundwork that is laid six, twelve, and even eighteen months before election day.  This election cycle promises to be no different.

Baltimore County volunteers gather in Pennsylvania to canvass for the upcoming 2019 election.

Thus, the hard work required to turn Pennsylvania blue begins now, while it is in the midst of hundreds of local races that will be decided this November.  Those races include elections for county executives, mayors, town and county councils, judges, district attorneys, sheriffs, prothonotaries, and school board members.

The good news is that grassroots activists throughout Pennsylvania, as well as thousands of volunteers (many of whom had never worked on political campaigns before), are energized as never before.  Political action groups formed in the wake of the 2016 election, such as Turn PA Blue, Lancaster Stands Up, and York Stands Up, are working now to build the political infrastructure required to secure the 45,000 additional votes by which Secretary Clinton fell short in 2016.  They are enlisting volunteers, registering voters, conducting town halls, collecting critical voter data, and engaging infrequent and disaffected voters in multiple other ways, all in an effort to convince them that their voices matter and that they need to be heard at the ballot box both this year and next.

Those grassroot efforts cannot help but pay dividends next year.  The army of volunteers recruited now will return next year to knock on hundreds of thousands of doors and make tens of thousands of calls as part of the get out the vote efforts leading up to the 2020 election.  Voter lists and other data generated this year will identify voters likely to cast their votes for next year’s Democratic nominee.  Moreover, studies show that voting is a habit.  Quite simply, newly registered and infrequent voters who become inspired by dynamic local candidates this year are more likely to vote in next year’s presidential election.  As Wisconsin Democratic Chairman Ben Wickler explained with respect to similar efforts taking place in the battleground state of Wisconsin: “It’s like planting trees.  The earlier you start, the more you can grow.”  The Intercept, “How Democrats Plan to Win Wisconsin in 2020,” April 23, 2019.

Baltimore County volunteers convene in Pennsylvania to canvass for Sandra Harrison.

For that reason, many Marylanders are already working in support of local candidates in Pennsylvania.  One such Baltimore County based group that was formed this summer is Allies for PA 2020.  Between Labor Day and November 5 of this year, its members have been and will be canvassing, phone banking, and postcarding on behalf of local candidates in York and Lancaster Counties, as well as a Democratic slate of candidates in Delaware County.  They expect to return next year in even greater numbers to campaign in winnable Congressional and state races, thereby reversing the narrow majorities the Republicans now hold in the Pennsylvania Senate and House.  Nothing less than the power to redraw state and congressional districts following the completion of the 2020 census is at stake.

Two first-time candidates that Allies for PA 2020 support are Hobie Crystal, the Democratic candidate for Lancaster County District Attorney, and Sandra Harrison, who is running to become Prothonotary of York County, an office that serves as the functional equivalent of a clerk of civil court in Maryland.

Mr. Crystal is a career public defender and private defense attorney who came to local prominence last year through his successful pro bono representation of seven Lancaster activists who had been arrested while protesting the construction of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline. He is running on a progressive platform that advocates expanding treatment programs for nonviolent offenders as opposed to imprisoning them.  He recognizes from his decades of experience that many individuals who become caught up in the criminal justice system do so as a result of mental health and addiction problems.  These include victims of the opioid crisis that has been ravaging his state, for whom prison sentences are usually counterproductive.  Mr. Crystal also advocates ending the cash bail system for small offenses, particularly where the crime itself would not require a jail sentence even if a conviction is obtained.

Prothonotary candidate Sandra Harrison takes a selfie with Baltimore County volunteers Terri Biggins (left) and the author (right).

Sandra Harrison is a member of the Grandview Five, a.k.a. the “Sisters in the Fairway.”  They are a group of five African-American women who made national headlines last year when, while playing a round of golf at a local public course, were confronted twice by police who had been summoned by the former York County Commissioner.  Their purported offense was that they had been “golfing too slow.”

Four of the five, including Ms. Harrison, are now running for public office in York County.  If elected, she vows to increase accessibility to the county’s civil court system, especially for individuals who may be unable to afford an attorney.

If you would like to join in this effort to secure the 45,000 votes needed to bring Pennsylvania into the Democratic column next year, please contact the author at, or visit the private Facebook page, Allies for PA 2020, and ask to join.

The lessons of history are clear.  On election night 2000, the late political journalist Tim Russert famously took out his white eraser board at NBC Studios and wrote: “Florida, Florida, Florida.” He then held it up for NBC viewers to see, driving home the point that the candidate who won that state would become the next President of the United States.  Even though George Bush lost the national popular vote that year, he was eventually declared the winner of Florida by 537 votes, thereby becoming our 43rd President.  As the 2020 election approaches, and the battle cry becomes “Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania,” Marylanders to make certain that we have done all that we can to ensure that the Democratic nominee becomes the next President of the United States.

Colleen Ebacher (left), 2018 Democratic Party candidate for Baltimore County Council District 3, the author Tom Glancy (second from left), and team head out for a sunny day of canvassing in Pennsylvania.


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