President Donald Trump has been building a commanding fund-raising lead nationally for the 2020 presidential campaign. That trend is mirrored in rural Pennsylvania, where the president received more in campaign contributions than the four leading Democrats combined.
Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee raised $125 million in the third quarter of the year, a presidential fundraising record, according to the Associated Press The Trump campaign said that it has raised more than $308 million in 2019.
“The power of incumbency is a major, major advantage,” said Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College. Trump “is following suit. He’s finding lots of success fundraising.”
That includes enjoying an advantage in rural Pennsylvania -- such as the counties of Cambria, Crawford, Lawrence, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, Somerset and Union -- where there may not be tremendous amounts of potential campaign donations, but there has been strong support for the president, Borick said. Trump’s popularity in working class areas of Pennsylvania was a key to his 2016 victory and will likely be instrumental in determining whether Trump wins a second term, Borick said.
The Democratic nomination may be sealed up by the time the Pennsylvania primary is held on April 28, but Pennsylvania will be one of the most important battleground states in the general election, he said. Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,000 votes in 2016.
The president and most of the Democratic candidates have already visited the state repeatedly, including a stop Wednesday by Trump in Pittsburgh.
While Trump is enjoying a dominating advantage in fund-raising now, that could change once the Democratic field gets less crowded, Borick said.
“For a lot of people, they may not have a horse (to bet on) yet,” he said.
In the third quarter of fundraising, which ended Sept. 30, Trump’s campaign received $29,075 donations from 149 donors in Cambria, Crawford, Lawrence, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, Somerset and Union.
Among the Democratic challengers, Bernie Sanders had the most donors from those counties, 35. They contributed $5,755 to his campaign. Elizabeth Warren got $3,873 from those counties, and Pete Buttigieg got $3,333. Former Vice President Joe Biden received $1,636 in donations from those nine counties.
Nationally, Sanders raised $25.3 million in the third quarter, the most of any 2020 Democratic candidate. Warren raised $24.6 million. Buttigieg raised $19.1 million in the third quarter, while Biden’s campaign brought in $15.7 million.
Tim Chase of Grove City was one the donors to the campaign of Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., who has emerged as a surprising contender in the crowded field of potential Democratic challengers.
Chase donated seven times to the Buttigieg campaign in the third quarter, totaling $130, FEC records show. For the year, he’s contributed $390 to Buttigieg’s campaign.
“He has a clear and clearly expressed perspective” on the issues, Chase said.
Chase, a homebuilder, said he’s a registered independent but he considers himself to be a liberal. Chase said he read Buttigieg’s book, “The Shortest Way Home,” and was impressed by it.
Chase said he’s not bothered by Buttigieg’s age, 37, because he thinks Buttigieg has demonstrated that he’s as thoughtful as any other candidate.
Trump supporters interviewed for this story said that they’ve stuck by the president because they feel he’s delivered on the promises he made during the campaign.
Wayne Brouse of Selinsgrove said he’d been a Democrat but he became a Trump supporter as soon as the president launched his campaign.
“I was a Democrat until the day he came down the escalator” in Trump Tower to announce his candidacy, Brouse said. “I said to myself, ‘That guy knows what he’s talking about.’”
Brouse said he welcomes Trump’s efforts to increase the enforcement of the immigration laws and the president’s critics aren’t giving Trump enough credit for the health of the economy.
“People look at their 401ks and they think, ‘I love Trump for this,’” Brouse said. Even so, “They want him out,” he said.
Brouse donated $42.70 to the Trump campaign in the third quarter, according to the FEC documents.
David Sassano, of Ebensburg, agreed that Trump’s not getting appropriate credit for the country’s economic recovery.
“Every day there’s work,” he said. Sassano, a truck driver, donated $53.12 directly to the Trump campaign, FEC documents show, and $338 to the Republican National Committee.
“He did everything he promised,” Sassano said. He added that while the president has been criticized for abruptly pulling troops out of Syria, Sassano welcomed the move.
“We don’t need another Vietnam,” he said.
Despite the current landscape of the fundraising battle, Democrats are optimistic about their party’s chances in Pennsylvania, said Sinceré Harris, executive director of the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania.
“The people of Pennsylvania are no longer fooled by Trump's broken promises. His economic policies have been disastrous for Pennsylvania's farmers and middle class families,” she said. “We've lost over 8,000 manufacturing jobs right here in PA. People are waking up to these facts.”
Vonne Andring, senior advisor to the state Republican Party, said that Democrats have been repeatedly targeting the president because they recognize how difficult winning in 2020 would be.
“We are very confident the President will win again — more than ever given the field of Democrat candidates, and given Democrats' endless attempts to bring down a president they know they can’t beat on the ballot,” Andring said. They’re scared, and they should be.”