Luzerne County voters went for Trump in 2016. Can the Lincoln Project change their minds? | Tuesday Morning Coffee

(Screen Capture The Lincoln Project)

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

It’s a well-worn bit of political lore: President Donald Trump made history in 2016 when he eked out a 44,000-vote win in Pennsylvania, snapping a three-decade old Democratic winning streak in the Keystone State. And the commonwealth’s 20 electoral votes helped put Trump in the White House.

And no part of the state was as well parsed as Luzerne County in northeastern Pennsylvania, which went back-to-back for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. In fact, the county hadn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since President George H.W. Bush in 1988, as author Ben Bradlee Jr. noted in his book about the Luzerne County result, “The Forgotten.”

But Luzerne went big for Trump on election night. He defeated Hillary Clinton 57.9-38.6 percent, putting the lunch pail county squarely into his column. And in 2020, Democrats want Luzerne — and the rest of Pennsylvania — back.

Enter the Lincoln Project.

George Conway (Getty Images)

The deep-pocketed band of Never Trumpers, whose ranks include George Conway (the husband of White House adviser Kellyanne Conway) and veteran operatives Rick Wilson and Steve Schmidt, have been waging an unrelenting broadcast assault against Trump over the last few months, taking him to task for issues ranging from his management of the COVID-19 pandemic to his response to the anti-racism and police reform protests sparked by the death of George Floyd.

In one week in June, the Lincoln Project spent $33,260 on commercials that aired on stations in the Wilkes-Barre market, according to Federal Communication Commission records inspected by the Capital-Star (h/t to Staff Reporter Stephen Caruso for passing it along). The date range for the ads that aired on WNEP-TV and WOLF-56 covers June 22 through June 28, right as the New York Times reported that a Russian military agency was paying bounties to the Taliban for killing American soldiers in Afghanistan. One such ad on the Lincoln Project’s website, called “Bounty” coincides with the Pennsylvania ad buy.

The Lincoln Project could not immediately be reached for comment for this story.

Trump has undoubtedly paid a political price in Pennsylvania for his accumulated troubles. And it’s something that presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who hails from Scranton, has capitalized on during recent Keystone State campaign swings.

Fox News poll last week showed Biden leading Trump 50-39 percent among registered voters in the commonwealth. A Morning Consult poll out this morning showed the race closer, with Biden leading Trump 51-48 percent in Pennsylvania.

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden would like to win Pennsylvania in 2020 (Capital-Star file)

It’s impossible to say, of course, whether the Lincoln Project’s ad campaign in northeastern Pennsylvania paid direct dividends to Biden. But it certainly didn’t hurt. And at least one political observer says the Lincoln Project’s sharply crafted ads are hitting the mark.

“It’s an audience of one strategy,” Dan Fee, a Democratic consultant from Philadelphia said. “The ads are designed to provoke him. He’ll hear that they’re running in [northeastern Pennsylvania] an area he was told he must win, and overreact … the ads are good, he’s clearly aggrieved, and he can win [Pennsylvania] unless he holds [northeastern Pennsylvania]

Charlie Gerow, a Trump loyalist and GOP consultant from Harrisburg, doubts the ads will make much of an impact. But he did acknowledge the strategy behind it.

“The folks from the Lincoln Project were involved in anti-Trump activities four years ago, too. We all know how effective that was. However, their small buy in the Scranton/Wilkes Barre media market shows how vital they think Pennsylvania is in 2020. They’re right about that,” Gerow told the Capital-Star. ” … What they’re banking on is that their every move will get lots of free media coverage. Looks like that part is working for them. What won’t work is an attempt to pry Trump supporters away from him, especially in northeast Pennsylvania. That’s a failed strategy. If anything, it’s only galvanizing and growing the Trump base.”

We’ll see who was right on Election Day.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Members of the House Democratic Policy Committee heard directly Monday from workers across a variety of industries about their experiences during the pandemicStephen Caruso reports.

Planned Parenthood has launched a $1.25M campaign in Pennsylvania to help Joe Biden and down-ballot Democrats, your humble newsletter author reports.

Wondering why you’ve been seeing so many of those signs at your favorite retailer or grocery store warning of a national coin shortage? Cassie Miller explains why that’s happening.

The NAACPUrban League and other equal justice organizations will host a virtual Census Party on Thursday night, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Fletcher McClellan points out all the problems the POTUS missed while he was raging about Confederate monuments. And U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey needs to get behind the HEROES Act if he wants to help Pennsylvania college kids and their familiesAPSCUF President Jamie Martin writes.

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event in Dunmore, Pa., on Thursday, 7/9/20 (Screen Capture)

Elsewhere.
The Inquirer’s Jonathan Tamari 
delves into Joe Biden’s Pennsylvania poll numbers.
Westmoreland County’s controller has done ‘an about face’ on wearing a mask, the Tribune-Review reports.
If they can do it, central Pennsylvania parents are conflicted on whether they should send their kids back to schoolPennLive reports.
Two people were killed in a house fire in Allentown on Monday morning, the Morning Call reports.
The Pennsylvania Ethics Commission has fined a former elections official in Luzerne County for not disclosing her ties to a voting machine vendor when she recommended the county purchase a system from them in 2018, the Citizens-Voice reports.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:

Millions of dollars in Paycheck Protection payments went to Pennsylvania lobbyistsWHYY-FM reports. 
With some details still lacking, childcare centers at Penn State University will reopen in August, WPSU-FM reports.
The Erie County school board has approved a hybrid plan for students to return to school, GoErie reports.
Jill Biden, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and others will headline a virtual event today focused on reopening Pennsylvania schools, PoliticsPA reports.
Advocates nationwide are rallying to tear down highways whose construction stemmed from the demolition of Black neighborhoods, Stateline.org reports.

What Goes On.
A busy day of committee action — even without any votes immediately looming on the horizon.

In the House:
9:30 a.m, G50 Irvis: Human Services Committee
10 am., 140 MC: Majority Policy Committee
2 p.m., G50 Irvis: Democratic Policy Committee

In the Senate:
1 p.m., Bayard Ruston High School, West Chester Pa.:
 Majority Policy Committee

What Goes On.
7 a.m.:
 Breakfast for Sen. Dave Argall
5:30 p.m.: 
Reception for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman
Hit both events, and give at the max, and you’re out an eye-watering $51,000 today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out to dulcet-toned WITF-FM morning man Tim Lambert, who celebrates today. Congratulations and enjoy the day, sir.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s one from Kaytranada to get your Tuesday morning off to a groovy start. It’s ‘CHANCES.’

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
ESPN
 looks at what a coronavirus outbreak means for the Miami Marlins’ season — and the rest of the new MLB season.

And now you’re up to date.

John L. Micek
A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press