- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2016

UPPER CHICHESTER, Pa. — Spearheading the ground operation for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, a state GOP field director Wednesday led a half-dozen volunteers knocking on doors in this blue-collar suburb of Philadelphia to drum up support and build a voter database for a get-out-the-vote push in November.

The reception at nearly every door was less than encouraging. Most people refused to talk with the canvassers but politely accepted the campaign literature, which, as likely as not, was destined for the trash bin.

It was the grunt work of political campaigns. In Pennsylvania, as in every state, the state party was doing the job because the Trump campaign has only a skeleton operation in place.

Party officials said the face-to-face voter contact, which was underway every day and in every part of the state, was key to putting Pennsylvania in the red column in a presidential election for the first time since 1988.

State GOP officials insisted they were tapping in to deeper support than is shown in the polls in Pennsylvania, which is the linchpin of Mr. Trump’s plan to follow a Rust Belt path to the White House.

The rosy outlook was not universally shared in Republican circles.

“There’s a fine line between optimism and delusion,” said Ryan Shafik, a Republican strategist in Pennsylvania. “I’ve seen other polls in different parts of the state where Trump is not performing at levels he should to be able to carry the state.”

Mr. Trump trailed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by 8 points, 48 percent to 40 percent, in a Monmouth University poll this week in Pennsylvania.

The four-way matchup included Libertarian nominee Garry Johnson at 6 percent and Green Party nominee Jill Stein at 1 percent. The results were consistent with most other recent surveys.

An Emerson College swing state poll, however, showed Mrs. Clinton ahead by just 3 points, 46 percent to 43 percent, in the Keystone State, which was the closest margin in any survey in the state since mid-June.

State party officials insisted the race was tightening.

They cited anecdotal evidence of a groundswell of support for Mr. Trump, including intense enthusiasm and huge attendance numbers at Trump rallies. People in townships such as Upper Chichester also regularly confess to canvassers their support for the New York billionaire that they keep secret from neighbors.

When a new batch of Trump yard signs arrived Monday in Cambria County near Pittsburgh, about 1,000 people showed up.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Pennsylvania GOP spokeswoman Megan Sweeney. “We’re pretty confident.”

There’s also the surge in Republican voter registration. With 185,000 new Republicans joining the rolls in 2016, the Democrats’ registration advantage was cut from about 1.1 million in 2012 to just over 900,000 in August.

More Democrats are switching to Republican than the other way. More than 87,000 Democrats turned Republican this year, compared to about 32,600 who went Republican to Democrat.

The Republican National Committee has been overhauling the ground operation in battleground states since 2012. The plan was to have the infrastructure in place for the nominee. However, Mr. Tump’s self-funded and unconventional primary campaign produced a nominee that needed more help than the typical candidate.

As in other states, the Trump campaign is outgunned by Mrs. Clinton with field offices and paid staff in Pennsylvania. He’s got two offices; Mrs. Clinton has 36.

Mr. Trump also is far behind in TV advertising, outspent about 10:1 by Team Clinton.

Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion in Allentown, Pennsylvania, said the state party ground game would be a “great boost” to Mr. Trump, but didn’t see any particular reason to believe the polls underestimated his support.

He said the same was said about 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who lost the state to President Obama 52 percent to 46.8 percent.

“In 2012 we regularly heard that Romney’s support in the state was being underestimated and that the race in [Pennsylvania] was much closer than the polls showed. In the end the polls ended up being quite accurate,” said Mr. Borick. “Thus I’m very cautious when I hear lines like we are getting great feedback on the ground. What else would we expect the party to say?”

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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