The Battleground State That Republicans Must Win to Take Back the White House

Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

For decades, Ohio and Florida have been crucial battleground states — particularly for Republican candidates. The path to the White House for a Republican has generally run through these states, thanks to the sizable number of Electoral College votes. They weren’t just battleground states but bellwethers, too.

But they’re not anymore. Both states have shifted increasingly Republican over the years. Ron DeSantis won a decisive reelection in Florida last November, but longtime U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is now in serious trouble as recent polling shows all of his potential GOP challengers are polling within the margin of error.

In other words, Ohio and Florida have shifted significantly to the right, and they are no longer purple battleground states; they’re red states. While this is great news for the GOP, the fact is that changes in other states in favor of Democrats mean that the road to the White House has been rerouted. Longtime reliably red states Arizona and Georgia have become more purple than red, complicating things for the GOP. A Republican must win both of those states, along with Wisconsin, to win the election, but if just one of those is lost, the election will come down to the state of Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania is the perpetually “winnable” but rarely won state for the GOP. Trump won it in 2016, but before that, the last time the state went red was in 1988 when George H.W. Bush won. The importance of Pennsylvania cannot be overstated, as it may be emerging as the premier battleground bellwether state.

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On paper, Pennsylvania should be a winnable state for the GOP, thanks to a large number of rural white working-class voters in the state. The problem is that these voters will support a Democrat who appeals to their values.

And if that’s the case, the GOP has its work cut out for it. It’s a state where early voting and ballot harvesting insulated John Fetterman from his disastrous debate performance before the 2022 midterm elections, even though poll numbers had shown that Dr. Oz was ahead. But what really doesn’t help is that Democrat Gov. Josh Shapiro is politically popular.

“Shapiro’s approval rating is an enviable 57%, according to a new Quinnipiac poll, with his political standing boosted by the speedy rebuilding of the I-95 corridor badly damaged by a June trucking accident,” Axios explains. “Shapiro is winning the approval of about one-third of Trump voters, even as the poll finds Trump is statistically tied with President Biden in a 2024 matchup. Biden’s approval rating in the statewide survey is a lowly 39%.”

What does this mean? Axios argues that “If Democrats can hold even a fraction of their blue-collar Trump-Fetterman-Shapiro voters into 2024, it would bode well for Biden’s chances of winning a second term. And if Democrats can re-create that coalition in Pennsylvania, it would also bode well for winning Wisconsin and Michigan — the blue wall of states where a sweep would all but guarantee a presidential victory.”

In other words, the road to the White House in 2024 runs through Pennsylvania.


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