Last Saturday, during my weekly trip to the Broad Street Market, a fellow reporter stopped to tell me that President Donald Trump planned to host a 100-day-in-office celebration, campaign-style, at the state Farm Show Complex. Right here in Harrisburg. In a week.
And my reaction was, “Huh?”
It wasn’t just me.
Over the course of the coming days, several other people I spoke to had the same reaction: Why here? Why Harrisburg?
Eventually, the conventional wisdom seemed to be that Trump, wanting to bask in the glow of a fawning crowd, needed a large venue (check) in a swing state he won (check) that was close to D.C. (checkmate).
So, Harrisburg it was, a few minutes north from the White House as the plane flies.
However, if Trump’s people had done more checking, they may have decided to put a little more fuel into Air Force One and gone farther afield to, say, Bradford or Erie or Ohio. The city of Harrisburg, after all, went for Hillary Clinton by an overwhelming margin, and Dauphin County was one of just two counties between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to turn blue during the last presidential election.
It wasn’t always this way.
Harrisburg was reliably Republican until the 1970s and Dauphin County even longer. However, today, every political office in the city is held by a Democrat, the city so blue that not a single Republican is competing in the May 16 primary for mayor, City Council or school board. Therefore, the Democratic primary winners almost certainly will be victorious in November’s general election, barring a shock from an independent or write-in.
It turns out that Harrisburg is following national urban trends, just a decade or so later than everywhere else—as usual. In large, northern cities, Democrats displaced Republicans almost entirely by the late 1960s. The close-in, older suburbs followed, and Republicans, now largely a rural party, today have trouble getting elected even in the wealthy, sprawling suburbs and exurbs outside cities like New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. So, I personally wasn’t surprised that Clinton won Dauphin County by nearly 3 percentage points, bucking the larger trend in central Pennsylvania.
This is all a prolonged way of saying that Trump, seeking friendly ground, could have chosen more wisely.
Could this be why, 24 hours before he’s due to take the stage to great adulation, tickets are still available for his campaign rally? I find this very surprising, as Trump, though low in the polls, still has many passionate supporters and is coming here to celebrate a milestone as president (and poke a stick into the eye of the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington). I’m shocked he’s had trouble filling the New Holland Arena, as I expected the 10,000 or so tickets to be gone in minutes or, at most, hours.
However, I personally know more people planning to attend the counter-protest than the actual campaign rally, which, if nothing else, says something about the general mood within the city proper.
So, Mr. President, welcome to Harrisburg. I hope you’ll enjoy your motorcade ride in from the airport, and looking out the rear window of your limo, discover that we have a charming little city and hardly the “war zone” you once claimed it was.
But you also should know that Harrisburg isn’t really Trump country. It’s deep blue, a Democratic stronghold, an urban island and the seat of a county that also preferred your opponent. So, if you’re looking for blind adoration—and I’m pretty sure you are—I’m sorry to report that you’re holding your campaign event in the wrong place. Is it too late to book something outside Lancaster?
Lawrance Binda is editor-in-chief of TheBurg.