Trump wields Obamacare as political weapon in Pennsylvania

KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa. — Donald Trump is hoping concerns about Obamacare can cure political problems in the key state of Pennsylvania.

Amid polls that show him trailing Democrat Hillary Clinton statewide, Trump chose the voter-rich suburbs of Philadelphia for a speech Tuesday in which he pledged to call a special session of Congress to repeal President Obama's landmark health care law, saying it has led to "higher prices, fewer choices, and lower quality."

"Obamacare has to be replaced ... it is a catastrophe," Trump said in a hotel ballroom near Valley Forge, the site of George Washington's winter encampment during the early part of the Revolutionary War.

The GOP presidential nominee pitched long-standing Republican health care ideas, including new rules allowing the sale of insurance across state lines and the establishment of a state block grant system for Medicaid.

Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, who spoke before Trump, said the law Obama signed in 2010 amounts to a "government takeover" of the health care system and that Clinton wants to follow suit. He also faulted the former first lady over the health care plan she pushed in the 1990s.

A parade of Republican members of Congress — many of them physicians — preceded Trump and Pence to the stage to trumpet their protests of the Affordable Care Act.

In addition to higher premiums and deductibles, Trump and his backers said Obamacare is slowing economic growth and discouraging businesses from hiring more people.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Democrats said Trump's health care ideas will benefit insurance companies at the expense of consumers and that the New York businessman is unqualified for the presidency in any case.

"Pennsylvanians deserve better than a presidential candidate who boasts about the different ways he has defrauded honest businesses, abused women, and scammed the tax system to get ahead," said Katie McGinty, the state's Democratic Senate candidate.

Trump hit Pennsylvania the same day that a new Franklin & Marshall College poll gave Clinton an 11-point lead in the state. Other polls reflect a closer race; the RealClearPolitics website average of recent polls shows the Democratic nominee 6 percentage points ahead in the Keystone State.

Terry Madonna, the polling director at Franklin & Marshall, said Trump is struggling with three key groups: residents in the Philadelphia suburbs (the area Trump visited Tuesday), women and college-educated voters.

Both candidates are unpopular in Pennsylvania, Madonna said, but Trump is more so.

"He's got a huge uphill battle here," he said.

Trump and aides tout polling data that show momentum in Pennsylvania and across the nation. They also noted that most public surveys were conducted before news broke that the FBI is reviewing new information regarding Clinton's use of private email.

The Trump campaign has long targeted Pennsylvania — and its 20 electoral votes — as part of its plan to assemble the 270 or more electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

During his visits to the state — and again during Tuesday's remarks billed as a health care speech — Trump has highlighted the issue of trade, arguing that bad agreements with other countries have shipped the state's industrial jobs to other countries.

Only a week before Election Day, some analysts are skeptical that the issue of Obamacare will revive Trump's sagging poll numbers.

Christopher Nicholas, a veteran Republican consultant based in Harrisburg, Pa., said voters' feelings about President Obama's health care plan are probably "baked into the cake" at this point, and the issue may not change many minds this late in the election.

In general, Nicholas questioned Trump's demographic appeal, saying that "there are not enough angry white people in Pennsylvania" to put him over the top.

Varad Mehta, an independent election analyst based in Pennsylvania, said the Republican nominee's problem can be summed up in two words: "Donald Trump."

"You start there and end there," Mehta said, adding that Trump's persona "is the biggest obstacle he has to winning here."

Mehta — who is  affiliated with the Decision Desk HQ, an independent website that tabulates and analyzes election returns — said there is a ray of hope that Trump can change minds with his final arguments in the waning days.

"Pennsylvania doesn't have early voting," Mehta said. "Everybody has to vote on Election Day."

 

USA TODAY


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