(Sen. Kamala Harris flanked by Larry Ceisler and his wife, Dr. Lina Hartocollis)
Q: Polls currently show Biden with a steady lead in Pennsylvania. You’ve said you don’t always believe in the polls when it comes to Trump. Why not?
Larry Ceisler: There are a lot of people out there who don’t want to admit they’re going to support Trump. They live in communities where that’s not a popular stance. Many people have a healthy mistrust of being called on the phone and asked who they’ll vote for. I know. A reporter called me from a national publication looking for suburban women who voted Republican in the past but can’t support Trump now. I called people I knew, and no one wanted to have their names out there. They’re afraid of the reaction.
Q: If you were running Trump’s campaign in Pennsylvania, what would be your strategy?
Larry Ceisler: Number one, you’ve got to get your people out. Number two, scare people in terms of what Trump says a Biden presidency would mean – civil unrest, attacks on Pennsylvania energy and fracking. The things Trump talked about when he campaigned four years ago have not come about. There’s been no magic resurgence of coal, for example. So they have to get their people out and try to depress the Democratic turnout.
Q: And what if you were running Biden’s campaign?
Larry Ceisler: Try to get those swing voters back, and absolutely work to get a better turnout from your base than Hillary got. Biden won’t win many of those counties in northeast and northwest Pennsylvania, but he needs to do incrementally better than she did four years ago. The difference was 44,000 votes, so a few hundred here and there, even in Republican counties, makes a difference.
Q: What’s your current take on the voting-by-mail issue?
Larry Ceisler: With the COVID pandemic still out there, the most important thing right now is to assure people that if they vote by mail it will be counted, and if they go to polls it will be safe. I think voting by mail is going to be fine. There are no real concerns about fraud or about the post office picking up ballots. But there are things the legislature needs to do to make it better and more streamlined. It’s about the speed and the efficiency of the counts.
Q: The addition of Kamala Harris to the Democratic ticket seemed to bring initial enthusiasm. Do you think she will make a difference?
Larry Ceisler: I always thought she would help from a standpoint of, okay, he’s an older guy and here’s somebody who’s younger and has the ability to step in if something happens. I think she helps with fact that Black female voters are the most loyal supporters of the Democratic Party, so having her on the ticket is a positive signal to those loyal women. And it’s important to have someone who’s already been vetted by being on the big stage, even though she didn’t run a very good campaign herself. But in the end, it’s not about Pence or Harris. It’s about the people at the top.
Q: We’re having this conversation during the Democratic National Convention, and they’ve made an effort to show the party as a big tent – with John Kasich and Bernie Sanders speaking on opening night. Will that attempt to show wide backing for Biden have an impact?
Larry Ceisler: My belief is that people already know who they’re for and against – especially this year. But reinforcement is always good. Enthusiasm is important, because at the end of the day, this election is about who shows up and where they show up. Bernie is way more in for Biden than he was for Hillary in 2016, which will resonate with his voters. And Kasich gives reinforcement for those Republicans who don’t like Trump, although I don’t think really need him to persuade them.
Q: During the convention, three Pennsylvania lawmakers got featured among 17 “rising stars” of the party. What does that mean for them?
Larry Ceisler: It’s great for them. Conor Lamb and Brendan Boyle are two very hard-working young legislators. They tend to be moderate and have tremendous futures. Malcolm Kenyatta, the state representative from Philly, gets rewarded because he’s a progressive legislator, and while most of his allies were for Warren or Sanders, he was with Joe Biden from day one. It shows he’s got political acumen. I could see him going into a Biden administration – the same with the other two. It’s wonderful that of 17 people recognized, three are from Pennsylvania.
Q: People who love politics love it as theater. The convention is currently a remote affair. How much do people like you miss that theater?
Larry Ceisler: I think you miss the spectacle of the crowd. You miss the spontaneity, although there really hasn’t been much of that since about 1980, when a Reagan-Ford ticket seemed possible for a day at the Republican Convention. Not many people alive have seen a convention with surprises. The conventions are now packaged TV shows that rarely go off script.
Q: Some Democrats are saying aloud that they can take the Pennsylvania House and Senate. Is that realistic?
Larry Ceisler: It depends on the top of ticket. The state House is certainly more in play than the Senate from what I see and hear. The Senate is a little more of a reach – everything would have to go right for the Democrats.
Q: Let’s talk about congressional races for a moment. Where do you see the best races?
Larry Ceisler: Number one is (Republican) Scott Perry’s district in the middle of the state. He’s being challenged by Eugene DePasquale, the current auditor general, and that looks like a close race. The other races to watch are those involving the seats now held by (Bucks County Republican) Brian Fitzpatrick and (Democrats) Matt Cartwright from up around Scranton and Susan Wild, whose district is the Lehigh Valley. All of those races may hinge on the top of the ticket because of turnout.
Larry Ceisler is the founder and Principal of Ceisler Media and Issue Advocacy.