"It's a state that has become solidly blue in presidential politics and now, in many ways, is a cornerstone of the Democratic electoral coalition, along with other big states—along with New York, Illinois, and California," said Chris Borick, a veteran Pennsylvania pollster at Muhlenberg College, adding that winning Pennsylvania is "almost a given for Democrats."
A February Quinnipiac poll found Clinton starting out strong in Pennsylvania with high favorability ratings and double-digit leads over all her would-be GOP challengers. Fifty-five percent of the state's voters viewed her favorably, compared with 38 percent who viewed her unfavorably—far better than any of the GOP hopefuls fared. In hypothetical head-to-head matchups, Clinton bested New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie by 11 points (50-39), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush by 15 points (50-35), Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky by 19 points (53-34), and both former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania by 20 points (54-34).
But Pennsylvania is a geographically and demographically diverse state—and how Clinton fares there among the state's electorate will be an indication of her ability to shape a winning national coalition. Victory for Democrats now largely hinges on the southeastern part of the state, where they need to draw a strong turnout in Philadelphia proper and to win a majority in the four suburban counties (Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, and Delaware) that surround it. At the same time, a significant chunk of the state—the southwestern part near Pittsburgh and the northeastern part surrounding Scranton—is full of white, working-class voters whom Democrats have struggled with in recent years.
Pennsylvania Democratic operatives and observers say Clinton has a track record of connecting better with the state's working-class electorate than Obama did in 2008 and 2012—but that African-American turnout drop-off is certainly a concern. In an interview with BuzzFeed, Obama said he didn't "think any president inherits a coalition," adding that "any candidate has to win over people based on what they stand for, what their message is, what their vision is for the future."
Back in the 2008 Democratic primary, when Clinton defeated Obama by just under 10 points, the former secretary of State did well among exactly those kinds of voters. Exit polls found Clinton ahead of Obama among Pennsylvania's white voters, low- and middle-income voters, and those without a college degree.
"Her father came from Scranton, so she's always had a strong base there in the same way that Joe Biden has," said Charlie Lyons, a veteran Democratic strategist in the state. "And I think she comes out of that area strong, and in the southwest I think she has the potential to come out perhaps even stronger than the president did."