Where Things Stand: Trump’s 2022 Election Challenges Will Begin In Philly

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ROBSTOWN, TEXAS - OCTOBER 22: Former U.S President Donald Trump speaks at a 'Save America' rally on October 22, 2022 in Robstown, Texas. The former president, alongside other Republican nominees and leaders held a ra... ROBSTOWN, TEXAS - OCTOBER 22: Former U.S President Donald Trump speaks at a 'Save America' rally on October 22, 2022 in Robstown, Texas. The former president, alongside other Republican nominees and leaders held a rally where they energized supporters and voters ahead of the midterm election. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images) MORE LESS

Donald Trump has been holding meetings with allies, lawyers and MAGA Republicans in recent months to prepare for how exactly to contest the results of the 2022 election, Rolling Stone reported this weekend. In case it was ever a question — he plans to.

The team has reportedly been discussing legal and rhetorical avenues Trump and his allies might take to challenge the results in certain races that don’t go their way. The team is also discussing how aggressive to be in races where the winner is not known on the night of the election.

That brings us to Pennsylvania.

Trump is reportedly laser focused on the state, in part because of the role the Senate race there plays in determining control of Congress for the second half of Biden’s term. According to Rolling Stone, the MAGA plan in that state is relatively simple: If Dr. Oz doesn’t beat Democrat John Fetterman badly enough that Fetterman quickly concedes the race, or if things are particularly close on Election Night, then Trump and his allies will begin yelling about the “election integrity” of polling places and ballot counts in the Philadelphia area.

The likelihood of a Trump-instigated legal battle over the Senate results in Pennsylvania seems high. Polling indicates the race is relatively close, with Fetterman polling just a few points ahead of Oz. But Trump also sees personal ground to be gained by raising hell over results in Pennsylvania, and specifically questioning the practices at polling places in the Democratic stronghold that is Philadelphia, a city in which voters of color make up a majority. Trump has not let go of his belief that he was cheated out of winning Pennsylvania in 2020 due to some sort of non-existent, amorphous malpractice/voter fraud happening in Philly. Per Rolling Stone, challenges to the results in the commonwealth in this midterms cycle are simply a “dress rehearsal for Trump 2024”:

In recent weeks, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, the ex-president has asked several advisers and at least one of his attorneys what national and Pennsylvania Republicans are doing to prevent Democrats from — in his words — “steal[ing] it in Philadelphia [like] they did last time.”

Trump’s focus on Pennsylvania, however, seems to be more about his own political future than about party allegiance or fealty to his celebrity endorsee. As he hosts meetings on possible 2022 election challenges, he’s also been laying the groundwork for a run in 2024 — where Pennsylvania again promises to be critical and competitive. As one source who has spoken to Trump several times about a potential post-election-day legal battle over the Oz-Fetterman race puts it, Trump views a potential midterm challenge as a “dress rehearsal for Trump 2024.”

The Trump team’s focus on Pennsylvania is hardly surprising. There are a number of factors currently in play that make Pennsylvania the logical place for Trump to aim the 2022 iteration of his Big Lie ire. During these meetings with allies and lawyers, Trump has reportedly been pressing those present for ideas on how to limit mail-in voting in Pennsylvania, a practice more commonly used by Democrats. According to state data, 71 percent of mail-in ballot applications were submitted by Democratic voters.

Trump’s focus on Pennsylvania is likely just as strategic as it is grievance-based. As Bloomberg reminds in this piece last week, the way that Pennsylvania counts votes makes it a bit more vulnerable to this Trumpian breed of election contesting than other states that see a high volume of mail-in-voting use. In Pennsylvania, election workers cannot start counting mail-in ballots until the morning of Election Day, oftentimes meaning the results of an election are not known until days after polls close. In 2020, President Biden wasn’t declared the winner of the state until four days after the election, giving Trump and his supporters plenty of time to question the results, especially because mail-in-ballot use swings so heavily Democratic in the state.

With vote-by-mail largely favored by Democratic voters after Trump called for voters to cast ballots in person on Election Day 2020, that will likely lead to another “red mirage” in which results from votes cast on Election Day — when more Republicans vote — become public first and are slowly whittled down as mail ballots favoring Democrats are counted. Trump contested his loss in the state, falsely claiming that the late-counted Democratic votes were fraudulent.

Outside of this issue, there is also some relevant drama unfolding over the legality of counting undated mail-in-ballots that support the Rolling Stone’s report on Trump’s fixation with the Philly area, which my colleague Kate Riga breaks down well here.

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