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Donald Trump can win Pennsylvania. Here's why

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump essentially had his legion of Pennsylvania supporters at "I'm building a wall."

An anti-immigration stance is a powerful thing in a state that's been inundated with new residents from across the border. The composition of Pennsylvania's population has been shifting, with foreign-born residents now making up double the percentage of Keystone State citizens in 2015 than they did 25 years prior. (Immigrants still only make up 6.4 percent of the population.)

For some Pennsylvanians, the changes have been hard to bear. They complain of streets that aren't as safe as they used to be, and jobs that are harder to come by. They blame a perceived influx of immigrants, particularly Hispanics, for their woes.

Pennsylvania's jobless rate was 5.6 percent in June, with only 13 other states being worse off in terms of unemployment. So with a sagging economy and a rising crime rate, they look for reasons why they've been left behind.

Anti-immigration politicians are popular in Pennsylvania. One key congressional race saw a powerful Democrat unseated by an upstart Republican based almost solely on the issue. In the areas away from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, in towns like Shenandoah and Scranton and Pittston, immigration is a major fact of life and key political issue, approaching the importance of jobs and terrorism.

Enter Donald Trump.

The New York developer and reality show star's first significant campaign promise was to build a wall on the country's southern border and make Mexico pay for it. Despite the rather obvious difficulties in bringing such a project to fruition, especially with someone else footing the bill, people bought in. They think Trump will build a wall, that it will keep out illegal immigrants, and that Mexico will, inexplicably, pony up for a project that could cost up to $25 billion.

Immigration helped Trump win the Republican primary, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and it's helping to keep him competitive in the battleground state against his Democratic opponent.

No doubt, it won't be enough to win a general election. He's going to need to convince voters there that he'll bring back the jobs they've lost, make them safe from terrorism, and rein in a runaway government.

'Start over at 49'

Donald Trump
Carlo Allegri | Reuters
Donald Trump

The most recent polls say Trump is losing Pennsylvania. Separate measures by Suffolk University and NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist put Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton up by 9 percentage points.

But I think the polls are wrong.

How do I know? Because I live in Pennsylvania — have for all my life, even though I work in the New York/New Jersey metro area. I spent the first 18 years of my journalism career covering Pennsylvania politics.

I know what lots of Pennsylvanians want. They want Trump, and not even so much because of who he is personally but rather what he represents — that elusive "other" who will be more responsive to their wants, needs and, yes, fears.

""I had to start over at 49 years old because, basically, there was nothing (here). Everything left," Lackawanna County reisdent Tony Catanzaro said at a Trump rally Wednesday in Scranton, according to an account in the Scranton Times-Tribune.

Catanzaro lost his job at Cinram, a local manufacturing plant that produced compact and digital discs that closed after sales declined and it lost a contract with Warner Brothers. "Donald Trump says a lot of things ... but jobs are key. With Trump I think we have a chance," he said.

With stories like this playing out across the state, Pennsylvania is definitely in play. Trump demonstrated the truth of that notion by campaigning in Scranton on Wednesday, and has an appearance scheduled for Monday.

Clinton, meanwhile, received a high-profile boost from Pittsburgh native and billionaire investor Mark Cuban on Saturday.

When it comes down to votes, Clinton's going to carry Philadelphia big, maybe enough so to give her the win. She'll probably lose Pittsburgh, but manage to keep it relatively close.

But where Clinton's going to get crushed is in an area known by the state's political wags as "the T," or the central and northern tier areas where people are especially fed up. It's an area dominated by flyover country-types, Reagan Democrats, proud union members who only occasionally vote Republican but will this year.

"He speaks for the people who don't have a voice. The people who have been forgotten throughout the years," William Malater, who was at the Scranton rally, told the Times-Tribune.

A great case study of what Clinton is up against comes in my home area of northeastern Pennsylvania.

Four years ago, the mayor of my hometown, Hazleton, won a stunning victory. Republican Lou Barletta, after a couple tries, finally knocked off Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski, the influential Democrat and senior Financial Services Committee member who served in the House for 26 years.

While mayor of a town where 1 in 3 residents is Hispanic, Barletta proposed and passed a law that would have punished landlords who rented to undocumented immigrants and businesses who hired them. The law was quickly overturned in the court system (feds enforce immigration policy, not local governments), but Barletta became a national hero for the anti-illegals crowd. He appeared regularly on conservative talk shows and, ultimately, catapulting himself to a congressional seat.

Barletta has also been with Trump on the campaign trail. (Since Barletta's 2012 election win Harrisburg politicians gerrymandered the once heavily Democratic district into GOP hands, so he likely will be around for a while.)

Immigration isn't the most important thing on state voters' minds — most polls place it somewhere in the middle, behind economy and Obamacare and ahead of taxes —,but it could be a swing issue that changes the race.

Luzerne County is a blue area beset by a burgeoning drug trade and diminishing economic opportunities. If it goes red, that would be huge. Thousands have turned out to Trump's rallies. If they show up at the polls, look out.

G. Terry Madonna, who heads the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Millersville University, said the immigration issue hasn't polled particularly strong in areas he's surveyed. Madonna, the most influential political mind in the state, said voters are more concerned about who will create more jobs and stamp out radical Islamic terror.

But he's also suspicious of some of the recent polling, saying that results probably have been skewed by momentum from respective conventions. In the end, he said, Pennsylvania is going to be tighter than the most recent surveys showed, citing specifically a Quinnipiac poll showing Trump leading by 2 points.

"Do I think that Trump has a meaningful chance to win the state? Yeah. Do I think it's likely? No," Madonna said. "But I don't think you can rule out a reasonable chance [for Trump] to do that."

I haven't taken any polls, which I don't trust generally. That said, I will be looking at the CPPA one closely. I can tell you I've talked to a lot of people from Pennsylvania, and the ratio of Trump to Clinton supporters is off the charts. Democrat and Republican alike, the man's got considerable support in the Keystone State.

Call it a hunch, call it an educated guess, or call it bald-faced punditry in a year when we've had too much of it. But Trump can win Pennsylvania. And if Pennsylvania is in play, so is the election.