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LEW GILLILAND: Trump’s visit was about the symbolism (opinion)

The 2020 presidential campaign came to Alabama on Saturday when President Trump visited Tuscaloosa for the Alabama-LSU football game.

Sure, Trump is likely to win both Alabama and Louisiana in a landslide next year regardless of how much he travels to either state between now and Election Day 2020, but making an appearance at an SEC football game drawing national attention gave the New York businessman who has managed to connect with blue-collar, working class voters in the South and elsewhere a prime chance to reinforce the idea that he is one of them, that despite his life of privilege, he understands their values, their concerns and the issues that are important to them. It was all about the symbolism. 

True, not everyone who attended the game or everyone who roots for Alabama and LSU is a Trump supporter, but the president had to be heartened by the strong reception he received when his presence was announced inside the stadium.

And make no mistake, keeping his base excited will be critical to Trump’s chances for re-election next year, when the ballgame figures to be all about turnout. 

The Democratic Party, which has refused to accept the results of the 2016 election and challenged Trump’s legitimacy from the start by attempting to validate virtually any conspiracy theory that comes along, can be counted on to do everything it can to whip its voters into a frenzy, either by scaring them to death (“Trump and his supporters are all racists”) or promises of new, shiny free stuff (free health care, free college, government-guaranteed job, etc.).

And you can expect Democrats to make major efforts at winning both traditional swing states such as Florida and Ohio (along with places like Georgia, where the game often comes down to conservative rural areas vs. liberal Atlanta when the votes are counted), along with places the president won by slim margins three years ago.

Meanwhile, the Trump re-election campaign, according to TIME magazine, is taking aim at “blue” states it thinks it can flip, places where the campaign believes Trump’s agenda will play, like Minnesota, which he lost to Hillary Clinton by a slim margin in 2016, or even long-shot states like New Mexico.

Internal campaign data has convinced Trump’s political advisors they can energize a slice of the state’s Hispanic voters to vote for Trump in 2020 by emphasizing Trump’s handling of the economy, border security and his trade confrontation with China,” TIME wrote about the campaign’s thoughts on New Mexico.

Can Trump flip a state or two? Maybe. If 2016 taught us anything, it’s not to underestimate the man. My hunch, however, is that to get re-elected, he will need to win two out of three in a group that includes Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, those aforementioned places he won by slim margins three years ago.

Trump defeated Clinton in all three by maximizing, or coming close to maximizing, voter turnout in areas of those states that were sympathetic to his cause, and he’s going to have to repeat, if not, better that performance next year. Basically, he’s going to have to squeeze out every vote possible.

In Wisconsin, according to Politico, that means maximizing turnout in what’s known as the “WOW” counties in suburban Milwaukee — Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington. The challenge for Trump, according to Politico, is that many of the voters in those suburbs like the president’s policies but are often uncomfortable with what comes out his mouth, or more specifically, his Twitter account. 

In Pennsylvania, Trump will need to draw big numbers from counties surrounding Pittsburgh — Beaver, Westmoreland, Washington, Greene — that have grown progressively more Republican, according to the New York Post

As noted in this space last week, Trump has plenty of good things he can point to when talking about the issues, beginning with a strong economy. But the “X” factor in all this is going to be who the Democrats nominate. If they insist on going with a far lefty, they may be playing right into the president’s hands. 

“Go too far left on policy positions like banning fracking or Medicare for All or taking people’s guns away anywhere outside of the counties of Philadelphia, and they (Democrats) might repeat the same mistakes of 2016,” said G. Terry Madonna, political-science professor at Franklin and Marshall College, in the Post’s story about Pennsylvania.

Still, no matter how liberal the opposing candidate, it may not matter if Trump can’t keep his base fired up and eager to vote. And to do that, the president has got to continually remind those voters he identifies with them. That’s what Saturday’s visit to Tuscaloosa was all about.

Lew Gilliland is managing editor of The Daily Home. Reach him a