Will Joe Biden be able to pick up the pieces and get the US economy back on track? Photo: AFP

A new round of riots in Philadelphia overnight and Joe Biden’s opposition to fracking could swing Pennsylvania to Donald Trump, opening a path for a Trump victory in the Electoral College after next week’s presidential election.

The Democratic candidate’s lead in the US presidential polls has narrowed to 7.6% from an October 12 maximum of 10.2%, according to the RealClearPolitics average. He is almost certain to win the popular vote, as did Hillary Clinton in 2016, but a Trump victory in just two states – Pennsylvania and Florida – could give the president the majority of state electors.

Trump remains the election’s underdog, but the vote could go either way. A close election that requires recounts of tens of millions of mailed-in ballots might be contested for weeks, a nightmare scenario for American politics as well as for capital markets.

Law and order has been Trump’s top theme. Middle-class American voters watched nervously as police departments backed away from confronting rioting and looting in dozens of American cities. Thirty Philadelphia police officers suffered injuries the night of October 26 after rioters took to the streets following the police shooting of a black man armed with a knife.

Most of the police injuries came from bricks and other missiles hurled at them, suggesting that police were under orders from Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney not to defend themselves. A female police officer was in hospital with a broken leg after a protester driving a pickup truck collided with her. 

Police video of the shooting shows the dead man brandishing a knife at officers, who demand that he drop the weapon before firing. Mayor Kenney declared, “I have watched the video of this tragic incident and it presents difficult questions that must be answered.”

For many Pennsylvania voters, the question rather is why the police did not take stronger action to restore order as well as protect themselves. Two-thirds of American voters have told pollsters that public order is a crucial issue for them, although they are roughly split over which candidate would do the best job.

Another Biden vulnerability is fracking, Pennsylvania’s biggest blue-collar employer after the Marcellus Shale expansion starting in the early 2010s. Biden has embraced a watered-down version of the “Green New Deal” proposed by the left wing of the Democratic Party, proposing to stop fracking on federal lands and phase out fossil fuels over 30 years.

In a Pennsylvania rally on October 26, Trump said, “Biden confirmed his plan to abolish the entire US oil industry. That means no fracking, no jobs, no energy for Pennsylvania families.” The risk to Biden is that voters may ignore his artfully-balanced compromise between the environmentalist hardcore of his party and traditional blue-collar Democratic constituencies who swung to Trump in 2016.

Trump can’t afford to lose Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes if he is to top the 270 votes required to win. Florida, Ohio, Georgia, and North Carolina are too close to call. Trump’s big problem lies in two Midwestern states that he won in 2016, namely Michigan, where the polls show a 9-point Biden lead, and Wisconsin, with a 5.5-point Biden lead.

Yet Trump could squeak through the Electoral College without Michigan and Wisconsin if he wins the other closely-contested states.

Until this week, Pennsylvania seemed like a lost cause for the incumbent. If that shifts due to the overnight events in Philadelphia and due to Biden’s nebulous position on fracking, Trump could confound the pollsters once again and win a second term.