For less-raucous Biden, election hope rests on Pennsylvania

Michael Mathes
·4-min read

The difference was as stark as any moment during the tempestuous 2020 presidential campaign. While Donald Trump barnstormed five states 48 hours before the election, Covid-conscious Joe Biden homed in on one valuable patch of political turf: battleground Pennsylvania.

Instead of also jetting to Michigan or Wisconsin, swing states he most likely must flip to defeat Trump, Biden spent Sunday campaigning in his birth state, pleading for some voter love in the City of Brotherly Love to help pull him over the finish line.

"Philadelphia, two more days!" the 77-year-old former vice president boomed to a few hundred people weathering the chill and drizzle as they sat in -- or on -- their cars at a drive-in rally.

"We need every single one of you to get out and vote on Tuesday," he implored. "In two days we can put an end to a presidency that has fanned the flames of hate all across this nation."

Biden narrowly leads Trump in Pennsylvania, according to the RealClearPolitics polls average showing him 4.3 percentage points up.

But his style Sunday was less of a momentum-seizing challenger about to topple the most controversial US leader in a century, and more of a cautious contender going up against a loud-mouthed Goliath.

At a surprise stop in Philadelphia, a few dozen people gathered in a parking lot to hear a masked Biden speak -- sometimes in tones so hushed people could barely make out what he was saying.

The neighborhood scene, at dusk during a break in daylong rain, was picturesque, but felt more like a campaign stop by a young wannabe stumping in Iowa six months before the first nomination contest.

Journalists were kept out of one Biden stop altogether when he addressed a union in nearby Chester, making those in the small pool of reporters following him wonder why he would not want every second of possible exposure.

- Safety over 'bravado' -

The race is boiling down to this eastern state of nearly 13 million residents that Trump won by just 44,000 votes four years ago.

A full-on Sunday focus on Philadelphia apparently is not enough.

Biden is scheduled to hold at least three more major events Monday in Pennsylvania, including an Election Night eve drive-in event in Pittsburgh, featuring pop star Lady Gaga.

The Republican incumbent spent all day Saturday campaigning in Pennsylvania, holding far more audacious and rowdy rallies than Biden. 

They featured thousands of supporters with "Make America Great Again" caps. Social distancing and face masks? Not so much. 

"Nobody's ever seen anything like this," Trump said to cheers.

Biden's events are a world apart, the poster children of health-conscious campaigning during the Covid-19 era. 

An aide wipes down the microphone and lecturn just before Biden speaks. Unlike Trump, the 77-year-old Democrat wears a mask whenever he is not on stage.

Voters at Biden's events didn't appear to mind the differences.

"I care more about the votes than the optics, and I think the votes are on our side," Birgit Hottenrott, a 52-year-old mother, told AFP at Biden's drive-in rally.

"The optics may be more visible from him," she said of Trump, but "everybody's safety is what's so much more important than ego and bravado."

Biden is trying to squeeze every last vote particularly out of Philadelphia's black community, a constituency that traditionally supports Democrats but which fell short of expectations in 2016 with Hillary Clinton.

He brought his campaign to Sharon Baptist Church where some 50 cars were gathered in the parking lot to hear and honk for Biden.

Bishop Millicent Hunter, a black pastor in Philadelphia, said that while she was confident of Biden taking Pennsylvania, she was on a mission "to encourage people that this is not a time to become complacent."

When pressed on whether she worried about a 2016 repeat, in which Clinton led in polls in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin only to lose those states and the election, she hesitated.

"I think we've seen that movie, it was a tragedy," the 60-something pastor said. "I just still think this is going to work for Joe Biden."

- 'He's a disgrace' -

Biden laid into Trump for having the "gall" to suggest doctors and hospitals were "falsely inflating" Covid-19 death numbers in order to boost profits.

"It's more than offensive, it's a disgrace. He's a disgrace," he said, as supporters honked in agreement.

Trump presents himself as "a tough guy, a macho man," Biden sneered. "Gimme a break."

Each candidate has brought contrasting styles to Pennsylvania, and Joseph Gidjunis, a photographer and Biden volunteer from Philadelphia, made clear he understood the stakes in his state. 

"Everyone is doing their closing messages here because the Keystone State could be the key to their victory," the 38-year-old said.

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