X Close

Joe Biden, the invisible candidate In Pennsylvania all the enthusiasm, positive and negative, revolves around President Trump

Biden waits to speak at a drive-in campaign rally in Dallas, Pennsylvania. Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Biden waits to speak at a drive-in campaign rally in Dallas, Pennsylvania. Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images


October 30, 2020   6 mins

If one was a resident of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania and had been waiting desperately to attend a live, in-person campaign event featuring Joe Biden last Saturday it finally seemed that the magical moment had arrived. The previous evening, press releases had gone out announcing Joe’s triumphant visit for a special “drive-in” rally, accompanied by none other than reputed musical personality Jon Bon Jovi. The release didn’t specify where exactly in the county this was occurring, or what it would take to gain admittance — which was a bit curious.

First, you had to rely on the local newspaper to tell you where the event was even located. The report was based on sources who “spoke on the condition of anonymity” — as though the venue of a public presidential campaign rally was some sort of state secret. In trying to gain entry to the event that afternoon, I encountered a police officer who informed me that “pre-registration” had been required to attend, even though there was no publicly-available information as to how to “pre-register.” Finally, a Biden volunteer spilled the beans: the event was really open only to “party officials and donors.”

Now, this can supposedly be attributed to the Biden campaign’s hyper-cautious approach to the Covid pandemic. And there’s probably some validity — both political and epidemiological — to that rationale. But it’s still peculiar, and one might say disturbing, that public campaign events during the final phase of a presidential election have been effectively privatised under the auspices of virus control, as though that were the only option to ensure social distancing. If the price of mitigating virus spread is giving in-the-know elites another tier of special access to engage in the electoral process, that’s quite a bleak (and self-interested) tradeoff.

And there are more cynical interpretations of the Biden campaign’s tack here, because it’s an open question as to whether the general public would be interested in showing up to his events in the first place. Donald Trump, for his part, is still holding rip-roaring rallies several times a day like nothing’s changed since 2016. In Luzerne County that Saturday afternoon, Trump supporters far outnumbered Biden’s as they gathered en masse on the outskirts of Biden’s own event, with the goal — successfully accomplished — of shouting loudly at Biden’s motorcade as it entered the high school where the “drive in” event was taking place. They also drowned out the small cohort of Biden supporters who did manage to gather on the perimeter, shouting additional pleasantries at them like “Pedo Joe” and “Where’s Hunter?”

Trump supporters in Luzerne County, Penn. Credit: Michael Tracey.

Granted, Luzerne County saw some of the biggest shifts to Trump anywhere in the country in 2016, helping him win Pennsylvania overall in a jarring upset, so you’d expect there to be an “enthusiasm” disparity there. The county was perhaps the national epicenter of electoral trends in de-industrialised, heavily white, economically adrift areas of the US that delivered an upset victory to Trump — he received a full 35% more raw votes there than the previous Republican nominee Mitt Romney did in 2012, which was an astonishing shift over just four years, even as raw population in the county steadily declines. And much of that support remains fully in tact. But still, the scene that day was so weighted against Biden — again, at his own event — as to be comical.

If nothing else, the 2020 campaign will test the theory that on-the-ground, observable, in-person enthusiasm is any kind of significant determinant to a national election outcome. And in fairness to whoever’s calling the shots in Biden-land, there’s already some tentative reason to believe Biden’s unprecedentedly hands-off approach may work. Even pre-Covid, during the Democratic primaries, the scant attendance at Biden’s campaign events and his paucity of paid campaign staff became a recurring object of ridicule. But then he ended up winning states he’d never set foot in by wide margins, blowing out candidates who’d raised and spent far more money.

Conversely, Trump’s swashbuckling rallies across the country in 2016 were routinely sneered at by journalists as self-indulgent wastes of time, but these rallies likely did have an appreciable pro-Trump impact in electorally crucial areas such as Northeastern Pennsylvania. Home to outsized proportions of white people with less educational attainment — the percentage of residents who possess a college degree in Luzerne County (23%) is well below the national average — voters there had an observably specific cultural affinity with Trump. And while that affinity remains — they have no qualms about displaying it with huge TRUMP flags attached to huge pickup trucks barrelling down the road — the question is whether this continued enthusiasm will be overridden by other segments of the electorate newly energised in opposition to Trump.

Either way, some humility on the “enthusiasm” issue is warranted, especially given the country’s mass transition to entirely new methods of election administration, whereby huge percentages of ballots are being cast well before Election Day. A member of the “Bikers for Trump” group which bombarded the Biden event, when asked who he foresaw winning Pennsylvania, replied: “If it was just regular votes, Trump. With this mail-in bull crap who knows.” (The man declined to provide his name.)

I also spent some time in nearby Scranton, PA where Biden was born, a fact he mentions constantly, and which provides an easy, cliched backdrop for a tedious number of journalistic inquiries into the state of the race in Pennsylvania. Though the city and surrounding county still lean Democratic, Trump also made enormous inroads there in 2016. Directly adjacent to the Biden campaign office in downtown — at which you can mosey in and pick up a slightly drab-looking “BIDEN” logo face mask — sits a shoe repair shop owned by Barry Lawrence. The interior of the shop is in partial disarray, and posted depressingly to its door is an eviction notice signed by a county magistrate.

Lawrence told me he was unable to operate his shop for approximately four months in the initial stage of the pandemic, and his landlord refused to cut him a break on rent. This was made all the more harmful because he said he didn’t know how to apply for one of the so-called “PPP” loans made available by the CARES Act, which was passed in March to support shuttered small businesses. But even as he’s now able to open his store back up, it’s barely made a dent. He’ll have to vacate just two days after the election.

“Business is dead,” Lawrence said. “People are still thinking about the pandemic. Nobody wanna be out.” He accepted a Biden/Harris campaign placard to put in his storefront window, though when asked about his candidate preference expressed no particular pro-Biden enthusiasm. “We need something better than what we have,” he said, almost mournfully.

Whether Trump himself can rightfully be blamed for Lawrence’s inability to get the loan is debatable, but one can’t deny that prolonged Covid-induced dread isn’t very helpful for the incumbent. Especially for voters who’ve made every effort to abide by mitigation protocols in their own lives, while Trump has a somewhat spotty track record in that regard. For the record, face masks were required for entry to a “Trump Victory” campaign office in Montgomery County as of Sunday, October 25, which apparently is not the case in the White House — site to at least one known “super-spreader” event. Montgomery County, a diversifying Philadelphia suburb, is among the few places in the state that actually trended Democratic in 2016, and that’s where Biden’s campaign is banking on boosting turnout to overcome Trump’s likely sky-high margins in rural areas — areas where, it should be said, mask-wearing is considerably less embraced.

Luckily for Biden, volunteers hardly even have to make an affirmative case on his behalf, when the “negative” case (against Trump) is so all-consumingly dominant in the minds of Trump’s opponents. Jeanne Boland, a Biden campaign volunteer from Scranton, said she hadn’t bothered getting involved in the 2016 election but now was going all-out after four year of being inflicted with what she clearly felt was a non-stop series of Trump-related horrors. “Honestly, I thought Hillary was a lock,” she recalled of this time last cycle.

And out of what she said were hundreds of interactions she’d made over the preceding several days, Boland “only talked to one voter who actually said that they haven’t made up their minds yet.” This is borne out in polling data, and also makes the “final stretch” of this election (to use another pundit cliche) seem altogether different from 2016, when there was a palpable sense of fluidity in the waning days of the race. Now, you either want Trump in, or you want him out. A binary question. Biden is almost a side-story. Voters seldom mention him — it’s all Trump, all the time.

It’s all Trump. Credit: Michael Tracey.

An older woman exiting an early-voting polling place in a largely black area of Northeast Philadelphia on Monday, having just checked the box for Biden, was asked to rate the candidate’s performance over the course of the campaign. “Sufficient,” she said. This is amusing for anyone who can remember the rapturous enthusiasm engendered by Barack Obama in 2008, and even to large extent in 2012 — particularly (but by no means exclusively) in black neighbourhoods. Hillary Clinton’s failure to rouse comparable enthusiasm was a significant contributor to her loss four years ago. This time, though, Trump appears to have provided all the enthusiasm — pro and con — that anyone needs. And if being merely “sufficient” is enough to win a national election in 2020, as it may well be, then the country has really lowered its collective expectations.


Michael Tracey is a journalist in Jersey City, NJ

mtracey

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

35 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
3 years ago

Luzerne County is about 215 km from Wilmingon, Delaware, Biden’s home. When he’s not hiding in his basement, Biden’s campaign stops usually seem to be not far from home, in a huge country, where to campaign effectively, you would think he would often be several thousand kilometres away from Wilmington. Sure, he is a senile demented 78-year-old man, but rather than giving him an excuse for not campaigning like a normal candidate, surely it’s a reason for rejecting him altogether. Trump is only about five years younger than Biden, but he campaigns like he was 20 years younger.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Baldwin

Trump campaigns like he’s 20, never mind 20 years younger. I’ve been watching the rallies this week and it really is remarkable.

A new Rasmussen poll suggests that Trump might get 30% of the black vote, which would be en electoral earthquake (last week he had a 46% approval rating among blacks in one poll).

Also, the people who do the deep analysis of the returns etc so far are saying that 84% of Dems have already voted, while the majority of Reps have not yet voted. At the same time, Biden is ahead at this point by substantially less than Hillary was. So, on the face of it there’s a Red Wave coming. On the other hand, there is evidence of substantial voter fraud with far more to come in terms of all the mail-in votes etc.

Tellingly, Biden is heading to Minnesota this weekend to try and cling on to that particular state, which might go Red for the first time since, I think, 1968.

Pat Davers
Pat Davers
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Yes it’s the only state that Reagan failed to win in his 1984 landslide. Its’s also where the BLM protests kicked off. Losing it would be a disaster for the Dems.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Rasmussem poll is right but the rest of them are wrong?
Ike was the last Republican president to win c40% of the black vote; the idea that Trump is going to win 30% of the black vote is too risible.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Biden is the senile puppet of concealed interests. He is no more fit to be a president than was Caligula’s horse to be a member of the Senate; and like that horse he represents the contempt felt by his masters for due process, not to mention democracy.

jzchen181
jzchen181
3 years ago

Michael, you write “there’s already some tentative reason
to believe Biden’s unprecedentedly hands-off approach may work. Even
pre-Covid, during the Democratic primaries, the scant attendance at
Biden’s campaign events and his paucity of paid campaign staff became a
recurring object of ridicule. But then he ended up winning states he’d
never set foot in by wide margins, blowing out candidates who’d raised
and spent far more money.”

But you should recall that Biden lost the first 3 Democratic primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. Before the 4th primary in South Caroline, the party persuaded Buttigieg and Klobuchar to drop out and Elizabeth Warren to stay in to draw votes away from Sanders. Party insider SC congressman Jim Clyburn rallied the black votes for Biden. Biden won decisively and became unstoppable thereafter. Unlike Trump in 2016, who won the Republican nomination fair and square through fierce competition, Biden won the Democratic nomination through party machinations which were more subtle than those deployed for Clinton’s benefit in 2016, but were crucial for his success nonetheless. So your contention that his somnolent campaign worked in the primaries is not quite on the mark.

However, in the general election, all out support from big media, big tech and big corporations may pull him through.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  jzchen181

Yes, Biden only won because Obama called Klobuchar and Buttigieg and told them to drop out. And, as you say, Warren staying in to drain votes from Bernie. The DNC makes the mafia look like pussycats.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

And mafia kept the crime under control.
The greatest argument against democracy is a 5 min discussion with the average voter.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Talking of the mafia, did you know that the great Glenn Greenwald resigned from The Intercept (which he set up) yesterday because they wouldn’t let him write about the Biden corruption and laptop etc? The evil of the media and the DNC is off the scale.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Pointless comment. The whole “conservative” media (Fox News, talk radio, online sources) has covered the Biden “corruption”.
People don’t care – if you are confused (based on your position) think how Trump voters justify their position/vote.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

it’s more accurate to say this election is referendum on Trump than one between the incumbent and Biden. Never mind Joe’s cognitive decline; he was a guy the Dem rank and file never wanted in the first place, a man pretty much forced on them when the primaries moved to South Carolina and Jim Clyburn went all in for a former colleague.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Moreover, Kamala Harris could not even get through 3 weeks of the Democrat Primary. No one really voted for her. And now we have Hunter and Joe’s young brother Jim shaking down China using Joes’s political connections. As they say, “you couldn’t write this stuff.”

simejohnson
simejohnson
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

It’s endlessly amusing that there are countless examples of Trump speech where he makes absolutely no sense, rambles like an incoherent infant and stumbles over every word. Yet Biden has a stutter and so is the one in cognitive decline. You could make this stuff up. Trump fans are the gift that keeps on giving.

David Jory
David Jory
3 years ago
Reply to  simejohnson

Your a correct about Biden’s stuttering, but compare recent speeches with his ones of 30 years ago. The decline is very marked.

rod tobin
rod tobin
3 years ago

why would you vote for someone who looks as if he cant walk six feet.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 years ago
Reply to  rod tobin

On Nov 3, we will see how smart the American public is….it could be lights-out-time. Joe Biden is offering up a ‘dark winter’ – one assumes that means if he is elected.

Dorothy Slater
Dorothy Slater
3 years ago

It strikes me that the media – including all of the late night comedians and Saturday Night Live –would be praying for Trump to win. After all, they have fed at the anti-Trump bucket for four years , their profits have soared and many are still on the air due to him. But with him gone, what will they do.?

Seth Meyers and Alec Baldwin cannot do Joe Biden imitations every night. Rachel Maddow and the rest of the MSNBC group of “journalists” cannot use the same hateful tactics on the man they have all but elevated to sainthood.

I am so sick of living in anti-Trump land for the past four years that I long ago gave them all up . The anti-Trump series will no doubt continue even if he is not elected. But where will it go? We all sit and await season five.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Dorothy Slater

How did they make money before Trump?
Alec Baldwin was broke…right?

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
3 years ago

As in 2016, this is a search for the least worst option – even 4 years on, many including me do not believe they got the answer wrong in 2016 . Biden avoiding making massive mistakes by avoiding doing anything much could well turn out to be the winning strategy. It is a pure Trump “Marmite” vote, so why take any risk in deflecting attention from that. Sadly for your barber he probably won’t find the grass any greener on the other side of the fence, indeed he will probably find it far more barren.

Scott Allan
Scott Allan
3 years ago

Look Joe is in his basement having a stream of teenage girls fed to him for sniffing and groping. Much like Clinton he is waiting for Epstein Island to reopen so that the democrats can get back to business as usual. Meanwhile, Hunter Biden is smoking crack or meth while doing business with Chinese CCP and Russian mobsters, but that is all okay because when you are WOKE you are Teflon to the usual constraints of society.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago

Biden has the perfect campaign, let Trump be Trump.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Trump is the best thing that’s happened to the USA in decades #ParadigmShift

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Yes (I am a Paleoconservative ) I always knew that the “conservative” movement in USA (from the leadership to the voters) was intellectually and morally bankrupt. Trump’s election in 2016 proved that.

Karl Juhnke
Karl Juhnke
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

So being a Paleoconservative, I guess you love all the hatred of Christianity and the gender, race, and class division spread by democrats?

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago

What makes me Laugh is The Mainstream Media ”Knowing” how 63 Million postal votes” have gone? They are ‘Secret’
My Guess is Trump will defy the Globalists,&MSM again and Win comfortable victory.. if Biden wins, US will fall behind China…and he will be A puppet president on the Golf course,like eisenhower 1952-60,Nixon was real president & 2000-2004 Bush was figurehead,Rumsfield ran foreign wars?..

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Robin Lambert

Comfortably victory…LOL!
Ike was the last GREAT Republican president.

Dave Tagge
Dave Tagge
3 years ago

I feel bad for what’s happened to Mr. Lawrence, and it’s absolutely ridiculous that he wasn’t allowed to operate his shop for 4 months. It also seems short-sighted that his landlord wouldn’t work with him on some amount of rent reduction or deferment. Given the demographic trends of Luzerne County – slowly but steadily declining population – plus the impact of COVID shutdowns, it’s tough to think that the landlord will be in a good position to find a tenant to replace Mr. Lawrence’s shoe repair business. Perhaps, however, there’s some backstory – the landlord’s own financial obligations? a historically contentious tenant-landlord relationship (e.g., some late payment of rent, even before COVID)? – explaining that decision.

All of that said, however, it doesn’t ring true that Mr. Lawrence tried very hard to get a PPP loan but couldn’t figure out how to apply for one. There’s loads of information in the media and otherwise in the public domain (e.g., accounting and law firms making white papers freely available online) about how to go through a bank to get a potentially forgivable PPP loan. The first round of available PPP loans went very quickly in April. Some businesses did miss out initially as the full initial amount of loans were snapped up in less than 2 weeks. Congress eventually authorized additional funds, however, with an application deadline of June 30 that was later extended to August 8. Of that total authorized amount, about 20% ($134 billion) reportedly hadn’t been drawn by the August 8 deadline. A program overview – including an application – is readily available online at the SBA website, so a borrower can have a good sense of what’s required of the program even before going to a bank. Even if the bank where Mr. Lawrence has his business account(s) did a poor job of processing PPP loans for borrowers, Luzerne County isn’t tiny (population a bit over 300,000). There are certainly multiple banks with branches there, and it doesn’t ring true that he tried hard to get a loan but couldn’t find any bank to work with him. (A possible exception to that would be if his financial records were in total disarray, but he should be able to get the information that he needs simply from tax returns and business bank account information).

The more likely problem would be that a forgivable PPP loan simply wouldn’t be enough for a business such as his – completely closed for 4 months – even if he’d managed to get a loan.

Ess Arr
Ess Arr
3 years ago

Trump won in 2016 because Comey, Comey, Comey, that’s why he’s begging, pleading, threatening, down on his knees to Barr and Wray, “arrest Biden, indict him, toss him in jail, anything to ensure I’ll win”, but they are naturally frightened of breaking the law for Trump, since he’s not known for his loyalty. Biden’s silence, in the face of vile made-up accusations from the Murdoch bunch had them stalking him at his home at night. Then, hey boom, 4 days before the election, NBC investigations show the Hunter dossier is a creation of the Epoch Times. Watch over the next few days as Foxistas rapidly backtrack as lawsuits come flying their way. Bannon, Rudy already have one foot in jail and the other on a banana peel. Hence their sad unkempt desperation. This is straight out of the Putin playbook, sprinkle some lies and some truth in these “dossiers”, and the ravening journos won’t bother to tell the difference.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Ess Arr

Do you people ever notice how foolish you look with this ridiculous “Putin, Russia” fetish? Apparently not.

NBC investigations show the Hunter dossier is a creation of the Epoch Times.
No, they didn’t. The ET does not have the capacity to manufacture emails, voice recordings, and the other trinkets that paint Hunter as daddy’s bagman. Biden’s silence is predictable; he’s the same guy who was all for the surveillance campaign that accompanied the previous election.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

WSJ was the first major media institution to get the Biden docs from Bannon; they couldn’t verify the claims. So Bannon/Giuliani went to NY Post.

David George
David George
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Yet they (NYT, WSJ, WA PO CNN etc.) are happy to print the most outrageous unsubstantiated rumour, speculation and outright lie against Trump.
Do you believe they’ve suddenly found some sort of commitment to the truth.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  David George

Trump voters don’t believe those papers anyway – so why do you care?
And people that read those papers are not going to vote for Trump anyway.
The left has its own media bubble, just as the right does.
Let the best geriatric win!

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

The FBI has had the Biden laptop since December 2019 – interestingly, during the ‘faux impeachment’ over the Ukrainian Burisma deal. FBI Director Wray has a lot to answer for. Supposedly, the FBI has an ongoing investigation of Hunter re: money laundering – but if you happen to see his photos on-line there’s possibility that he might also be cited for sex with underage females. The Biden’s lawyer has asked for the laptop back. If it wasn’t Hunter’s why would they want it back?

bollydog
bollydog
3 years ago
Reply to  Ess Arr

Bollocks………………… [from NZ]

Karl Juhnke
Karl Juhnke
3 years ago
Reply to  Ess Arr

Hahahahaha