From blue to red and back again – the state which reflects a divided America

In a quiet corner of Pennsylvania this weekend, the strangest of contrasts.

Just as the US TV networks were preparing to call the election for Joe Biden, Team Trump were preparing for a news conference in a suburban industrial estate.

Pennsylvania is the place which swung dramatically to Donald Trumpfour years ago, delivering him the presidency. Four years on it’s now the state which pushed Joe Biden over the line, and from the moment it became clear that Mr Trump was losing, his team have been focusing on the state and crying foul.

Crowds in Philadelphia carry 'voters decide' and 'count every vote' placards
Image:Crowds in Philadelphia carry ‘voters decide’ and ‘count every vote’ placards

A curious day began, appropriately, with a tweet from the president: “Lawyers Press Conference at Four Seasons, Philadelphia. 11:00 A.M.”

Conveniently we happened to be nearby. But at the plush Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Philadelphia they were confused. “No news conference here,” the doorman told me.

Then a second tweet came through from Mr Trump: “Four Season’s Landscaping!”

A third followed: “Big press conference today in Philadelphia at Four Seasons Total Landscaping – 11:30am!”

Big press conference today in Philadelphia at Four Seasons Total Landscaping — 11:30am!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2020

With the pin drop on Google Maps, we set out into the Philly suburbs to a find a landscaping business and news conference called by the president of the United States.

Four Seasons Total Landscaping is a small red brick building. It sits opposite a crematorium and next to a sex shop.

We thought, surely, there had been some mistake as we pulled up. But no.

Just arrived at the location for the big news conference announced by President Trump.

Slightly surreal location… not the Four Seasons Hotel but a landscaping business in an industrial estate on edge of Philadelphia… more @SkyNews

— Mark Stone (@Stone_SkyNews) November 7, 2020

In the car park next to the building, I spotted Pam Bondi, the former Attorney General of Florida and close to Mr Trump.

She and Corey Lewandowski, Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign manager, appeared to be helping other staff to rearrange the company’s landscaping equipment to make way for a podium.

And then, there he was – the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

“Wow. What a beautiful day! Thank you,” he said, as he took to the hastily arranged podium.

With him were three people he said were witnesses to mass electoral fraud.

“They were uniformly deprived of their right to inspect any single part of the mail-in ballots,” he said.

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Giuliani challenged over voter fraud claims

They were invited to speak and all told stories of not being allowed to watch each vote being counted. They didn’t provide much detail.

Mr Giuliani then repeated his client’s core allegation – that Republican observers had not been able to monitor the counts. This, despite us speaking to Republican observers in the counts. How was it that Mr Trump had been so far ahead and then suddenly behind, he kept asking. It must be fraud.

The answer of course is simple – postal ballots are counted after the on-the-day votes. Postal ballots are disproportionately cast by Biden supporters.

As he spoke, news came in that the American networks had called the election for Joe Biden.

Mr Giuliani was asked for his reaction.

“Which networks!?” he asked.

“All of them,” I replied.

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The moment Trump’s lawyer learned they’d lost

Mr Lewandowski then took the podium with the story of a dead woman having apparently voted. The details were sketchy but it appears she had registered to vote by post and then died. Her vote was, according to Mr Lewandowski, counted.

An example of mass fraud or an isolated clerical error?

The former, insist the president and his team, and they say they will deliver all the evidence to the Supreme Court.

All of it is playbook Trump. It instils doubt and it’s working among his base of support.

President Trump played to an enthusiastic audience in Johnstown, Pennsylvania
Image:President Trump played to an enthusiastic audience in Johnstown, Pennsylvania

“I think there has been shenanigans,” Trump supporter Dave told me.

“I know how the Democrats behave here in Pennsylvania. I’d like to see an investigation. If it turns out there wasn’t any then fine; I have a new president.”

Despite no delivery of evidence, I’ve spoken to many who believe every word of his allegations and will stand with him. It obscures the numerous reasons why the man who won Pennsylvania last time, lost it this time.

It wasn’t a landslide victory for Biden here, but he was able to do what Hillary Clinton before him could not.

Trump supporter Dave believes 'shenanigans' may have cost the president
Image:Trump supporter Dave believes ‘shenanigans’ may have cost the president

Why is Pennsylvania a crucial battleground?

This is a state made up of 67 diverse counties.

Across the middle is a belt of land stretching from east to west, dotted with industry.

The so-called rust belt is home to “blue collar” workers; an overwhelmingly white population who have driven America’s steel industry for decades. Many of them were long-time Democrats who swung to Trump four years ago.

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 02: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Lady Gaga greet college students at Schenley Park on November 02, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. One day before the election, Biden is campaigning in Pennsylvania, a key battleground state that President Donald Trump won narrowly in 2016. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Image:Joe Biden and Lady Gaga greet college students in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania one day before the election

But to the south of that, flanking the state, east and west, are its two urban centres: Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Both are ethnically diverse and politically liberal: dense populations who turned out for Biden this time in a way that they did not so much for Clinton last time.

Among them, the drive to end what they saw as a deeply divisive and damaging four years was overwhelming.

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Jubilant Biden supporters in Pennsylvania

Biden’s appeal as the ‘hometown kid’

Joe Biden is also a Pennsylvania boy. His early years were spent in Scranton and he sold himself in this state as the “hometown kid”.

A few doors down from his childhood home we found Chris Kelleher.

Joe Biden's childhood home
Image:Joe Biden’s childhood home

“Today I am feeling euphoric. It’s a day to come out and just enjoy. The day is beautiful, the mood is beautiful and I couldn’t be happier. People have been downtrodden with 2020 and the last couple of years it’s been a downward spiral and this gives us hope,” he said.

But as we spoke, another neighbour drove past.

“Can we be friends now?!,” David Evans shouted from his car.

“Can the country come together?,” I ask him.

“I doubt it. Seventy million people spoke… Four more years is only around the corner,” Mr Evans told me.

Chris Kelleher spoke just a few doors down from Joe Biden's childhood home
Image:Chris Kelleher spoke just a few doors down from Joe Biden’s childhood home
Chris Kelleher told Mark Stone he was 'euphoric' after Biden's win was declared
Image:Chris Kelleher told Mark Stone he was ‘euphoric’ after Biden’s win was declared

What went wrong for Trump in Pennsylvania?

In many ways, the state of Pennsylvania mirrors the country.

From two weeks criss-crossing the state, I have seen that it reflects a divided America.

“He’s pro-life”… “he’s pro-business”… “my stocks have gone up”… “he’s not a politician…” – they are phrases you hear over and over among Trump supporters.

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Trump ‘needs to put his big boy pants on’

Yet it wasn’t enough. All the factories he promised would reopen, didn’t. The divisions which emerged under his leadership worried many of those who I met.

There is no single reason he lost the state or the country. But two things do stand out: coronavirus and his character.

His repeated downplaying of the virus as the country surpassed records daily was hugely damaging and it seems to have exposed his character too.

There are appeals, of course, in having a someone who is not a politician running the country. But Donald Trump?

Bob Bayer says Trump has been 'too outspoken' during his time in office
Image:Bob Bayer says Trump has been ‘too outspoken’ during his time in office

“He’s was just full of himself,” supporter David Evans told me.

“He was too outspoken,” another supporter Bob Bayer said.

“But it is what it is. President Biden will now have to bring the country together again. That’s his job,” he added.

Maybe then this state which mirrors a divided country will also come to reflect a nation willing now to accept a new direction.

Mr Giuliani will, he says, take his client’s case and the yet-to-be-revealed evidence all the way to the Supreme Court.

We never did find out why the moment that could represent one of the president’s last stands was in the car park of Four Seasons Total Landscaping.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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