Tears from the Trump faithful – but bitter divides remain in Pennsylvania

If Donald Trump wants to keep the White House he needs to keep Pennsylvania.

He won white, working class voters here four years ago. He can’t win again without them.

The president is trailing Joe Biden in the national polls and the margin has also grown in critical battleground states like Pennsylvania.

Joe Biden was campaigning in Florida on the same day
Image:Joe Biden was campaigning in Florida on the same day

As Air Force One touched down in the former steel community of Johnstown, the script was predictable.

“For half a century Biden twisted his blade into the heart of the American worker.

“He should not be asking for your votes, he should be begging for your forgiveness. He did a rotten job,” Mr Trump said to an excited crowd.

Pennsylvania-born Mr Biden has repeatedly framed the election as a choice between the blue collar guy who grew up in Scranton and the one who grew up on Manhattan’s Park Avenue.

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The promise of jobs, the protection of jobs – it’s Mr Trump’s best chances of maximising popularity here.

The blue collar workers who feel represented by the billionaire may be a paradox – but the attachment to Mr Trump is powerful.

For many the connection seems more visceral than through any material difference to their lives in the last four years.

Trump supporter who says "he makes me proud to be American"
Image:This former steel worker says the president ‘makes me proud to be American’

“He makes me proud to be an American. He makes me think of freedom,” one former steel worker tells me. He has tears in his eyes as he describes how much he loves Mr Trump.

“He stands up for the working man and he’s not going to leave any forgotten people behind,” says another – an IT worker.

While the constituency most threatening Donald Trump’s re-election is the loss of suburban women, several female supporters approached me wanting to proactively share their views.

“He’s the voice of the people. He’s one of us, he’s not a politician,” says one woman – a teacher.

Trump supporter who says he is "a voice of people"
Image:This teacher says Mr Trump is ‘the voice of the people’

Away from the rally, in the rust belt town of Johnstown, I was hard pushed to meet anyone who didn’t adore Mr Trump, much less support him.

“I voted for him first time and he didn’t let me down all the way through,” says mechanic Jim Livingstone.

“He’s definitely got my vote the second time – and it’ll be in person not by mail-in.”

Mr Livingstone’s reference to “mail-in” is a clear nod to Mr Trump’s criticism that voting by mail is subject to widespread fraud and could rig the election.

There’s no evidence to support these claims but it seems to have resonated with many of his supporters.

Democrats are more likely to vote by post, and so far more than three-quarters of early voting in Pennsylvania has been Democrat.

The ultimate guide to the 2020 US presidential race

The ultimate guide to the 2020 US presidential race

In Johnstown though, I found just one Biden supporter – Barbara.

“I’m very concerned how disconnected the people are and there’s no more unity anymore,” she said.

“I’m tired of all the hatefulness and the bullying and I think Joe is the type of person we need in the White House to get us back to some normalcy.”

Barbara helped me understand why I may have struggled to find Biden supporters.

“They’re afraid to say who they’re voting for,” she explained. “I’m not even allowed to talk about politics at work here.”

Politics is palpably divisive in America.

Barbara’s friend – who approached us to join the conversation – wouldn’t say how she planned to vote. Even between old friends, they won’t discuss it anymore.

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“There’s just too many people fighting and arguing. People who’ve been friends for years wont even go in the same room as each other,” explains her friend Sherry Lynn.

Pennsylvania – which could be the tipping point in this election – is seen as a microcosm of the country in its split views and loyalties.

It certainly reveals the deep and embittered political divides that likely won’t be healed, whoever wins.

Mark Gibson

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

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