Trump supporters show Biden that winning Pennsylvania won’t be as easy as the polls say

The energy of American politics is extraordinary.

At an intersection of two minor roads in a place called Dallas, Pennsylvania, hundreds of President Donald Trump’s supporters are gathering.

It’s noisy, boisterous, but largely good-natured.

Trump supporters at a Biden rally in Pennsylvania
Image:Trump supporters at a Biden rally in Pennsylvania

“Four more years!” they chant. Horns honk from cars flying flags depicting Trump as the Terminator.

Hotdogs sizzle next to a hastily arranged DJ stand blaring out The Village People’s YMCA.

The lyrics have been changed: YMCA replaced with MAGA – Make America Great Again.

They are gathered not for the arrival of their man but the other one – Joe Biden.

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This is Mr Biden’s childhood backyard – he grew up 30 miles away – but their message to him as he rolls in for his latest rally – “give up, this is Trump country now”.

Team Biden had only announced the event, with a celebrity endorsement by Jon Bon Jovi, the previous evening.

But that was plenty of time for the counter rally to be mobilised.

Through the morning Mr Trump’s supporters had mustered themselves a sizeable crowd for this small town.

Greg Brannan. At 21, this is his first election but he would have voted for Mr Trump last time if he'd been able to.
Image:Greg Brannan would have voted for Donald Trump last time if he had been able to

Among them, on the back of a flatbed truck with an oversized Trump flag is Greg Brannan.

At 21, this is his first election but he would have voted for Mr Trump last time if he’d been able to.

“I was with him in 2016, with reservations, because I was a little scared of his personality type… I’m past that point but on the issues and the direction the country is going to go with Trump versus Biden, I’m with Trump all the way.”

Nearby, Susan Gillespie and Joyce Gebhardt are convinced Mr Trump will win again.

“Landslide, it’s going to be a landslide!” Joyce insists.

Susan agrees: “He is the only one that has the true American values and traditions and he is a wonderful man and he loves our country.”

The placards spell out the core fault-line themes here: ‘abortion is murder’, ‘don’t ban fracking’, ‘save our jobs’.

They are thrust at the windscreens of the Biden supporters’ cars as they snake slowly up the hill to their drive-in rally.

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Jon Bon Jovi performs at Biden campaign rally

There’s no question that Mr Biden’s rally on the hill, beyond the police cordon, was a more sedate affair. Social distancing limited the attendance; supporters sat in their cars for the presidential hopeful’s warm-up: Jon Bon Jovi.

“Something as important as casting your vote next Tuesday is about the future of these United States that I so believe in,” the singer told the crowd.

He played acoustic versions of his hits Who Says You Can’t Go Home?, Livin’ On A Prayer and Do What You Can, a new song dedicated to those on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Biden then thanked Bon Jovi for his support before rolling out his now familiar lines: “Our campaign is a broad coalition. It welcomes Democrats and Republicans and Independents. If elected president, there will be no red states or blue states. Only the United States.”

“Ten days left to go!” he told the crowd. “It’s ‘go time’ now. It may come down to Pennsylvania and I want to let you know I believe in you.”

“I understand why some people voted for Donald Trump. They believed they weren’t seen or being respected or heard. Trump ran around saying he represents the forgotten man and women in this county. I get it.

“Then he got elected and he immediately forgot the forgotten man… This has to change. It will change with me. You will be seen and heard and respected by me.”

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Biden: We’ve got to come together

Mr Biden is comfortable here framing himself as the working class boy from up the road in Scranton; a million miles from Mr Trump, the so-called privileged kid from Manhattan’s Park Avenue.

“Home is where your character is etched, your values are set, where your views of the world and your place in it begin to be formed,” Mr Biden told the crowd as car horns honked.

“Everybody knows who Donald Trump is. We are going to show him who we are. We choose hope over fear, unity over division, science over fiction and truth over lies. Folks, it’s time to take our democracy back.”

But remember, it was pure local democracy in this same place which was pivotal in delivering Donald Trump to the White House back in 2016.

In this suburban working class, blue collar county – the sort of place so disparagingly dismissed as ‘unremarkable’ – Donald Trump won in 2016 by 26,000 votes. That represented a staggering 60% of his margin of victory for the whole state of Pennsylvania.

A county which had twice voted for Barack Obama crossed the political spectrum in a wholly remarkable shift and opted for something very different.

Four years on, can Joe Biden lure enough of them back again? It doesn’t feel likely.

Of course, here at ground level it’s hard to see the big picture. For that we can only rely on the pollsters and they say Trump’s lost it.

But then that’s the point: they said that last time because they misunderstood places like this.

Mark Gibson

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

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