With hopes of flipping Pa. blue, Biden holds election eve rally in Pittsburgh

Chris Cieslak, a 51 year old retired Army Lt. Col. from Pittsburgh, sits on top of a car waiting for Vice President Joe Biden to speak on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020 at a Pittsburgh drive-in rally at Heinz Field the day before the election. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Hoping to oust an incumbent president for the first time in three decades, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden barnstormed western Pennsylvania Monday, ending the day with a drive-in rally outside of Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

“In 2008 and 2012, you put your trust in me and [former President] Barack [Obama],” the former vice president  said. “In 2020, I’m seeking your trust again. I take nothing for granted.” 

Biden wasn’t alone. The whole ticket, including Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, running-mate  Kamala Harris, and Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff, toured the state as well, east and west.

The Pittsburgh rally Biden headlined was linked virtually with a rally across the state in Philadelphia, where Harris spoke along with U.S.Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf joined Biden in the Steel City.

According to FiveThirtyEight, a data journalism website, Biden has an 85 percent chance of winning the Keystone State. Most recent polls have shown him with a between 5- and 7-percentage point lead.

Hundreds of cars backed up Pittsburgh‘s North Shore for the event. Some attendees, who seemed split between party activists and union members, stayed nestled inside their vehicle with a pizza, listening via radio. Others got out into the cool autumn night to listen in person.

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One such attendee was Phil Glover, a 57-year-old Johnstown resident. A retired corrections officer, and an official with the  American Federation of Government Employees, Glover said he’s seeing more support for Biden this time around in his formerly blue home in Cambria County, and in his union.

Part of that, Glover said, is Biden isn’t treating the region as flyover country. The former Delaware senator and Scranton native finished a Rust Belt whistle stop with a drive-in event in Johnstown last month. Glover attended.

Also, Glover said it’s easier to dislike Trump now that he is longer an abstract character and instead a politician with a record.

“[Trump] has run and said he supports law enforcement,” Glover said. “So why is he trying to touch my pension?”

Unions and combating economic equality were central to Biden’s closing pitch Monday night. He argued he’d be the most pro-union president in U.S. history, a point he’s underlined from the start of his campaign at a 2019 event at a Pittsburgh union hall.

“The only way to deal with an abuse of corporate power is union power,” Biden said.

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For others, such as  Colleen Tanner, 44, of Cranberry Township, in Butler County, Biden represents a needed change in tone in America.

Tanner, who is white, was with her nine-year-old son Max Cisse, who is not. Tanner said she supports Biden because she thinks Trump has sown division in America. In her own community, she’s started an anti-racist organization to tackle diversity in her local school district. But she also wants to see Trump gone at the top.

Her area affluent and growing, and has historically been Republican. But Tanner said she is quietly seeing more support for Biden among neighbors, even if as small gestures as a thumbs up at a sign.

With the party united behind Biden, and some skeptical Republicans breaking ranks, she feels “skeptically hopeful.” But 2016 haunts her, and she has contemplated the thought of four more years of Trump.

“I try not to think about it,” Tanner said. “It paralyzed me the last time.”

Biden and other speakers pushed for attendees to go out and round up any family and friends who hadn’t voted yet to alay Tanner and any other supporter’s fears.

Those last minute get out the vote pleas are part of the broader fight over voting rights that have shaped the 2020 election.

Former Vice President and 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks in Pittsburgh on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020 at a drive-in rally at Heinz Field. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Fighting for a second term, Trump’s legal team has spent millions of dollars on litigation to restrict ballot access in swing states, such as Pennsylvania. Most of those suits have been unsuccessful. 

Trump also has tried to undermine counting every ballot by falsely claiming election results should be finalized by election night, and calling for the U.S. Supreme Court and its conservative majority to back him

Biden took aim at those tactics Monday.

“I don’t care what President Trump tries, there is nothing that will stop the people of America from voting,” Biden said.

In many cases, the fight would fall to attorneys. If that happens, “I have faith in the lawyers on our side,” Tanner said.

Biden also didn’t shy away from placing Democratic priorities front and center, from a $15 minimum wage to combating climate change. 

But he argued these policies would be married with an attempt to bring civility and normalcy back to American politics after four years of nonstop Trump-driven news cycles.

“I’m running as a proud Democrat. But I will govern as an American president,” Biden said.

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The message resonated with some, such as  Dwan Walker, the 45-year old mayor of Aliquippa, a small borough north of Pittsburgh on the Ohio River.

Walker was enthusiastic after Biden’s speech, which he said showed the former vice presidential humility, compared to Trump’s bombast.

Biden’s “loved and lost. A man like that I can trust,” Walker said.

Biden will finish off the election in Pennsylvania on Election Day proper as well. He’ll be in his old hometown of Scranton on Tuesday morning, before ending the day in Philadelphia.