RANKIN, Pa. — It looked more like a drive-in movie than a convention watch party, but such is campaigning in 2020.
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign team in Southwestern Pennsylvania tried to fire up the most devoted local Democrats at a drive-in social distance-friendly watch party in Rankin at the site of the former Carrie Furnaces. Onlookers watched the final night of programming from the Democratic National Convention inside or close to their cars, sometimes honking in lieu of applause.
Biden formally accepted the Democrats’ nomination on Thursday night, setting up a clear contrast to President Donald Trump, by promising to “overcome this season of darkness,” and adding, according to the New York Times, that “this campaign isn’t just about winning votes. It’s about winning the heart, and yes, the soul of America.”
Citing an abundance of caution during a pandemic, the Biden team precluded reporters from the crowd of about 50 cars, but offered two surrogates based in the Pittsburgh area.
Sean Meloy, senior political director of the LGBTQ Victory Fund and a Pennsylvania Democratic Committee member, said he was looking forward to a cathartic experience at the Milwaukee convention before the coronavirus pandemic hit. “So I was really excited that this came together in a responsible socially distant way, so we can still be with each other and celebrate the fight we need to have over the next two months,” he said.
Pennsylvania’s status as a critical swing state has remained evident even during the coronavirus pandemic, when in-person campaign events and rallies have been kept to a minimum.
Trump held his own Pennsylvania campaign event near Scranton, Biden’s birthplace.
Trump continued his dark rhetoric in Old Forge, Lackawanna County. “If you want a vision of your life under a Biden presidency, think of the smoldering ruins in Minneapolis, the violent anarchy of Portland, the blood-stained sidewalks of Chicago,” he said. “And imagine the mayhem coming to your town and every single town in America, you’re not going to have law and order.”
The latest polling average from RealClearPolitics, gives Biden a 6-point lead in Pennsylvania, but the most reliable statewide polls were conducted more than a week ago.
Sam Williamson, Western Pennsylvania district leader of the service workers union 32BJ SEIU, said his organization has kept up communication with its members about the election in such an unusual year.
“The pandemic has just changed the tactics that we have to use in order to get to people,” Williamson. “But our members and other union members across the region and the country, they understand what’s at stake.”
Many 32BJ SEIU members are disproportionately Black and brown workers who have put themselves and their families at risk by providing essential services without hazard pay, Williams said. “But they haven’t received hazard pay because it’s been blocked by Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump, and they know that in a Joe Biden administration that would be different.”
Congressional Democrats passed the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act stimulus bill in May, which includes hazard pay provisions for essential workers. Republican leaders and Trump balked at such a large spending package and a smaller stimulus plan.
The Republicans’ own socially distant convention begins Monday.
Correspondent Tom Lisi covers western Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star. Follow him on Twitter @TommyLisi.