MOOSIC, Pa. — Former Vice President Joe Biden returned to his childhood hometown on Thursday, framing a presidential campaign now moving into its final weeks as a race between blue-collar Scranton and Park Avenue.
During a drive-in town hall hosted by CNN’s Anderson Cooper at PNC Field, Biden tried to stake out a populist message while tackling an array of topics. Voters from around Pennsylvania peppered him with questions about everything from President Donald Trump’s handling the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact, to race relations, policing, and the environment.
“I view this campaign as a campaign between Scranton and Park Avenue,” said Biden.
Biden said people from the Electric City just want a fair chance at life, comparing that to President Trump’s obsession with the stock market as an avatar for the economy and America’s health.
That point was driven home by one of the questioners.
Joe Farley talked about taking out a credit card with 25 percent interest during the pandemic because he was making less than $15 an hour as a health care worker.
“I’m struggling not only mentally, but financially,” he said.
Biden shook his head as the man spoke.
“The idea that you’re not making the minimum of $15 an hour is just wrong,” Biden said. “No one should have to work two jobs to get out of poverty.”
While some employers pay more, Pennsylvania’s minimum wage has been mired at the federal level of $7.25 an hour for more than a decade. The Republican-controlled General Assembly has resisted repeated attempts to raise it.
Some of Biden’s harshest criticisms of Trump came when he talked about his rival’s response to the virus, contrasting it with America’s history.
“There’s never been a time [Americans] haven’t been able to step up,” he said. “This president should step down.”
Biden also repeated his campaign theme that the president has to address the virus before he can successfully get the economy back on track. At least two times, Biden pointed out that rising stock prices don’t necessarily mean the economy has rebounded.
He even asked the crowd how many of them owned stocks. The response was hard to hear.
Northeastern Pennsylvania remains in the campaign’s spotlight. Trump won Pennsylvania by slightly more than 44,000 votes in 2016. He won the seven counties that make up the region by 51,000 votes.
The candidates and their surrogates have repeatedly visited the region as the race reaches its home stretch. Trump visited nearby Old Forge the day Biden accepted the nomination. Biden also debuted his Build Back Better economic plan in Scranton.
The borough of Moosic, where Biden took questions, is nestled on Scranton’s southern border.
A drive through town proves how seriously people are taking the campaign. Trump flags hang from some balconies while Biden signs nearby yards. It’s not a shock to see a sign supporting the Moosic Police Department next to a Biden/Harris poster in front of one house.
However, signs for the local state House race featuring incumbent Democratic Rep. Bridget Malloy Kosierowski and Republican James May might outnumber Biden and Trump signs. Meanwhile, signs supporting the local Riverside School District students and teachers definitely outnumbered all of the candidates.
The road leading to PNC Field, where Biden took questions from voters, was filled with supporters and protestors leading up to the event.
Trump supporters were out in full force, with many displaying their Trump flags. Bob Bolus, a local businessman who has repeatedly run for office despite two past felonies barring him from the ability to serve, parked two trucks covered in pictures of the president and his allies along the road.
Several people who voted for Trump in 2016 asked questions.
Biden had two awkward interactions with Farm Bureau member Julie Masser Ballay. When Cooper said she had voted for the president, he asked how she felt. She didn’t say she had regrets.
Biden also struggled at times with a few questions. For example, when asked if he had benefited from white privilege, he said he had. Then he rambled about growing up in Scranton.
However, during the next question, he pointed out that people of color and white people are treated differently for drug crimes in the justice system.
His discussion of the environment wasn’t clear either at times. At one point, he said the Green New Deal wasn’t “too much,” but didn’t outright endorse it. He said he had his own deal that was like it. Then he later said his own deal wasn’t like it.
However, he said he will be better on the environment than Trump.
“When he hears global warming, he thinks ‘hoax,'” Biden said. “When I hear global warming, I think ‘jobs.'”
The Trump campaign has repeatedly tried to portray the former vice president as doddering and not mentally capable of holding the office. Trump’s campaign also has accused Biden — without any evidence — of having taken some sort of drugs that enhance his governing performance.
Biden, however, stood for the entire program unlike Trump, who sat down during a town hall meeting in Philadelphia on Tuesday hosted by ABC News.
Biden also often brought up specifics on public policies.
For example, Biden repeated his condemnation of violence that has broken out around a few Black Lives Matter protests. Then he talked about how important it is that police officers are respected. He also said officers having a right to return home at night after putting on their badge.
But Biden also talked about tougher background checks during the process of hiring officers, and implementing deescalation policies in departments.
He also criticized the president’s rhetoric when it comes to accepting Nov. 3’s election results. Biden said he would accept the results so long as we counted every vote.
“Look, if the president had even remote confidence that he was going to win the election,” Biden said, “he wouldn’t do this.”
Biden seemed to stun Cooper when he claimed he would be able to work with Republicans if he won the election.
He repeatedly showed his faith in several institutions during the town hall, including talking about the dedication of the workers at the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration.
The topic of vaccines came up. While Biden said the president has lost his trust on issues, he still believes the scientists and experts.
“I don’t trust the president on vaccines, I trust Dr. Fauci,” he said. “If Fauci says take the vaccines, we take the vaccines.”
Correspondent Patrick Abdalla covers northeastern Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star. Follow him on Twitter @PaddyAbs.