As Democrats fight to maintain control of the Senate, President Joe Biden has been practically absent from midterm election campaigns in crucial states such as Georgia, Nevada and Ohio.
But he keeps coming back to Pennsylvania, where he spent his childhood, and his low ratings don’t keep him away. He plans to return on Thursday for the 14th time since taking office in January 2021, speaking about infrastructure in Pittsburgh and holding a fundraising campaign in Philadelphia for Democrat John Fetterman, who is running for an open Senate seat. And Biden’s 15th trip is already scheduled for next week.
Pennsylvania is just a short flight from Washington, making it the most convenient swing state for the president to visit. It is also central to Biden’s political identity, even rivaling his home state of Delaware, which he represented as a senator for nearly four decades.
With its communities of working-class white voters, Pennsylvania is an intimate test of whether Democrats can still convince the kind of people Biden grew up with in Scranton, but more recently lent their support to Republicans and Donald Trump.
“It’s personal to Joe Biden,” said Darrin Kelly, the chairman of the Allegheny/Fayette Central Labor Council. “He’s no stranger here, because he’s pretty much one of us.”
Kelly said Biden has kept his promises to organized labor and has implemented policies that will help working people. But will that sink in on Election Day, November 8?
“Time will tell,” Kelly said.
Biden’s approval ratings remain under water in Pennsylvania, as they do across the country. But he still has “something of a home advantage” when he comes to visit, said Christopher Borick, an assistant professor of political science at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.
“In Pennsylvania, he can still help more than hurt,” Borick said.
Biden’s family moved to neighboring Delaware when he was 10 years old. He eventually began his political career there and was elected to the Senate in 1972.
But he was often referred to as Pennsylvania’s “third senator,” and he still laces his speeches with references to Scranton.
Speaking last summer in Macungie, a small town in Lehigh County, Biden swapped his geography by saying “on the road in Bethlehem” instead of “on the road.”
“I’m used to thinking from Scranton,” he explained.
Biden returned to his hometown almost exactly a year ago to promote his economic agenda.
“I believe that home is where your character is etched, and I really mean it,” Biden said, adding that “it’s where your view of the world begins.”
He reminisced about playing shortstop with the Green Ridge Little League, buying penny candy at Simmey’s, and celebrating Mass at St. Paul’s.
While Biden expresses nostalgia for Scranton, it’s also where he began to understand the humiliation economic struggles can bring. His father could not find work and the family had to move.
“I think the longest walk a parent can take is a short flight of stairs to say to their child, ‘You can’t live here anymore,'” Biden said. .’ Or ‘Mommy doesn’t have a job.’”
It’s the same kind of pain he talks about when it comes to things like prescription drugs, asking his audience to put themselves in the shoes of a parent who can’t afford insulin for a son or daughter with diabetes.
“It’s not just a risk to your child’s life,” he told the White House last year. “It robs you of your dignity.”
Democratic Senator Bob Casey, who won’t be reelected until 2024, said Biden’s experience helps him connect with people facing their own challenges.
“He’s able to understand what it’s like to struggle and understand people who are dealing with difficult circumstances,” Casey said.
Fetterman takes on Republican Mehmet Oz, a heart surgeon who hosted a daytime television show for more than a decade. They are competing for the successor to Republican Senator Pat Toomey, who did not want to be re-elected.
Brittany Yanick, an Oz spokeswoman, said Fetterman would be “a stamp for the Biden agenda.”
“Joe Biden and far-left Democrats like John Fetterman have pushed the US economy into recession, skyrocketing crime and gas prices to record highs,” she said.
Fetterman has been criticized for his health since he suffered a stroke in May. On Wednesday, he released a report from his doctor stating that Fetterman is “recovering well from his stroke and that his health has continued to improve” and concludes that he “has no work restrictions and can work fully in public office”.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Monday that Biden has found Fetterman “just as capable” to serve as senator as ever. Fetterman is the lieutenant governor, and she said that “he does so with great ability and genuine concern for the people of the commonwealth.”
Pennsylvania has one of the most expensive Senate races in the country, and Biden will help Democrats with his fundraiser on Thursday.
“We’ve got the tin cup out,” said Jamie Perrapato, executive director of the pro-democracy group Turn PA Blue.
“This is a great time to reassure people, keep them focused and remind them of how important Pennsylvania is,” she said.
Casey said, “This is one of those years where it will be close,” befitting Pennsylvania’s status as a closely divided state.
Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 and Biden won it in 2020.
Given that Biden plans to run for a second term in 2024, Casey said, “It doesn’t hurt to be in Pennsylvania in 2022.”
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