In Pittsburgh, Biden Hones in on Pennsylvania's Working Class

Keith Srakocic/AP/Shutterstock
April 29, 2019

By Spencer Feingold and Megan Pratz

Joe Biden wooed blue collar voters with his first major 2020 presidential campaign rally in Pittsburgh on Monday afternoon. In a speech before voters and union members, Biden detailed his vision for an inclusive middle class and for a revitalized economy that focuses on workers.

"Now the only people that benefit when a company does well is the CEO's and the shareholders," Biden told the crowd. "And the only people that get hurt when a company gets hit by hard times are workers."

The former vice president also spoke directly to working class people that voted for President Trump in 2016.

“It is fertile breeding ground for a Democrat who wants working class, labor support here in western Pennsylvania — perhaps the most important area in the country,” Julian Routh, a political reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, told Cheddar ahead of the rally.

Biden officially joined the crowded field of 2020 democratic hopefuls last week with an opening message of rejecting Trump’s divisiveness and bringing unity and civility back to politics. In a race dominated by discourse around major progressive policies like the Green New Deal and universal healthcare, Biden — who is often lauded for his working class charm — is betting his moderate appeal will gain him widespread support.

"I think you’ll see a lot of centrist Republicans coming on to Joe Biden just because they don't like Donald Trump anymore," Garrett Spirnock, a voter from West Deer, PA who attended the rally, told Cheddar. "So as far as electability goes, he’s definitely the best candidate for that.”

With its storied industrial history, Pennsylvania has long been a competitive state in national elections. The state narrowly went red in 2016 with 48.2 percent of votes going to Trump and 47.5 percent to Hillary Clinton. Major metros, however, like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were solidly blue despite the vast majority of counties voting Republican. Trump was the first Republican presidential nominee to win the state since President George H.W. Bush in 1988.

A son of Scranton, Pennsylvania, Biden hopes to bring rural voters, and the state’s 20 electoral votes, back to the Democratic party.

People in western Pennsylvania “really have believed over the decline of the steel industry here in this great city that they have been forgotten by their politicians,” Routh said.

'Truth Over Lies'

Biden also hopes to capitalize on voters' resentment and frustration with the Trump White House.

“I don’t care if it’s a female or a person of color or a white male, we need a strong Democratic candidate who can take [Trump] down,” Shyanne Rippole, a voter from McKees Rocks, Pa., told Cheddar.

Democrats have made inroads in the state since 2016. Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Penn.) successfully flipped the state’s 17th district in Pittsburgh's surrounding suburban counties. The race gained national attention since the district voted heavily for Trump in 2016 but for President Obama in 2008 and 2012.

“We can see that Joe Biden thinks [Pennsylvania] is important because it is the first place he is coming for a public event,” Laura Olson, the Washington correspondent for the Allentown newspaper The Morning Call, told Cheddar. “His core base is in the conservative and moderate Democratic voters, like some of those that we see in really large groups out here in western Pennsylvania.”

Biden’s Pittsburgh rally ー which people began lining up five hours before the doors opened ー came on the heels of a major labor union endorsement from the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), which represents more than 316,000 full-time professional fire fighters and paramedics.

Biden will fight for “policies and legislation that improve the lives and livelihoods of not just firefighters but all who work for a living,” Harold Schaitberger, the union’s general president, said in an endorsement video released Monday morning.

Trump criticized the IAFF's endorsement, saying in a tweet "the Dues Sucking firefighters leadership will always support Democrats, even though the membership wants me."

Monday’s rally also drew the president's ire.

“Sleepy Joe Biden is having his first rally in the Great State of Pennsylvania. He obviously doesn’t know that Pennsylvania is having one of the best economic years in its history, with lowest unemployment EVER, a now thriving Steel Industry (that was dead) & great future!” Trump tweeted.

Biden responded in a tweet of his own: “I'm sick of this President badmouthing unions. Labor built the middle class in this country. Minimum wage, overtime pay, the 40-hour week: they exist for all of us because unions fought for those rights. We need a President who honors them and their work.”

A recent survey from Emerson Polling found that Biden would beat Trump in a presidential election 55 percent to 45 percent.

We "have to choose hope over fear, unity over division, and maybe most importantly, truth over lies," Biden said at the rally.

For full interview click here.