The Democratic ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris could learn a thing or two from the Republican ticket of Donald Trump and Mike Pence.
Last week, the vice president campaigned in Beaver and Westmoreland counties, talking with supporters and generally laying the groundwork for what Republicans hope will be another huge Trump victory in western Pennsylvania outside of Allegheny County.
The stop in Beaver County highlighted the administration’s support for fracking; earlier, Pence rode his campaign bus to the Cornerstone Ministries Church on the outskirts of Murrysville on Route 22, where he plugged the administration’s pro-life bonifides.
The Biden campaign responded, of course, with a statement insisting that “it’s a slap in the face for [Pence] to be talking to Beaver County workers ... when the Trump-Pence administration’s disastrous economic policies have led to the highest job losses in Pennsylvania in decades.”
“Instead of looking out for workers like they promised, President Trump and Vice President Pence let big corporations avoid paying taxes by offshoring jobs, hurt workers with a reckless trade war, and failed to protect Pennsylvanians from the economic fallout of COVID-19.”
Beaver County’s unemployment rate, the statement said, “skyrocketed to 16%” under Donald Trump.
The release was put out by Biden campaign Pennsylvania state director Brendan McPhillips.
The statement was all well and good, and I’m sure Brendon McPhillips is a fine guy with loads of experience organizing winning political campaigns.
But a written statement from a campaign aide is the bare minimum. What’s needed is for one of the Democratic principals - Harris or Biden himself - to campaign in western Pennsylvania in some place other than Pittsburgh.
Joe Biden made one of his first pre-nomination appearances at a union hall in Lawrenceville. That was some time last year in the b.c. (before covid). He was in Pittsburgh again two weeks ago to clarify his stance on social justice and policing. (He favors both.)
The Biden-Harris campaign needs to break out of their party’s Allegheny County cocoon.
There’s life, and votes, outside the Pittsburgh bubble, Democrats. Sure, you’re not going to carry Westmoreland, Washington, and Fayette counties in the November election. It’s crazy to think so. But the ticket needs to pick up some of the votes that Hillary Clinton lost out on.
It needs to narrow Trump’s winning margin from four years ago. The president carried Pennsylvania by 44,000 votes in 2016, reversing a string of Democratic presidential election victories that went back to Bill Clinton and 1992.
Doing just a little better in rural Pennsylvania could do the Democrats a world of good. That, plus rolling up an Obama-size margin in Philadelphia and comfortable majorities in such eastern Pennsylvania suburban counties as Bucks and Montgomery, could very well having the state see blue in 2020.
For the past several years, national Democrats have barely treated with rural and small-town Pennsylvania. As national politics has become more polarized, Democrats have largely confined their appeal for votes to the cities and the populous suburbs.
At the same time, Republicans have done a pretty job of speaking to the frustrations of non-metro whites who work with their hands, tend to religion, believe in the sanctity of the unborn, hunt, and stockpile guns, all without benefit of a college degree.
There’s a New York/Boston-spun theory going that small-town and rural Americans are an angst-ridden lot of angry malcontents whose resentments are born of humiliation - “humiliation being the most potent political sentiment of all,” in the words of Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel.
Grievance politics, Sandel says, “are not only about wages and jobs but about social esteem.”
Now, Sandel may be on something. To fix things, at least in the short-run, the Harvard prof and his friend New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman suggest a Biden deep-listening tour of the sticks.
That’s ok, but at this point, I’d settle for some regular old campaigning, like Democrats of yore used to make. I’m thinking of whistlestop Harry Truman.
Come on, Joe and Kamala, get a move on.
Richard Robbins lives in Uniontown. His latest book “JFK Rising” is available on Amazon. He can be reached at email@example.com.