Biden’s Scranton vs. Park Ave. appeal targets working class
Native personalizing pitch in campaign’s closing stretch.
Joe Biden stood on the floor of a Wisconsin aluminum plant this week, shed the trappings of his decades in national politics and then took aim at the billionaire New Yorker he wants to evict from the Oval Office.
“I’ve dealt with guys like Donald Trump my whole life, who would look down on us because we didn’t have a lot of money or your parents didn’t go to college,” Biden said, recalling his boyhood roots. “Guys who think they’re better than you. Guys who inherit
everything they’ve ever gotten in their life and squander it.”
Biden has long cultivated his persona as “Middle-class Joe” with “hardscrabble” roots, but as he turns to the closing stretch of his third presidential bid, the Scranton native is personalizing his pitch as he tries to undercut one of the president’s core strengths.
“The truth is,” Biden said, “he never really respected us.”
It’s at once a demonstration of Biden’s personal contempt for Trump and the Democratic challenger’s pride in his own family history as mostly working-class Irish Catholics. But, most importantly as voters begin casting early ballots, it’s a carefully tailored message aimed at voters who’ve abandoned Democrats in recent elections and helped Trump flip a band of Rust Belt states to fashion his own presidential victory map.
The strategy goes beyond the headlines from Democrats’ 2018 midterm success, when college-educated whites in metro areas swelled the congressional ranks of suburban Democrats and handed the party a House majority, new governorships and scores of state legislative seats around the country. Now Biden and his advisers believe his profile, combined with Trump’s liabilities, allows Democrats to capitalize on their new base without forsaking their old one.
“There are so many people in our party who have just said, ‘screw the white working class, they don’t matter anymore and we can’t get them because they’re all racist,’ blah, blah, blah,” said Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster based in Wisconsin. “But thank God Joe Biden is not running that kind of campaign. He knows better.”
Trump advisers, for their part, see the president as having enough of an upper hand among the white working class to be reelected. Still, it wouldn’t take much of a shift for Biden to win states like Wisconsin, Michigan or Pennsylvania that the president carried by less than 1 percentage point in 2016, and Trump certainly seems mindful of that prospect.
“Joe Biden’s devoted his career to offshoring your jobs, throwing open your border, dragging us into endless foreign wars,” Trump told a crowd in Wisconsin recently.
In Pittsburgh, Trump accused Biden of stealing his proposals to shore up American manufacturing. And in Nevada, he went directly at Biden’s biographical pitch, casting the lifetime politician according to his resume and not his roots: “I did more in 47 months as president than Joe Biden did in 47 years.”
In Wisconsin, recent polls suggest Trump is leading modestly among white voters without a college degree. A Washington POST-ABC News survey found white non-college Wisconsinites somewhat more likely to back Trump over Biden, by a 54%-44% margin. A New York Times/siena poll found a slight advantage for the president, 50%-39%.
Biden also blasts Trump for trying to dismantle the 2010 health insurance overhaul amid a pandemic and for failing in recent weeks to win congressional approval for additional aid to shore up the economy still reeling from COVID-19. And he chides the president for stoking racial divisions and pitting white workers against nonwhites fighting in the same economy.
But those lines of attack don’t differ fundamentally from what 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton tried four years ago. Maslin, the Democratic pollster, pointed to the personal core of Biden’s pitch as a key distinction.
“I really do view this campaign as a campaign between Scranton and Park Avenue,” Biden said last week at a CNN town hall, nodding to his Pennsylvania boyhood home and Trump’s adult life in Manhattan, where the president built his branding empire, complete with the skyscraper emblazoned with his name.
Biden insisted in Wisconsin that his background, so much closer culturally to workingclass Americans, means he actually will deliver on what was Trump’s initial appeal for so many voters.