Bi­den’s Scran­ton vs. Park Ave. ap­peal tar­gets work­ing class

Na­tive per­son­al­iz­ing pitch in cam­paign’s clos­ing stretch.

The Times-Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - BY BILL BAR­ROW

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.

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