Joe Biden, the Democrat nominee, tried to strike a populist note on Saturday while talking to voters in Pennsylvania–only hours after calling supporters of President Donald Trump “chumps.”
The former vice president, who has pitched himself as the only Democrat that can bring blue-collar voters back into the party’s fold, appeared at a drive-in rally in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. During his remarks, Biden played up his working-class roots in an effort to create a contrast with Trump, a multi-millionaire real estate developer.
“I say it’s about time a state school guy gets to go to the Oval Office because you know what? If I’m sitting there, you will be sitting there with me,” the former vice president said, adding that it was time the government started looking after “forgotten” Americans.
Biden’s attempt at populism came only hours after he appeared at another rally in Pennsylvania, in the Philadelphia suburb of Bucks County. At that event, Biden referenced several pro-Trump protesters who were stationed outside the event, in an attempt to display that his response to the virus would be to the benefit of all Americans.
“I’m running as a proud Democrat, but I will govern as an American president, for everybody,” the former vice president said after arguing that Trump had taken a divisive stance on the pandemic.
“I’ll work as hard for those who don’t support me as those who do, including those chumps at the microphone out there,” Biden said. “That’s the job of a president, the duty to care for everyone, the duty to heal.”
The comments quickly struck many political observers as similar to those of Hillary Clinton in 2016 when she disparaged Trump supporters as “deplorables.”
Biden’s differing remarks in Luzerne and Bucks County indicate the complicated coalition Democrats are trying to put together in Pennsylvania in order to carry the state’s Electoral College votes this year.
In 2016, Trump bested Clinton by just 44,292 votes out of more than six million ballots in the Keystone state. Trump’s one percent margin of victory, narrow though it was, made him the first Republican to carry Pennsylvania since President George H.W. Bush’s 1988 landslide.
The victory was made possible by Trump’s appeal in counties like Luzerne, which were once safe for Democrats. Luzerne, where Wilkes Barre is located, was at one point home to coal mines and manufacturing plants. Like much of the industrial United States, Luzerne was hit hard by the push towards globalization in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Even as manufacturing began leaving throughout that time, the county’s residents continued backing Democrat presidential candidates by a substantial margin.
Four years ago, however, the status quo broke when Trump became the first Republican White House aspirant to win the county since 1988. Trump garnered 57.9 percent of the county’s vote against Clinton, who only took 38.6 percent, in part by appealing to the same voters that would have been considered safe Democrats even a decade prior. That point was evidenced by the fact that just four years earlier, President Barack Obama had carried Luzerne by five percentage points, 51 percent to 46 percent.
As Republicans have made gains in areas like Luzerne, they have lost ground in suburban counties like Bucks. For Biden to win Pennsylvania, however, he will have to run up the numbers in Bucks, while doing better than expected in Luzerne. It is unclear if comments like those Biden made on Saturday referring to Trump supporters as “chumps” will make that possible.