40 years ago, Biden told Pa. voters he'd be president one day. Now, will they elect him?
The president’s reelection campaign was in trouble. He needed Pennsylvania, and he needed Joe Biden.
In 1980, U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy was President Jimmy Carter's main challenger in the Democratic primary. So Carter called up Delaware’s 37-year-old junior U.S. senator and asked him for help.
One day in April, Biden — who had been dubbed “Pennsylvania's third senator” since his birthplace is in Scranton — made campaign stops in the Philadelphia suburbs of Bala Cynwyd, Drexel Hill and Broomall. Women looked at him longingly; one even asked him to sign a wall in her home. She thought it could improve the property value.
Yet reporters saw something else: They observed a young, confident politician who “dropped remarks about running for — and some day becoming — president.”
“I am one of the most important men in America,” he told voters. “I’d probably be president myself if I wasn’t too young the last time around.”
Forty years and two failed presidential campaigns later, Biden has a chance to become the country’s oldest sitting president. And the results of the 2020 election could come down to Pennsylvania, which President Donald Trump won four years ago.
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According to polls, Biden continues to lead Trump in Pennsylvania. But unlike other states, a large share of Pennsylvania voters have not cast early ballots. As of Monday, about 350,000 requested mail-in ballots have yet to be returned by Democrats, according to the U.S. Elections Project.
In the last hours of the campaign, Biden, running mate U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and their surrogates are barnstorming all four corners of the state. But so has Trump. The president held rallies in Reading, Williamsport and outside Pittsburgh in recent days.
Biden will spend election day in Scranton and Philadelphia, and then come home to Wilmington on Tuesday night.
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Amid the pandemic, Biden has visited Pennsylvania the most in recent months. His campaign has relied on his middle class roots, framing the race as “Scranton vs. Park Avenue.”
“President Trump is terrified of what will happen in Pennsylvania,” Biden said Sunday at a church stop. “He knows if the people of Philadelphia get to have their say, if you have your say, he doesn’t stand a chance.”
Trump held four rallies in Pennsylvania on Saturday and will hold a rally on Monday in Scranton, while Vice President Mike Pence will campaign in Erie. During a Saturday rally in Bucks County, Trump declared Pennsylvania the state that is going to “save the American Dream.”
"On Nov. 3, we're going to win Pennsylvania,” he said to a crowd of hundreds. “We're going to win four more years in that very beautiful White House."
In his final pitch to voters, the president has also made attacks on the integrity of the election and its process.
“We should know the result of the election on Nov. 3. The evening of Nov. 3,” Trump said Sunday at a rally in Iowa. “That’s the way it’s been and that’s the way it should be.”
When reporters asked Biden about this on Sunday, he responded: “The president is not going to steal this election.”
As Biden enters the final 24 hours of the race, he is ending it how he started it. His first 2019 campaign speech was in a crowded union hall in Pittsburgh, and days later, he held a rally in the heart of Philadelphia. At the time, he declared that the election would be decided by his native state.
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For a politician known for his gaffes, Biden’s message has remained consistent through the primary and general election, even with the country being upended by a pandemic. He continues to declare that America is in the “battle for the soul of the nation” and that “character is on the ballot.”
On Monday, the former vice president will kick off canvassing in Beaver County and then travel to Pittsburgh for a drive-in event with wife Jill Biden, who will spend her day in Erie. Harris will canvass in Luzerne County and then head to a drive-in event with her husband Doug, who will be canvassing in Lancaster.
Before all this, Biden traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, early Monday afternoon. It’s an indication that the Biden campaign feels competitive in the state that Trump won by eight points in 2016.
Biden senior adviser Anita Dunn told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s "This Week” that the campaign’s “map has expanded” in the final days. The campaign is looking for wins in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina.
Polls released by Quinnipiac University on Monday showed Biden leading in Ohio and Florida.
Yet, Pennsylvania remains one of the most important states in Biden’s path to winning the necessary 270 electoral votes. In every stop, he has emphasized his Scranton roots.
“Pennsylvania is critical in this election,” he said on Sunday. “I live in Delaware but I’m a Pennsylvania boy, born in Scranton."
Contact Meredith Newman at (302) 324-2386 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @merenewman.