At the top of his remarks at a get-out-the-vote event in Pittsburgh Monday evening, former Vice President Joe Biden told a nearly 50-year-old story that he said characterized his campaign for the presidency.
At the start of his Senate tenure, Biden’s wife and daughter were killed in a car crash that also injured his sons Beau and Hunter. Biden recalled how football players on the Pittsburgh Steelers — including Franco Harris, who introduced him at Monday’s event — visited the hospital and cheered up his sons with signed footballs.
“No publicity, they didn’t do any press, didn’t let anybody know. They spent 45 minutes with my boys, they got on a plane and went home,” Biden said. “That’s who we are as a country! That’s something the President doesn’t understand — looking out for each other.”
The messaging — a return to decency and normalcy, Biden’s inverse of the bellicose “Make America Great Again” — has marked the former vice president’s campaign for the White House as much as any single policy item.
“My message is simple: The power to change this country is in your hands,” he told his audience in Pittsburgh.
And he’s likely right: Pennsylvania, a key part of the northern “Blue Wall” that Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump in 2016, is seen as a key to a potential Biden victory on Tuesday. But while the state has trended blue in recent surveys, voters’ stated preferences as told to pollsters aren’t as important as their votes. Biden’s event Monday focused specifically on turning out Black Americans to polling places. And in Pennsylvania, that electorate’s participation rate could determine the country’s next president.
Biden played the campaign trail hits in Pittsburgh: He’d pass a national $15 minimum wage, free tuition at public colleges and a $15,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers. Under a Biden administration, he said, the super wealthy and corporations would “pay their fair share.”
“Why should you pay more taxes than Donald Trump?” he asked, to a chorus of honks from the drive-in rally, referring to a New York Times report on Trump’s minimal federal income tax payment in 2017.
But perhaps most of all, Biden highlighted COVID-19 and the disproportionately deadly impact it’s had on American communities of color, calling it a “mass casualty” event for Black Americans.
“This president knew in January this virus was deadly, but he hid it from the American people,” Biden said, referencing an interview Trump gave Bob Woodward early on.
The Biden campaign hammered that message home all day, as it has for weeks: Shortly after Trump threatened to fire Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, on Monday morning, Biden offered a modest counteroffer — listening to the public health authority.
We need a president who actually listens to experts like Dr. Fauci.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) November 2, 2020
“The first step to beating this virus is beating Donald Trump!” Biden bellowed at another speech later on Monday.
Hours away in Miami on Monday night, Biden’s most prominent surrogate tried a last-minute attempt at turning out the vote in Florida — in part by highlighting Trump’s attempt to sue Obamacare into oblivion before the Supreme Court, thereby eliminating legal protections the law created for Americans with preexisting conditions.
“Don’t boo, vote!” former President Barack Obama implored the crowd, repeatedly punctuating his speech with a line that echoed one he deployed for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Florida is a tougher prize for Biden than Pennsylvania, if polls are to be believed, but a win in the delegate-rich state could end Trump’s hopes a lot more quickly: Unlike Pennsylvania, Florida elections officials are allowed to process mailed-in ballots ahead of Election Day, increasing the likelihood that the state will be able to deliver results without a days-long counting process.
Obama, like Biden a few minutes before, dinged Trump on job creation: In recent days Trump has bragged of 33% annualized GDP growth, a misleadingly massive number that the Washington Post noted “isn’t relevant in a crisis as unusual as this one” given the context — the quarter before this past one, annualized GDP dropped at a 31.4% annualized rate.
The former President got back to basics: “Donald Trump likes to claim he built this economy,” Obama exclaimed. “America created 1.5 million more jobs in the last three years of the Obama-Biden administration than in the first three years of his.”
Obama and Biden, speaking several states apart from one another, both noted that Trump would be the first president since the Great Depression to leave office with negative net job growth.
But for Obama, like his former vice president, the priority was turnout: He referenced Trump’s reported idea of claiming victory before all of the election’s results are tallied and said it recalled “two-bit dictators” that residents of Miami’s Little Havana and Little Haiti neighborhoods had fled to escape. But if the vote in Florida was lopsided enough, Obama said, Trump would have no choice but to accept the results.
“The reason why I’m back here, South Florida, is because I know some of you have not voted yet,” he said. “And it’s not because you think the guy in office is doing a good job.”