WASHINGTON (AP) — As Democrats fight to retain control of the Senate, President Joe Biden has been virtually absent from the midterm campaign trail in pivotal states such as Georgia, Nevada and Ohio.
But he keeps coming back to Pennsylvania, where he spent his childhood, and his low popularity rating won’t hold him back. He plans to return Thursday for the 14th time since taking office in January 2021, speaking about infrastructure in Pittsburgh and hosting a fundraiser in Philadelphia for Democrat John Fetterman, who is running for an open Senate seat. And Biden’s 15th trip is already scheduled for next week.
Pennsylvania is only a short plane ride from Washington, making it the most convenient swing state for the president to visit. It’s also central to Biden’s political identity, rivaling even his home state of Delaware, which he represented as a senator for nearly four decades.
With its communities of blue-collar white voters, Pennsylvania is an intimate test of whether Democrats can still win over the kind of people Biden grew up with in Scranton, but more recently threw their support behind Republicans and Donald Trump.
“It’s personal for Joe Biden” said Darrin Kelly, president of the Allegheny/Fayette Central Labor Council. “He’s no stranger here, because he’s pretty much one of us.”
Kelly said Biden has delivered on his promises to organized labor, pushing policies that will help workers. But will it be on polling day, November 8?
“Time will tell us,” said Kelly.
Biden’s approval ratings remain underwater in Pennsylvania, just as they do across the country. But he still has “something of an advantage on the pitch” during his visit, said Christopher Borick, assistant professor of political science at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.
“In Pennsylvania, he can still help more than he can hurt,” Borick said.
Biden’s family moved to neighboring Delaware when he was 10. He eventually began his political career there and was elected to the Senate in 1972.
But he was often called the Pennsylvanian “third senator” and he still peppers his speeches with references to Scranton.
While speaking last summer in Macungie, a small town in Lehigh County, Biden mixed up his geography, saying “down the road in Bethlehem” rather than “on the road.”
“I used to think of Scranton,” he explained.
Biden returned to his hometown almost exactly a year ago to promote his economic agenda.
“I believe home is where your character is etched, and I really mean it,” Biden said, adding that “this is where your worldview begins.”
He recalled playing shortstop with the Green Ridge Little League, buying penny candy at Simmey’s, and celebrating mass at St. Paul’s.
Although Biden expresses his nostalgia for Scranton, it was also where he understood the humiliation that economic struggles can bring. Her father could not find a job and the family had to move.
“I think the longest walk a parent can take is up a small flight of stairs to say to their child, ‘You can’t live here anymore'” Biden said. “’You can’t because dad doesn’t have a job.’ Or “mom doesn’t have a job”.
It’s the same kind of pain he talks about when it comes to issues like prescription drugs, asking his audience to step into the shoes of a parent unable to afford insulin for a son or a girl with diabetes.
“It’s not just a risk to your child’s life,” he said at the White House last year. “It robs you of your dignity.”
Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, who won’t be re-elected until 2024, said Biden’s experience helps him connect with people facing their own challenges.
“He is able to understand what it is to struggle and understand people who are facing difficult circumstances,” Casey said.
Fetterman is running against Republican Mehmet Oz, a heart surgeon who hosted a TV show for more than a decade. They are competing to succeed Republican Senator Pat Toomey, who did not seek re-election.
Brittany Yanick, spokeswoman for Oz, said Fetterman “would be a rubber stamp for Biden’s agenda.”
“Joe Biden and far-left Democrats like John Fetterman plunged the US economy into recession, skyrocketed crime and allowed gas prices to reach record highs,” she says.
Fetterman has come under intense health scrutiny since suffering a stroke in May. On Wednesday, he released a report from his doctor saying that Fetterman “is recovering well from his stroke and his health continues to improve” and concludes that he “has no work restrictions and can work full-time in the public service.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday that Biden had tracked down Fetterman “equally capable” to serve as a senator like never before. Fetterman is the lieutenant governor, and she said that “He does this with great ability and sincere concern for the people of the Commonwealth.”
Pennsylvania has one of the most expensive Senate races in the country, and Biden will help Democrats with his fundraiser on Thursday.
“We took out the tin cup”, said Jamie Perrapato, executive director of pro-democracy group Turn PA Blue.
“It’s a good time to reassure people, to keep them focused, to remind them how important Pennsylvania is,” she says.
Casey said “it’s one of those years where it’s going to be close”, befitting Pennsylvania’s status as a tightly divided state.
Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 and Biden won it in 2020.
Given that Biden intends to seek a second term in 2024, Casey said, “It doesn’t hurt to be in Pennsylvania in 2022.”