By Jamie Wiggan
In an election contest increasingly focused on Pennsylvania’s 20 Electoral College votes, both presidential candidates rounded off their campaigns with final stops in the Pittsburgh region this week.
“Eighteen months ago, we kicked off the campaign at Teamsters Local 249 right here in Pittsburgh,” Democratic nominee Joe Biden said during a drive-in rally outside Heinz Field on Nov. 2. “I chose Western Pennsylvania for my first stop as a candidate and now for my last stop before election day -- because you represent the backbone of this country.”
Before stumping in the Northshore late in the evening, Biden spent the day crisscrossing the region, meeting with union workers in Beaver County early afternoon and later leading a drive-in event in Homewood.
President Donald Trump meanwhile honed in on Western Pennsylvania Oct. 31, where he led a large outdoor rally in Butler County, following several stops in the Eastern part of the state.
While Biden whirred around the Steel City on Nov. 2, Vice President Mike Pence touched down both in Latrobe and Erie. Trump made a final stop in the Scranton area before dashing off to the MidWest.
Throughout his 40-minute address in Pittsburgh’s Northshore, Biden made frequent appeals to working and middle-class voters, who he said were being left behind under Trump’s economy.
“I warn you all, if I’m elected you’re gonna see the most pro-union president in American history sitting in the White House,” he said.
During their trips to the region, both candidates voiced keen support for manufacturing – which sustains more than 80,000 Pittsburgh area workers – and hydraulic fracturing (fracking), an industry highly concentrated in Western Pennsylvania.
Speaking to the thousands gathered in Butler County, Trump announced as “breaking news” the signing of a White House Memoranda drumming up support for the energy industry.
“Moments ago I signed an order to protect Pennsylvania fracking and block any effort to undermine energy production in your state,” he said.
The memo in question does not give any legal protection to fracking firms, but instead calls for a report into the economic benefits of the energy industry in an effort to inform federal policy.
At a campaign stop in Moon six weeks earlier, Trump stuck to similar themes, reiterating his familiar refrain, “I represent the people of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
There, he also took credit for keeping the region’s few remaining steel mills in business and vowed to continue supporting coal production.
Laying out his contrasting approach, Biden said he plans to apply “American ingenuity” to the manufacturing industry in a bid to simultaneously tackle climate change while boosting manufacturing jobs. He also denounced Trump’s claims he intends to eliminate fracking in Pennsylvania.
“Let me be clear, I will not ban fracking in Pennsylvania, I’ll protect those jobs, period,” Biden said.
With 20 Electoral College votes up for grabs, both candidates have invested heavily in Pennsylvania during recent weeks, and pollsters have broadly heralded the state as a pivotal battleground this year. For six straight election cycles following George H. W. Bush’s 1988 victory, the Keystone state voted for Democratic presidential candidates and was thought of as dependably blue until Trump flipped it four years ago.
Trump’s margin of victory was less than a percentage point in 2016, leaving both sides vying for every vote in a contest that could go either way this year.