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Democrats in Pennsylvania Urge Biden to Branch Out Beyond Philadelphia

Democrats in Pennsylvania Urge Biden to Branch Out Beyond Philadelphia


President Biden loves Philadelphia. And he loves campaigning there, too.

No part of the country has seen more visits from Mr. Biden so far this year, or throughout his presidency. Four years ago, the city — and its increasingly Democratic suburbs — cast one-third of the total votes in Pennsylvania, the nation’s most populous battleground state. Winning the region by large margins is essential for Mr. Biden’s hopes in November.

On Monday, Vice President Kamala Harris will stop in Philadelphia to promote the Biden administration’s efforts to forgive student debt, her third trip there since last summer.

Now, some Democrats are saying that it is time for Mr. Biden and his campaign to widen their reach across the Keystone State, which he narrowly won by about 80,000 votes last time around.

“Biden tiptoed in the right direction in 2020,” said former U.S. Representative Conor Lamb, a moderate Democrat who won a Pittsburgh-area district in 2018 that Donald J. Trump had carried by double digits. “And I think he needs to go much further this time.”

Mr. Biden won in 2020 not just because of Philadelphia. He also drove turnout in Pittsburgh, lifted his margins in smaller cities and flipped back swing counties that Barack Obama won in 2012 but that Hillary Clinton lost in 2016. And he prevented Mr. Trump from running up the score in the conservative, rural areas that span much of the state, partly with old-fashioned efforts like a whistle-stop Amtrak tour of western Pennsylvania. Mr. Biden will need to reunite that multiracial coalition of voters — which polling shows is in danger of fracturing — in 2024.

Mr. Lamb acknowledged that all candidates have time constraints, especially the president of the United States. But he urged Mr. Biden to spend more time in the state’s rural and rust-belt communities, which are predominantly home to white working-class voters but also have pockets of African American voters in former mill towns.

“I think people in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are reachable online and over TV in a way that voters in some of these smaller, older places might not be,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Austin Davis of Pennsylvania, a Democrat, said that he had no doubt that Mr. Biden would campaign across the state as the race moved into full gear.

“You have to show up in communities sometimes where it’s not easy to be a Democrat,” said Mr. Davis, who is from the Pittsburgh area. “You have to address those voters’ concerns and talk about how you’re going to make their lives better.”

So far this year, Mr. Biden has visited Philadelphia and its suburbs three times. He also stopped in a small western Pennsylvania town on his way to visit East Palestine, Ohio, where a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed last year, and has campaigned in the Lehigh Valley. Ms. Harris appeared in Pittsburgh in February.

The Biden campaign says that it is taking a robust, statewide approach, opening 14 offices across Pennsylvania last month, including in swing areas like Erie County, a union stronghold in the state’s northwest that Mr. Biden flipped back to blue in 2020. It has also hired several senior staff members.

“Donald Trump has no presence in the battleground,” said Jack Doyle, the Biden campaign’s communications director for Pennsylvania.

Mr. Biden is expected to campaign in western Pennsylvania in the coming weeks, according to two people with firsthand knowledge of the planned trip who asked for anonymity because it had not yet been made public.

In contrast, Mr. Trump has yet to announce the opening of a single office in Pennsylvania. And his travel has been more limited. The former president spoke at a National Rifle Association event in Harrisburg, the state capital, this year. He also appeared at a sneaker convention in Philadelphia to promote Trump-branded shoes and was met with both loud boos and cheers. On Saturday, he plans to hold a rally in Lehigh County.

“Joe Biden secured his nomination on Jan. 1, but he’s underwater in national polls and just now — after three months — staffing up in key battleground states,” Chris LaCivita, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, said in a statement. “We have the message, the operation and the money to propel President Trump to victory on Nov. 5.”

Polls generally show Mr. Trump with a narrow lead in Pennsylvania. It seems wildly improbable that Mr. Biden could win back the White House without carrying the state and its 19 electoral votes. Pennsylvania is part of the so-called blue wall that includes Michigan and Wisconsin.

“The road to 1600 Pennsylvania goes through Pennsylvania,” said Michael A. Nutter, a Democrat and former mayor of Philadelphia. “And when you’re in Philly, you’re really almost in half of the state because of the proximity of media and the attention you get.”

Democrats have been doing well at the ballot box in Pennsylvania, winning the governorship and picking up a Senate seat in 2022. They’ve also shown strength in local elections.

Mr. Biden’s connection to Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania more broadly, is personal. He spent much of his childhood in Scranton, in the state’s northeast. His wife, Jill Biden, is from the Philadelphia suburbs. And his home in Wilmington, Del., is less than an hour away, making Philadelphia an easy place to campaign. (Washington, D.C., is relatively close, too.)

“Folks, it feels good to be home,” Mr. Biden told union members at a rally in Philadelphia last summer.

His biggest trip outside Philadelphia this year took him to Allentown, a city of roughly 125,000 that is majority Hispanic. Mr. Trump is increasingly popular with Hispanic voters. Mr. Biden’s campaign has targeted Allentown’s Hispanic voters lately, with Ms. Harris doing an interview on a local Spanish-language radio channel.

Mayor Matt Tuerk of Allentown, a Democrat, said that the president’s January visit to the city was a good strategy.

“Historically, it’s a point of irritation for Latinos that politicians show up in October,” just before the election, Mr. Tuerk said.

Mr. Biden is also almost certain to return to his hometown, Scranton, where he campaigned on Election Day in 2020 and where the city’s mayor, Paige Cognetti, a Democrat, said that the president had maintained close ties.

“It’s hard to find somebody in Scranton who doesn’t know someone whose mother or father or aunt or uncle’s funeral he attended,” Ms. Cognetti said. “He’s very much a son of Scranton.”


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