Thoughts as Trump speaks at Erie Airport

Sam Peterson, Staff writer

“What is going on in Pennsylvania?”

President Donald Trump pondered this question during his rally here in Erie on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020.

Both President Donald Trump and his challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden have campaigned in Erie, PA for this tumultuous 2020 election. Biden spent his time describing plans for the future and being honest with Americans.

Trump used his time to flex some of his accomplishments in office. Notably, Trump spent a large sum of time attacking Biden for his stances on certain issues. For example, Trump debuted what he called his “Broadway play” which was just a short clip accusing Joe Biden of being inept.

Trump also put on a bizarre performance of himself as “Sleepy Joe” going to get ice cream. “Vanilla and chocolate, please,” Trump asked in a shaky and frail voice while he shuffled around.

Trump is no stranger to coming up with nicknames for his rivals. During the speech, Trump’s microphone got cut, and he took this opportunity to regale his audience with some of his vintage name calling. “I don’t believe it was Joe. Do you know who it was? Crooked Hillary,” he said.

These antics can be debated as presidential behavior, but it is highly unlikely that the crowd at the Erie airport contained a single undecided voter. Rather, Trump just needed to energize his base. This is especially true for his supporters in Erie, PA.

Erie plays a crucial role in the 2020 election in the contentious swing state of Pennsylvania. While Erie has historically been won by the Democrats (since 1984), in 2016 Erie turned majority Republican.

This switch mirrored the entire state of Pennsylvania, which Trump took in 2016.Erie County serves as a benchmark and a battleground for the entire state. The gravity of Erie’s importance was not lost on Trump who proclaimed, “before the plague came in, I had it made. I wasn’t coming to Erie. I have to be honest, there’s no way I was coming to Erie.”

Trump did acknowledge he needs Erie’s support. However, outright saying he would never come to Erie, except to solicit votes, runs counter to his Washington outsider and populist message.

It is unclear what Trump meant by “before the plague came in,” as he had visited Erie twice before COVID-19 hit. Trump’s remark takes on a whole new level of questionability when coupled with his statement at the start of the rally, “I think I know the people of Erie pretty well.”

Either Trump knows the people of Erie are not worth his time, or he deliberately lied to his crowd and admitted to it. It is hard to imagine a voter from Erie that would not be insulted.

Nevertheless, his message was met with laughter and thunderous applause. Trump’s audience was extremely large. They were crowded into stands at the Erie International Airport and lined up in droves outside the stage. He described them as, “the biggest crowds anyone has ever had.”

Trump was met with chants of “we love you!” He called out a male audience member in the first row, saying “last time this guy said that to another man, I doubt you have, maybe dad, maybe dad a long time ago,” Trump said.

On the other hand, Biden’s speech was to a small number of supporters and Biden was not accessible to the public during his time in Erie. Biden has repeatedly stressed the need for proper distancing during this time of COVID-19.

Reflecting that, his crowd was significantly smaller, comprising just a few union factory workers and Erie business leaders spaced far apart. This fact did not stop Trump from claiming Biden has no enthusiasm amongst voters.

Crowd or no crowd, Biden drove home the “K” shaped economic recovery of the coronavirus pandemic. His point was that the largest companies and individuals gained extraordinary wealth, while the majority of Americans have seen their net worth decline.

According to Business Insider, billionaires increased their wealth by roughly 30 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a stark contrast to the nearly 8% unemployment rate the average Americans are facing right now.

Biden then slammed Trump for poor handling of the pandemic and presented his own plan for recovery, which included mandatory masks in public, and listening to scientists as key advisors for how to slow the spread of COVID-19. Another contentious issue in the speeches was that of fracking. Both campaigns know it plays a massive role in the state of Pennsylvania, providing jobs and livelihoods.

Trump understood this and attacked Joe Biden, claiming that a zero-emission plan would have to ban fracking at some point.

Joe Biden said repeatedly, with emphasis, that he would never ban fracking in Pennsylvania. This message is specific to the needs of a few states, but it has been brought up several times over the last few weeks.

Notably, it was featured extensively in the final debate. In 2016 the election was decided by roughly 80,000 voters in three different swing states, according to voter data.

Both campaigns realize how crucial the small margins are in swing states, such as PA, and it is why issues such as fracking get thrust into the national spotlight.

If Donald Trump happens to sway enough voters, even if it is just a tiny percentage, it can turn the tide of the entire state. The same goes for Joe Biden, which is why he is promising to never ban fracking.

Whether or not that is actually Biden’s intention is irrelevant. Biden is hoping to avoid the mistakes of 2016 where Hillary Clinton lost the electoral vote from these swing states by less than 1%. As if to drive this point home, an anonymous registered independent student at Mercyhurst University has received over 50 election solicitations in the past months.

An independent college student in a swing state is seen by either campaign as a valuable commodity to conquer, and secure. The commonality between both speeches was that Trump and Biden both implored listeners to vote.

Every last vote matters, more so in contentious swing states such Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

When do we stop to ask ourselves, “Is it a good thing my vote matters more than someone else’s?”