Why Scranton matters again in 2020

 Why Scranton matters again in 2020

By Shane Savitsky

The hometown of Joe Biden and “The Office” is polishing its perennial status as a guidepost for the nation’s political mood.

Driving the news: Biden returns to Scranton, Pa., today with a campaign stop just outside the city limits at a metalworking plant, where he’ll deliver remarks on a plan to create jobs and “help America build back better.”

  • President Trump participated in a Fox News town hall in Scranton in March.
  • Vice President Mike Pence is campaigning elsewhere today in Pennsylvania, underscoring its importance as a battleground state.

Why it matters: Trump won Pennsylvania by less than 1 percentage point in 2016, but Biden now leads Trump in Real Clear Politics poll averages.

  • Scranton, with its mining and railroad roots, is a microcosm of demographic trends and political anxieties that propelled Trump’s 2016 election.
  • The election is a referendum on both men in places like this — on Trump’s ability to execute on his promises, and on the durability of Biden’s appeal with modern-day white, working-class men.
  • Barack Obama took 63% of the vote in Lackawanna County, where Scranton sits, in both 2008 and 2012. In 2016, Hillary Clinton didn’t crack 50% .
  • At the same time, the metropolitan area has faced rapid diversification since 2000 — when it was 96% white — as New York-area immigrants searched for cheaper places to put down roots.
  • It’s held on to some socially conservative Catholic roots.

Scranton’s internal problems also have attuned voters to messages about corruption and government accountability.

  • Former Mayor Bill Courtright steered the city away from bankruptcy after decades of fiscal mismanagement, but last year he resigned and pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges for taking payments from businesses that wanted to work in the city.

Don’t forget: This northeastern Pennsylvania city has carried personal significance for those at or near the top of the ticket in six of the last eight White House contests.

  • Though Biden hasn’t lived in Scranton since he was a child, it’s a huge part of his political identity. He long joked about being Pennsylvania’s “third senator.” It’s also where Hillary Clinton’s father was born and buried.
  • Trump campaign spokeswoman Sarah Matthews accused Biden of trying “to masquerade as blue-collar Joe from Scranton.”

Between the lines: The national press has long had a fascination with Scranton’s presidential implications. It helps that it’s just a few hours’ drive from the corridors of power in Washington and New York.

  • 2008: RealClearPolitics called it “the new Peoria — ground zero for old-fashioned American values, the psychic heartland.”
  • 2012: The New York Times said Scranton was “Hillary country” and posed a liability for Obama’s re-election after his 2008 comments about voters who “cling to guns or religion.”
  • 2016: The Times theorized that Trump could “invade” Scranton and “make deep inroads in a Democratic stronghold with an anti-free trade, America-first message, which across the Rust Belt has energized the blue-collar voters.”

Be smart: Since the pandemic upended the campaign trail, Biden has stayed close to his home bases of Philadelphia and Wilmington, holding mostly virtual events with few and smaller-scale in-person interactions. Venturing out to Scranton takes him a step farther afield without leaving his comfort zone.