FROM BATTLEGROUND PA. – Drive south on Route 209 from Stroudsburg and New Jersey really isn’t all that far away to the east, but the landscape of roadside shops advertising guns and “ammo” delivers a strong message – this ain’t the Garden State.
In many ways, this is Trump-country. Again, we’re not far removed from suburbia or even the metro regions of NYC and Philly, but this is a rural, small-town slice of Pennsylvania – locales where the president must do extremely well to keep his job.
On this overcast, but mild evening, Team Trump is congregating for what has become a campaign staple – a flag-waving rally alongside the road in Polk Township, which spreads over 30 square-miles and is home to about 8,000.
There were U.S. flags, Trump flags, people wearing MAGA hats and others sporting creative, if not
offensive, messages. One woman wore a T-Shirt reading, “Cracker Lives Matter.” A car with a MAGA decal invited those who objected to “call 1-800-you-suck.”
The owner of the car said he is a construction worker and worries that the “Green New Deal” will hurt his livelihood. Joe Biden has said he doesn’t support the Green New Deal, which arose from the party’s left wing, but such subtleties often get lost in the heat of a campaign.
I have seen similar events in New Jersey, but this one felt different, simply because unlike New Jersey, Pennsylvania is competitive. As everyone knows, Trump barely won the state’s 20 electoral votes four years ago, but this time around Biden leads by about 4 points in the average of all polls.
The Electoral College math says Biden doesn’t truly need Pennsylvania to win, but Trump definitely does. The president himself barnstormed through the state on Monday.
A day later, Trump supporters lined up along the road, waving flags at passing vehicles. Many showed support by beeping horns, but one woman screamed a very audible, “F …. You,” as she drove by.
“We love you too,” said a Trump backer. There were about a hundred people at the rally, and as I have observed at GOP gatherings here in Jersey, most were not wearing masks. Reckless, but just the way it is.
Watching all this was Robert Butler, the vice-chair of the Republican Committee in Monroe County, which includes Polk. Proving again that there is a New Jersey connection to just about everything, Butler lives in the Poconos, but works in Mount Olive in Morris County.
He admitted this election is no sure thing, acknowledging that Dems probably will do well “down ballot.”
But in the main event, Butler said, “I think Pennsylvania will go red again.”
The county seat in Monroe is Stroudsburg, about 20 miles to the north of Polk Township. Democrats and Republicans both have campaign offices here.
Monroe is a battleground county in a battleground state. The 2016 vote here was 33,918 for Hillary Clinton and 33,368 for Trump.
Mark Dodel, a retired computer programmer, presided over the Dems’ campaign office a block south of Main Street. In a nice historical touch, one of the pictures on the wall was of Hubert Humphrey.
“I was just running the numbers,” he said, looking up from his laptop.
Dodel discovered that about 18,700 vote-by-mail ballots have already been returned to the county election office. And for him, here was the best news – about 12.700 were from Democrats.
This, of course, is not novel. Dems are doing better in early, or vote-by-mail, balloting, all over the country.
Nor is this purely by accident. With the president setting the standard, many Republicans are wary about voting by mail. A sign I saw at the Trump rally said, “Vote Red In Person.”
No matter how and where people vote, all agree that the turnout is likely going to set records. In Pennsylvania, ballot drop-off boxes are in libraries and when I visited the county library just west of Stroudsburg, a librarian said simply that “many people ” are dropping in ballots.
So, what’s it all mean?
“I have no idea after 2016,” said Dodel, whose wife, incidentally, is from Bayonne.
The Republican campaign office is a few blocks away. One of the GOP campaign workers said she is originally from Bedminster, which is interesting on two accounts. It reinforces the notion of New Jersey being “everywhere,” and it’s also, obviously, the home of Trump’s golf club.
Beyond that tidbit, I got nowhere. Another worker said campaign personnel aren’t allowed to talk to the press.
When I called Jerry Bates, the Monroe County coordinator of the Trump campaign, he declined comment as well – said he was too busy.
On Facebook, Bates has been complaining about “lowlifes” vandalizing Trump campaign signs. Sure enough, right in the center of Stroudsburg, a Trump reelection sign was defaced by red spray paint. That prompted a supporter to write that this shows how “law and order” is needed.
This, clearly, is a Trump theme no matter where you are.
One of those at the flag-waving rally, senior citizen Marjorie Kleppinger, expressed concerns about Biden’s fitness (another Trump campaign staple) but added. “I feel safer with him,” meaning the president.
Fear is a definite motivator, but it has many causes – and responses.
At Democratic headquarters, Dodel said a lot of the people he talks to are frightened as well.
But their concern is after the election, win or lose, “What will Trump do?”