The contrast Biden is trying to create pits Trump — who calls himself a genius who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has been fashioned by backers as a “blue-collar billionaire” — against a Democrat who has built his career on appealing to the middle class and those striving to join it. In ways subtle and blatant, Biden has described himself as the ally of the average nurse, teacher or military enlistee to try to cut into what has been a bulwark of Trump’s support. Stops at fire stations are now a regular feature in his campaign schedule.
“I view this campaign as between Scranton and Park Avenue,” Biden said during a speech in northern Minnesota on Friday afternoon, during which he launched into some new and fiery populist rhetoric.
“Like a lot of you, I spend a lot of my life with guys like Donald Trump looking down on me. Looking down on people who make a living with their hands, people who take care of our kids, clean our streets,” he added. “These are the guys who always thought they were better than me, better than us, because they had a lot of money. Guys who inherited everything they got and still managed to squander it. . . . I just have a little bit of a chip on my shoulder because of these guys.”
Biden and Trump each campaigned in northern Minnesota on Friday, the first day of early voting in the state. Both traveled far from the state’s population center around the Twin Cities — an epicenter of the country’s racial unrest and protests against police — and instead aimed at the rural, predominantly White voters they see as potentially decisive in 2020.
Biden’s new emphasis also was an effort to change the subject in Minnesota, where Hillary Clinton narrowly won in 2016, and in nearby Wisconsin and Michigan, which flipped to Trump.
The president has aimed a “law and order” message at those states since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May led to months of protests that were occasionally violent. Democrats are increasingly worried about White voters as support for Black Lives Matter protests drops, and they see Biden as endangered by Trump’s false charge that he backs calls to the “defund the police.” (Biden has called for an increase in police funding.)
In a new NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll released Friday, 48 percent say such demonstrations are “mostly legitimate protests,” while 45 percent say they are “mostly people acting unlawfully.” When a similar question was asked in June, 62 percent said they considered the demonstrations “mostly legitimate protests,” while 28 percent said they were “mostly people acting unlawfully.”
As polls indicate that he is struggling to hold on to some of the states he won, Trump’s campaign has looked to Minnesota as one he could potentially pick off. Biden’s advisers have viewed it as a potential area of vulnerability, too, which is one reason he traveled Friday afternoon to Duluth, whose television stations also broadcast into Wisconsin.
Biden visited a union training center in Hermantown, a Duluth suburb. He examined a welding station (“I’ll be damned!” he exclaimed) and toured the complex with men wearing jeans and open-collared shirts. He touted a plan that would require the federal government to buy only products made in America.
“It has to be made in the United States of America,” he said. “For real.”
During a speech after the tour, Biden began by criticizing Trump for his handling of the coronavirus before quickly expanding into a broader indictment of the president’s view of the economy.
“Trump says — by the way, I’m paraphrasing — ‘everyone’s in the stock market.’ That’s why he cares about the stock market,” Biden said. “What the hell’s he talking about? People I grew up with in Scranton, Claymont, we don’t have money in stocks. Every penny we made is to pay the bills and take care of the families, put clothes on the back and roof overhead.”
Biden, one of the more moderate candidates in the Democratic primary contest, threaded in the populist strands that have energized parts of the more-liberal base of his party. He noted that the rich have gotten richer not only during Trump’s presidency but during the pandemic.
“My entire campaign is built upon a simple concept: It’s time to reward hard work in America, not wealth,” Biden said. “We don’t have to penalize wealth. But it’s the opposite now, we reward wealth and not work.”
“I’m not looking to punish anybody. But damn it, it’s about time for the superwealthy and corporate America start paying their fair share,” he added.
Trump arrived in Bemidji, Minn., not long after Biden left the state. He touted police endorsements, and he claimed credit for the Big Ten restarting its football season. He said he didn’t believe polls showing he was losing in the state, and he made fun of Biden.
Trump in recent days has cast Biden as a tool of China and a steward of trade deals that have adversely affected the same voters Biden is now trying to win over.
“If you want to have your 401(k) go down like to Depression levels, I think you should vote for Sleepy Joe, because he’s going to raise your interest,” Trump said at a Thursday rally in Wisconsin.
“At no time before has there been a clearer choice between two parties, two visions, two philosophies or two agendas for the future than these two parties,” Trump added. “You got law and order on one side, and you have chaos on the other.”
Biden’s remarks Friday were an expansion of themes the former vice president has been emphasizing for the past several days. During a CNN town hall in Scranton on Thursday night, he advanced a similar argument that he represented the everyman fighting against the wealthy.
“Growing up here in Scranton, we’re used to guys to look down their nose at us,” Biden said during the town hall. “Or . . . people who look at us and think that we’re suckers, look at us and they think that we don’t — we’re not equivalent to them. If you didn’t have a college degree, you must be stupid. If in fact you didn’t get to go to an Ivy school.”
Biden looked over at CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who was moderating the discussion, with a message aimed at the viewing audience.
“Tell you what bothered me, to tell you the truth . . . when you guys started talking on television about Biden, if he wins he’ll be the first person without an Ivy League degree to be elected president,” Biden said. “I’m thinking, ‘Who the hell makes you think I have to have an Ivy League degree to be president?’ I really mean it. I found my back up.”
“Guys like me, the first in my family to go to college . . . we are as good as anybody else,” he added, repeating his objections about “guys like Trump” who inherited wealth.
Biden actually would not be the first president without an Ivy League degree (six of the past 14 presidents didn’t have Ivy League degrees, and Harry S. Truman wasn’t a college graduate). But Biden would be the first president since Ronald Reagan without an Ivy League degree.
Biden had a 16-point lead over Trump in Minnesota, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, although pollsters cautioned that other recent surveys have found narrower margins. Biden and Trump were virtually tied among White voters without a college degree, a demographic that Trump won nationally by 30 points in 2016. In the Post-ABC News survey in Minnesota, there was a sharp gender divide within those voters, with Trump leading by 23 points among men while trailing by 19 points among women.
Both campaigns are targeting voters like Deb Magee, 63, a piano teacher who lost all of her students and her income because of the coronavirus shutdown and decided to move from Florida to Minnesota, where she has family and has been living off a mix of savings and government unemployment benefits.
“It’s very scary, the unknown,” Magee said, adding that she hoped Congress could reach a deal on additional aid for those who remain out of work because of the pandemic. All of this has added to the “exhaustion” she has felt over the past four years, Magee said. “It’s just one thing after the other,” she said as she stood outside the early-voting center in Minneapolis where she cast a ballot for Biden. “You just ask yourself, when is this going to end? When are we going to just get back to normal?”
Businesses remain boarded up or closed in parts of her south Minneapolis neighborhood, which is still recovering from the late-spring protests after Floyd’s death. The businesses that have reopened have struggled, and she expressed concern for restaurants that are likely to close again in coming weeks, amid continued restrictions as coronavirus cases here remain high.
“This day couldn’t come soon enough for me,” Magee said. “I just want some normalcy . . . I just want to feel calm again.”
Holly Bailey contributed from Minneapolis to this report.