VOICES: Comparing presidential visits to the Gem City

Categories:  Opinions    News
Thursday, October 29th, 2020 at 7:59 PM
VOICES: Comparing presidential visits to the Gem City by Julia Carden
Photo: Simonique Dietz

“Since 2016, when Erie County gave a slim majority of its votes to Donald J. Trump after years as a Democratic bastion, this slice of northwestern Pennsylvania has been seen as an especially precise gauge of the national political mood.”  

With the 2020 presidential election winding down, and with Erie known nationally as a possible political turning point, Donald Trump and Joe Biden both made campaign stops in the Gem City. These two events, however, looked very different.  

President Donald Trump held a “Make America Great Again!” rally at the Erie International Airport on Oct. 20. Fans and merchants selling Trump gear waited for hours for the president’s arrival. Thousands of fans and spectators gathered at the airport to hear the president’s remarks.  

“Here we are in Erie, with people as far as the eye can see,” Trump exclaimed. According to Pennsylvania State regulations on outdoor events, if a venue has a maximum occupancy of over 10,000 people, the allowable outdoor attendance rate is 15% of maximum occupancy and up to 7,500 people. Estimates put Tuesday night’s crowd well over the capacity limit of 7,500; an official count was not released. According to a general statement regarding all rallies, released by the President’s campaign staff, all who attended did have their temperature checked upon entry and hand sanitizer was available.  

According to the PA Department of Health, all outdoor event venues must also require attendees to comply with 6-foot social distancing requirements and to wear masks or face coverings. Social distancing was largely not observed at the Trump rally. Most in attendance wore masks, but some can be seen without in videos of the event (an estimated 15% did not wear masks).  

On the registration form for all events on Donald Trump’s campaign website, there is a warning regarding COVID-19. It reads: 

“By registering for this event, you understand and expressly acknowledge that an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. In attending the event, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19, and waive, release, and discharge Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; The Republican National Committee the host venue; or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers from any and all liability under any theory, whether in negligence or otherwise, for any illness or injury.” 

The president’s speech hit on a variety of topics, including his support for police officers and other law enforcement, the prospect of reopening Pennsylvania’s economy, and his plan for the future if re-elected. Trump then went on to criticize Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and his response to the coronavirus.  

“What the hell is going on in Pennsylvania?” Trump asked, after comparing the state to others with Republican governors who have more so reopened since COVID-19 shutdowns. “Pennsylvania has been shut down long enough. Get your governor to open up Pennsylvania,” he told the crowd. His statement was followed by a roar of cheers.  

Erie News Now (ENN) reported that a few small groups gathered on the outskirts of the airport to peacefully protest the rally. Following the president’s speech, there was some conflict between Trump supporters and those protesting the president in support of his challenger Joe Biden. Things took a turn later in the night and groups began to exchange hostilities. According to ENN, tensions were resolved after state police separated two groups whose argument accelerated into a short-winded altercation. 

Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper and director of the Erie County Department of Health Melissa Lyons addressed concerns of COVID-19 community spread as a result of the rally during Dahlkemper's Oct. 21 briefing. The county officials labeled the event as a “high risk activity” but do not plan to issue any citations at this time. 

According to Stephanie Graham, the first lady’s spokeswoman, Melania Trump had originally planned to travel with the president, but decided to remain at the White House due to a lingering cough following her battle with COVID-19. The campaign stop in Erie would have been her first public appearance since her recovery from the coronavirus. “With a lingering cough, and out of an abundance of caution, she will not be traveling today,” Graham said in a release. 

The full speech from President Donald Trump’s campaign rally on Tuesday can be viewed, here.

Trump shared an encouraged Instagram post following the event:

View this post on Instagram


A post shared by President Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden made a prior appearance in Erie on Oct. 10. His visit followed a virtual event hosted by his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, on Sept. 22. The latter included several Erie officials and focused on community college and its role in the Erie community and similar areas. 

As Joe Biden arrived in Erie, his supporters lined the right side of the road leading to the airport, holding signs and showing support, while Trump supporters occupied the left side. There was back and forth between Biden and Trump supporters, but nothing further. 

The former vice president toured the Plumbers Local Union No. 27 training center where he spoke with union members, instructors and more. Biden and his group wore masks for the entirety of the tour inside the building. Biden then presented a speech in the parking lot of the facility where he focused on “Building Back Better” in Erie. He focused on the importance of job creation, education and economic recovery.  

Leading up to Biden’s “pro-labor" speech, as it was described by GoErie, Democratic State Senate candidate Julie Slomski made remarks to the small crowd, followed by speeches from local union worker Joel Hopsin and Rick Telesz, a soybean farmer from Northwestern Pennsylvania. All speakers wore masks, and the podium was sanitized between each speaker. Biden, who tested negative for COVID-19 that morning, removed his mask once socially distanced at the podium.  

According to the Erie News Now live updates on the Biden visit, there were circles 6 feet apart on the ground with one chair per circle, to ensure social distancing. In comparison to Trump's event, there was a dramatic difference in the number of guests permitted. There were only about three dozen chairs available for invited guests to attend Biden’s outdoor speech.  

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a form of “extracting natural gas by drilling thousands of feet into the ground and injecting a solution of water and chemicals through the earth's crust to break up horizontal layers of shale rock,” according to CBS News. Detractors cite its negative impact on the environment, while others cite its job creation potential.

Fracking is a significant industry in several states, including Pennsylvania and the Marcellus Shale, which makes it an important factor that citizens take into consideration when voting. While in town, Biden made it clear that he has no intention to ban fracking, as President Trump has claimed about him several times, including during the speech at his Erie rally.  

“No matter how many lies he tells, I am not, not, not banning fracking,” Biden said. “Period.”  

Biden’s speech can be viewed in full, below.

Additionally, Biden released an official statement regarding the President’s visit to Erie on Oct. 20: 

“When candidate Donald Trump visited Erie four years ago, he promised to bring back jobs. President Trump’s visit to Erie today is a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that he broke that promise and has repeatedly failed Pennsylvania’s families over the last four years. He failed working Pennsylvanians by incentivizing companies to offshore jobs, waging war on unions, and giving huge tax breaks to big corporations and the ultra-wealthy. He failed Pennsylvania families by intentionally misleading them about the severity of COVID-19, resulting in the loss of life for nearly 8,500 Pennsylvanians and the loss of livelihood for hundreds of thousands in the state. And now he’s trying to strip away health care protections for millions when they need them most. 

The working families that I met when I was in Erie earlier this month deserve a president who will fight for them on day one. As president, I will help Pennsylvanians recover from four years of neglect and put working families at the center of our effort to build the economy back better than it was before.”

Pennsylvania is undoubtfully one of the most important states on the electoral map for the 2020 presidential election. According to FiveThirtyEight’s model, Trump has an 84% chance of winning the presidency if he carries Pennsylvania, and Biden a 96% chance of winning if the state leans blue. As the FiveThirtyEight model further states, Pennsylvania backed every Democratic candidate for decades until Trump won in 2016. Counties with industry driven economies play a crucial role in deciding which way the state will sway in this year’s election.  Each candidate strongly encouraged Erieites to get out and vote in this historical election.

Julia Carden is a staff writer for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

Additional Photos:

Photo: Simonique DietzPhoto: Joe Biden's Official Facebook

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