SCRANTON, Pa. (CBS) — Campaign 2020 is said to be a historic election, unlike any other. Eyewitness News hit the Northeast Extension to a county where Democrats outnumber Republicans, but it’s also a place in 2016 that went for President Donald Trump. It’s part of the state known to be a battleground, and it’s close to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s boyhood home.
“It all comes down to how hard the Democrats are going to work in this election,” Bill O’Boyle, a reporter/columnist at the Times Leader, said.
Reporters at the Times Leader newspaper hash out plans for yet another visit from the Trump campaign. On this overcast, grey day, Vice President Mike Pence will be at a construction company a few miles north of Wilkes-Barre.
Northeastern Pennsylvania Politics: @CBSPhilly heads to Wilkes-Barre and Scranton — @JoeBiden ‘s boyhood home and an area that delivered heavily for @realDonaldTrump in ‘16. See the first in a series of reports tonight at 11 on #CBS3 pic.twitter.com/f0Vx5DWWXU
— Joe Holden (@JoeHoldenCBS3) September 20, 2020
In 2016, this area known as Luzerne County tipped Pennsylvania in favor of Donald Trump. He won here by 20 points, even though the county delivered for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
O’Boyle has been around for a while and he expects Trump will fare well here again.
“They see Trump, a billionaire, egotistical, sometimes vulgar and condescending, irreverent, as their standard-bearer, their leader, a guy they can relate to,” O’Boyle said. “It was the phenomenon that came in 16 and is still here today. He’s their guy.”
All polling aside, just a cruise down Main Street, it appears much of Luzerne County favors the incumbent. The signs say so.
The president calls the area “Trump Country.”
And Roger DuPuis, the managing editor of the Times Leader, has to figure out how to keep his staff on top of yet another historic election that places his coverage area in the spotlight.
“There’s insatiable interest in this,” DuPuis said.
In an already economically suppressed area, unemployment numbers out last week are alarming. Luzerne County is nearing 16%.
“The pizza business is fine, fine. We’re surviving,” Gerry Ricci said.
Ricci is a longtime owner of Gerry’s Pizzeria, a south Wilkes-Barrea pizza shop, and a branch-off from his father’s business.
“It’s kind of goof-proof oven technique,” Ricci said.
Ricci would prefer to retire soon, but he worries about the economy and the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus.
“I don’t know if I am going to vote for him this next election,” Ricci said.
Ricci said he’s “undecided.”
Just 20 miles north, the scene is reversed.
Scranton is Biden’s boyhood home.
Sen. Bob Casey met with Eyewitness News in the shadow of a long-shuttered paper company. Here in Lackawanna County, unemployment is above 14%.
“Just in those two counties, you’ve got about 39,000 people out of work and people expect their candidate for president to have an economic plan and to have a plan to tackle the virus,” Casey said, “Joe Biden does on both.”
Casey expects Biden to do well in Lackawanna County, and that’s about the only place in northeastern Pennsylvania.
“Politics has always had a rough edge here,” Casey said. “I’ve always been competitive, I’ve been through some of it.”
Sarah Donahue, a middle school teacher in Luzerne County, says it’s obvious the area is proving again to be valuable political real estate.
“And they’re here in Northeast PA, absolutely, yes, both of them in one week. President and vice president. “Donahue said. “I think they just know that this area is a really important part of our state, and the way this area goes is the way the election goes.”
Part 2 of our series up the Northeast Extension airs on CBS3@4 on Monday. We walk about why politics is historically brutal in the former coal regions of Pennsylvania.