Biden rides Amtrak to stump through Trump-friendly southwestern Pa.September 30, 2020 10:46pm

Sept. 30-- GREENSBURG, Pa.-Joe Biden's campaign trail became a campaign rail Wednesday, as the Democratic nominee took an Amtrak train from the site of the first presidential debate in Cleveland through southwestern Pennsylvania to drum up support among working class voters in a Trump-friendly part of the state.

The "whistle stop tour," which started in Ohio before coming to Pennsylvania, had planned stops in Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Latrobe and then Johnstown, where Biden will speak at a socially distanced drive-in rally in the evening. Biden will also travel off the rail line to an event in New Alexandria.

Biden said during the train tour that the debate was a "national embarrassment," and that he hopes new protocols are put in place before the next two debates. Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden during Tuesday's debate and there was continuous cross-talk between the candidates and moderator Chris Wallace.

At the Greensburg train station, about 50 people lined up across from the platform to see Biden's train pull in, holding up Biden-Harris signs and a few in "Make America Sane Again" red caps.

Deb Marchelleta, a retired nurse's aide, waited with her friend Becky Rugh, both from the Greensburg area. Marchelleta's dad was a steel worker and she was in the nurses' union, so being a Democrat runs in her blood, she said. But Marchelleta said this election is about more than party loyalty. She called Trump dangerous.

"I feel that if Biden doesn't win this election, it's the end of democracy and the republic is done-I really believe that," she said. Marchelleta, 68, planned to travel to as many train stops as she could get to and try to catch a glimpse of Biden at as many as she could. "He's a good man, and he's our only hope," she said.

Biden's latest of many trips to Pennsylvania-a critical battleground state seen as increasingly likely to determine the winner between him and President Donald Trump-ventures into the heart of the state's Trump Country. Some of the towns on his itinerary Wednesday are in counties that voted for Trump by double digits in 2016, and where Republicans have made voter registration gains since. But there are signs of a slight erosion in Trump's support in the southwest, driven in part by white working class voters who are more open to Biden than they were to Hillary Clinton.

Southwestern Pennsylvania has been a frequent destination for Trump, too. He held large airport rallies in Latrobe and Pittsburgh this month. Westmoreland County, home to Greensburg and Latrobe, saw the state's largest net increase in registered Republicans in the last four years, adding about 10,000 voters to GOP ranks. In Cambria County, home to Johnstown, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by almost 15,000 voters in 2016. Now the county is almost evenly split.

Trump needs to hold his ground in the region given that Biden appears to be blowing him out in the state's suburbs, including some gains even in more traditionally Republican ones like outside Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Biden is beating Trump among white working class women, according to polls over the last week, and he's eaten slightly into Trump's support among white working class men. All three were factors in new surveys showing Biden up by 9 points in the state.

He's built that advantage partly by centering his campaign around appeals to these voters. Biden calls the election a battle between "Scranton and Park Avenue," and now he's got revelations about Trump paying just $750 in federal income taxes to add to the pile. Biden touted his everyman credentials at town hall this month outside Scranton, saying guys like Trump look down on people who went to state school-like Biden.

On his way to Pennsylvania, Biden stopped to speak to a crowd in Alliance, Ohio-a town he noted was formed because of two railroads intersecting there. He asked a gathered crowd, "Does your president understand what you're going through? Does he see you where you are and where you want to be. ... Or does he ignore you? Look down at you?"

Biden told the crowd about taking the train every day as a senator and using it as an opportunity to talk to working class people to understand their struggles.

While onboard, Biden chatted with Ohioans riding with him between stops in a train car with large glass windows, looking out on changing trees, farms, and lakes. As Biden pulled into the first station in Alliance, a large crowd was waiting, many with Biden signs, some with Trump signs.

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(c)2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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