Biden works to boost Black turnout in ‘critical’ battleground Pa.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a drive-in rally at FDR Park

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a drive-in rally at FDR Park, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden made a pair of stops in Philadelphia Sunday — a sign of the region’s growing importance in the presidential election.

After an afternoon event with Black clergy in West Philadelphia, Biden held a drive-in rally at FDR Park in South Philadelphia.

He framed the upcoming election in familiar terms — as a battle to unite the country and restore a sense of “decency” in the White House.

“I said I was running to unite America,” said Biden. “If it can’t be done anymore, then we’re in trouble.”

Supporters attend a “Souls to the Polls” drive-in rally for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, at Sharon Baptist Church
Supporters attend a “Souls to the Polls” drive-in rally for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, at Sharon Baptist Church, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Biden’s White House hopes may well run through the Keystone State.

Biden’s polling lead in Pennsylvania has been steady, if not spectacular. The website FiveThirtyEight shows the former vice president with a 4.7 percentage-point lead over President Donald Trump. Biden’s cushion appears to be larger in Michigan and Wisconsin — two states with similar demographics that also flipped Republican in 2016.

Compared to other swing states, Pennsylvania is also expected to field a higher proportion of in-person ballots. That means, theoretically, there’s still time to persuade voters in this crucial swing state.

Add it all up, and Pennsylvania has predictably become an epicenter of activity in the closing days of the 2020 presidential election.

Biden’s two stops Sunday were just an appetizer. The former vice president is expected to be in Western Pennsylvania Monday. His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, will be in Philadelphia. Biden’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden, will also appear in the western part of the state.

Likewise, Trump has blanketed the state in recent days, including a stop in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Philadelphia and its increasingly diverse suburbs are critical to Biden’s chances. Robust turnout in those areas could key a Democrat victory. But there are whispers of soft support among Black men and other voters of color that reliably lean Democratic.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Biden’s Sunday rally featured five Black men with city and state ties: Philadelphia 76ers head coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers, Philadelphia rapper Freeway, Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke, State Sen. Sharif Street and State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta.

In an emotional speech, Freeway said that he came to the rally one day after his son’s funeral.

“I’m here today to talk to you just to let you know how very important this is to me, how very important this is to my family, how very important this is to my community,” said Freeway. “So make sure this Tuesday that each and every one of y’all go vote for Biden and Harris.”

In 2016, there were roughly 707,000 ballots cast in Philadelphia — an increase over 2012, but slightly fewer than the 717,000 ballots cast during President Barack Obama’s first win in 2008.

During his speech, Clarke said he wanted to see 750,000 votes cast in the city this year, highlighting just how important Democrats believe turnout will be to their chances.

“There’s still a lot of Pennsylvanians who haven’t voted yet,” Biden said. “My message is simple:  Pennsylvania’s critical to this election.”

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