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Presidential Candidates Get Back On The Road After Debating In Cleveland


Well, after that Tuesday night debate, President Trump and Democrat Joe Biden got right back out on the road. Biden did a train tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania yesterday. The president held a rally last night in Duluth, Minn., where he praised himself.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Last night, I did what the corrupt media has refused to do. I held Joe Biden accountable for his 47 years of lies, 47 years of betrayals and 47 years of failure. I held Joe accountable.

GREENE: The debate the president is talking about, of course, was filled with interruptions, mostly from the president. And organizers are now considering format changes for the other debates to come. NPR's Scott Detrow joins us this morning from Wilmington, Del. Good morning to you, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

GREENE: Let's start with the president. You know, one of the big headlines out of that debate was his refusal to directly condemn the white supremacist group, the Proud Boys. And I gather the president was asked about this yesterday.

DETROW: Yeah, he was asked by reporters. And that he said he did not know who the Proud Boys are. The quote is, I can only say they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work. This was, like you said, a day where President Trump came under tremendous pressure for not condemning the group at the debate. And as a reminder, what he said was Proud Boys, stand back, and stand by.

There are a lot of signs that that statement, that millions of people saw and heard, was viewed by many within that movement as encouragement. And throughout the day yesterday, Joe Biden said that he worried the president was signaling to them and other right-wing extremist groups to take violent action after the election. And amid the many other broader implications of that, it's really hard to see how that statement and the performance as a whole won over many undecided voters.

GREENE: Well, the president, as I said, was in Duluth, Minn., trying to win over voters. This is a state that he lost narrowly in 2016, right? I mean, so is the Trump campaign hoping that they could turn the state red this time?

DETROW: They're hoping so. The polls show that's not the case right now, at least. But, you know, northern Minnesota is a rural place with a lot of white, working-class voters that the president thinks he can turn out in even greater numbers than 2016. Areas like the Iron Range have been receptive to his message, especially when it comes to trade and getting rid of environmental regulations.

And the Trump campaign also seems to think that they can make headway with suburban voters in Minnesota and elsewhere because of the unrest and widespread protests that followed George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police. But polls show him continuing to lose the suburbs by wide margins and that more voters trust Joe Biden to deal with these kinds of challenges.

GREENE: OK, so that's the president. You were actually out with Biden yesterday on what sounds like quite a train trip. Tell us about the day.

DETROW: Yeah, it was an old-fashioned whistle stop train tour. Biden traveled from Cleveland to Johnstown, Pa., and he spent time campaigning in places that President Trump won by fairly wide margins four years ago. This was actually Biden's first extended campaign swing since the pandemic began, a multiple-stop day. And he did it on his favorite mode of transportation.


DETROW: Biden traveled to the debate the way he spent decades traveling to and from the U.S. Senate.

JOE BIDEN: I spent the bulk of my adult life driving to the Amtrak station.

DETROW: The daily commute to and from Wilmington has long been a big part of Biden's political origin story. For decades, he's connected with struggling and working-class voters by telling them about his time as a single father, the fact his wife and daughter were killed in a car crash and that he came home from Washington every single night to be with his young sons.

BIDEN: The fact is, they tell me I've logged more than 2,100,000 miles on Amtrak. So it's good to be here.

DETROW: So the day after a brutal debate where President Trump insulted and interrupted Biden over and over again, Biden returned to his wheelhouse, chugging across eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania on a whistle stop tour. Biden got out of the special seven-car Amtrak charter and spoke in Alliance, Pittsburgh and Johnstown and other stops. Biden's trip had a clear political goal - to speak to the white, working-class voters in this region, many of them in union households who defected to Trump.

BIDEN: So take a chance, take a chance on me. And I understand why some people did take a chance. Because the fact of the matter is, he said that he was going to make sure that he took care of y'all. You know, he had his chance, though. Now we know exactly who Donald Trump is.

DETROW: As the day went on, Biden brought up the debate less and less. But his class resentment of Trump and what he represents notably ticked up. Toward the end of the day, Biden spoke at a union training school for heavy equipment operation.

BIDEN: I've dealt with guys like Trump my whole life, the guys who might let you park the cars at their country club for a couple few bucks. But even if you had the money - wouldn't let you join that country club.

DETROW: That was in Pennsylvania's Westmoreland County, a place Trump won more than 60% of the vote four years ago. Other counties Biden visited had similar margins. They're filled with people who think Democrats have abandoned them and, worse, disdained them. Many Trump supporters in Ohio and Pennsylvania think Democrats in Washington cater exclusively to urban, coastal voters. So venturing into MAGA country is a strategy many Democrats have pushed for since their 2016 loss.

Sitting in the Amtrak cafe car, Pennsylvania Congressman Conor Lamb said Biden and other Democrats need to go and talk about a platform that emphasizes health care, better wages and union rights.

CONOR LAMB: The whole reason why we have to show up in these places is to try to deliver an unfiltered message about where we stand on the actual issues. You know, there's so much distractions, so much misinformation. And that's all that last night was.

DETROW: It's very unlikely Biden will win Westmoreland County next month. But if he cuts into Trump's margins there and in other conservative pockets, he could win back Pennsylvania.

When Biden pulled into Greensburg, several hundred people from that deep red county were standing outside, waiting and cheering.


DETROW: The crowd is all across the street. Biden is standing in front of the train station, pointing and waving. He's raising his hands up to the crowd now to wave.

BIDEN: Even if we just cut the margin, it makes a gigantic difference.

DETROW: Biden spoke to reporters after a final rally in Johnstown. He said there are political reasons for trips like Wednesday's, but, he said, there are bigger goals, too.

BIDEN: Whether or not I get them back, I want them to know - I mean this sincerely - that I'm going to be their president. I hear them. I listen to them.

GREENE: Scott Detrow reporting there. Scott is still with us. And, Scott, all politics aside, I love trains. Do you?

DETROW: You know, a whistle stop train tour, I think I can objectively say, is a very fun way to spend your day, especially when you're going through a place like western Pennsylvania, where we've both spent a lot of time reporting.

GREENE: We sure have.

DETROW: And Joe Biden clearly enjoyed the day, too. He has complained about how hard it is to connect with people. And he really seemed to relish getting out and actually engaging with voters all day, even doing it safely with masks on.

GREENE: NPR's Scott Detrow. Scott, thanks.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.