So perhaps it’s only appropriate that a new ad from Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential campaign throws both into the blender to make broad points about leadership. And if you can find a voter from a swing part of the swingiest of states to deliver that message, then all the better.
The new Biden spot, “Coach,” features Denny, a school teacher and winery owner from New Castle, Lawrence County, reflecting on the centrality of sports and football in his young life, and his father’s time as a football coach. The campaign did not release his last name.
The ad will start running on YouTube statewide, this morning, as part of a national $280 million digital and television campaign, focused on the Pittsburgh, Erie, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and Harrisburg markets, the Capital-Star has learned.
First up, a look at the ad — and the pitch.
“My Dad’s coached football his whole life,” Denny says, speaking to the camera. “I learned a lot from my Dad about the way you should be doing things. That now you’re trying to impart that to kids, too. Having good values and morals is probably the best thing.”
The ad further sketches out the requirements for leadership:
“A strong leader is someone who says ‘I got this, I’ll take care of it,” Denny continues. “I don’t express my political views a lot, but that’s not who we have representing us in politics. I don’t think [President Donald] Trump is someone who wants to take ownership of anything. It’s a blame-game. And it’s been messed up the whole way.”
As the screen dissolves to a shot of Biden taking a selfie with a supporter, Denny continues:
“I think a leader is someone who is going to be more honest and more transparent, and more up front, and not be so divisive all the time” he said, as he ends with a simple declaration: “Joe Biden can do that.”
And now a bit of analysis:It can’t be a coincidence that the Biden camp is playing to the virtues of football at a time when that beloved Friday night tradition is at its most endangered. For a while there, it looked like Pennsylvania might not even have a fall sports season when Gov. Tom Wolf recommended that interscholastic athletics statewide be put off until 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, which sanctions high school sports, ultimately decided to proceed with the fall season. And just this week, a federal court judge in Pittsburgh struck down Wolf’s edict limiting public gatherings of more than 250 people, opening the door for crowds at high school football games.
On Wednesday. the Democratic governor said he hoped to deliver guidance to schools within the next few days on how to safely proceed while the administration appeals that decision. It came the same day that the Big 10, bowing to pressure from Trump, among others, announced that it would proceed with an abbreviated college football season.
Without saying so, the ad draws a contrast between Trump’s management of the pandemic, which has resulted in millions of infections and 196,000 deaths nationwide. Biden on Wednesday called Trump’s response to the pandemic “utterly disqualifying,” and laid out his own plan to deal with the illness.
The ad is also a direct bid for Democratic support in a part of Pennsylvania that has seen a defection to Trump and Republicans over the last several years.
New Castle, the county seat of Lawrence County, is 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, and just 18 miles from Youngstown, Ohio. The community has seen its economy reorient around service sector jobs, with healthcare, social assistance, utilities, transportation and warehouses standing out as the largest employers.
Trump carried Lawrence County in 2016, trouncing Hillary Clinton 61%-34%, as the counties northwest and southwest of Pittsburgh shed their last vestiges of Democratic blue to become Republican red.
Thus, picking a voter from this Trumpian stronghold to pitch Biden is a savvy plea for Democrats who crossed over four years ago to come back home in 2020.
Whether it works is another matter. In a season that saw Republican voter registration gains in the wake of the June 2 primary, Lawrence County charted strong GOP growth, picking up 419 new voters, an analysis by the Capital-Star’s Nick Field concluded.
“The southwest remains the GOP’s most fruitful area, as ancestral Appalachian Democrats are taking the plunge and changing their partisan registration,” Field wrote. “While most of these voters have been supporting Republican candidates for years, their sheer volume remains imposing.
In a statement, Biden’s campaign said it was “proud to feature real, everyday working Pennsylvanians like Denny and his family.
“These are the exact same working families that Joe Biden got in this fight for and the same families he’s going to champion in the White House. We want folks in western Pennsylvania and across the Commonwealth to hear from their own neighbors who know that Joe Biden is the man for this moment: a President who will unite this country and help us build back better,” Brendan McPhillips, the campaign’s Pennsylvania state director, said in a statement released to the Capital-Star.
John Micek is the editor of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.