The Post’s Bump returned to the streets of Scranton, Pennsylvania, this year to find a complete role reversal—a bunch of disciplined Biden campaign operatives and volunteers putting the pieces of a hard-scrabble GOTV effort together for the final hours of the campaign while Trump supporters drove through town, revving engines and firing their horns in a frothy cacophony of bravado—all cattle, no hat, as they say.
The Biden effort was robust, a string of tents lined up along the street where volunteers underwent a three-part intake process. Step one: temperature check and health assessment, a nod to the realities of the moment — and a reinforcement of the candidate’s rhetoric on the importance of heeding the science amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (When I entered the office, my temperature was taken.) Second, registration on laptops. Third, a quick training and offer of material, including Biden-branded masks and hand sanitizer. […]
Across the street, the Trump campaign’s effort, being run out of the county Republican Party offices, was somewhat less refined. A man not wearing a mask (unlike all of the Biden staffers) refused to answer even basic questions about the campaign’s effort. When I later came into the office to see if I could get a contact for someone who could answer questions, I was again rebuffed, with the same man signaling to a bulky security guard, presumably to ensure that I could find the exit.
I did see a few people going into the Trump headquarters, though, all of whom emerged holding lawn signs and other material.
As Bump explained, the Trump campaign effort is centered on visibility—noisy pickup brigades, lawn signs, and a lot of attitude. It may feel good, but it doesn’t turn out that voter who might be leaning your way but feeling a little too complacent to get to the polls for an hour-long wait or more.
Many of the Biden volunteers, however, were there to do the inglorious work of street walking, door knocking, and seeking out every last identified Biden supporter who hadn’t yet made it to the polls.
“I feel like the biggest thing we have to do is just get people out to vote,” said Sean Horgan, a 46-year-old former Marine who had come from Massachusetts to volunteer in perhaps the most critical state swing state in the country. “Elected officials are generally representation of the people — but of the people who come out to vote.”
By contrast, the Trump supporters toting campaign literature after exiting the GOP headquarters mostly talked about voter fraud and distrusting the polls.
“I think Trump is going to win unless there’s election fraud. God, I’m hoping not. I think that’s on everybody’s mind,” Wendy Ross, 48, told Bump. But rather than turning out voters, Ross planned to hand out campaign literature at the polls just in case someone already standing in line to vote had a last-minute epiphany. “That’s the only thing that we’re worried about, is election fraud,” she added, without offering any specifics. “I just think Democrats are going to try to pull something just to get in,” she said.
Naturally, there’s been zero evidence of voter fraud, just a bunch of GOP-driven hype of a Trump-born conspiracy theory. But there also hasn’t been much evidence of Trump campaign GOTV efforts. Much like Bump’s experience in the field in Scranton, when reporter Olivia Nuzzi went looking for the Trump ground game back in August—the actual building blocks of a GOTV operation—she couldn’t find it either.
This was Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I was looking for the ground game. Have you heard about it? The campaign says it’s the greatest ground game to ever exist, that while you don’t see enthusiasm for the president reflected in the rigged polls, you do see it when you talk to his real supporters where they live in Real America. In fact, they talk about surveys of enthusiasm not just as though they are more reliable than real polls but as though they are the polls — as though the traditional kind simply don’t exist, or matter. I drove across the country last month, and I saw only two signs for Joe Biden the entire way. Is this meaningful? The Trump campaign is hoping that it is. In Pennsylvania, they’re making calls and knocking on doors — a million a week — powered by more than 1.4 million volunteers. Pennsylvania is uniquely important. Rural voters won the state for Trump by less than one percentage point in the last election. This time, Trump is behind Biden by a lot. To close the gap, the campaign says it’s hosting dozens of events here — more than in any other state. But good luck finding them.
If these reports reflect a wider truth, the Trump ground game appears to be more mythology than reality. But the proof will be in the pudding, and we’re finally going to get a look at that pudding in the coming days. With any luck and lot of skill, the efforts of the Biden campaign and its committed volunteers will deliver a victory in the critical state.
Help get every last vote out: Sign up with the Biden-Harris campaign to make phone calls to swing state voters from the comfort of your own home, no matter where you live. All you need is a personal computer, a quiet place in your home where you can make phone calls, and a desire to kick Donald Trump out of office.