Joe Biden took a whistle-stop train tour of Ohio and Pennsylvania on Wednesday, stopping in towns along the way to pitch to working-class voters that his opponent Donald Trump won handily four years ago.
“Everyone is just looking for a chance, not a guarantee, just an equal shot to get ahead,” Mr Biden said in Johnstown in western Pennsylvania, the final stop of his trip.
“That dream is getting further and further out of reach. That’s what I’ve seen today at every stop on that train.”
The former vice president, who was once known by the nickname “Amtrak Joe” for his affinity for trains, reminisced about his 30 years commuting by rail from his home state of Delaware to Washington DC.
“Two hours each way, nearly 250 miles each way, so I can be there for breakfast with the boys," he said, referring to his sons.
"That train brought me back to my base every night. It kept me grounded, it kept me connected,” he said at the socially-distanced drive-in rally.
Kicking off his 200-mile journey in Cleveland, Ohio, Mr Biden stopped in Alliance, Ohio, and Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Latrobe in Pennsylvania to push his Build Back Better economic plan.
At each stop, he sought to characterise the race between himself and Donald Trump as one between the middle class and the elite.
"I’ve dealt with guys like Trump my whole life: guys who look down on us because they’ve got a lot of money, guys who think they’re better than you, guys who might let you park their car in the country club they own but won’t let you in.
“I see the world from where I grew up in Scranton,” he added.
In Johnstown, one of the poorest small cities in the state, Mr Biden is hoping to reverse the astonishing victory Mr Trump won here four years ago, when the outsider candidate promised to revive industry and help working class voters who felt they had been left behind by Washington.
Mr Trump’s message won large-scale support in the rural stretches and small towns of Pennsylvania, and turned previously solid blue counties red.
In Cambria County, home to Johnstown, some 67 per cent voted for Mr Trump. In neighbouring Somerset County, 76 per cent, and in Bedford county a whopping 82 per cent.
Mr Trump won Pennsylvania by just 44,292 votes out of more than 6,000,000 in 2016. The state is a must-win for him in this election, but there are signs that he is struggling here.
A New York Times and Siena College poll released on Monday found Mr Biden led Mr Trump 49 percent to 40 percent among likely Pennsylvania voters.
A separate Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Tuesday found Mr Biden’s support at 54 per cent to Trump’s 45 per cent.
Outside of Mr Biden’s Johnstown rally, his supporters said they were angry at Mr Trump’s broken promises.
“He came in and promised the steelworkers, the coal miners that he was going to bring all the jobs back. He’s done nothing. He’s done nothing for our area. I’m hoping to get good things from Joe Biden for our economy,” said Emily Law, 69.
She said of Mr Biden: “I like his climate ideas, I like his infrastructure ideas, I like that he has a plan for Covid, that he’s not going to just let people die with no plan. He’s not a racist man, he shows empathy for the 206,000 people we’ve lost.”
Stanley Kazmierczyk, a 70-year-old retired architect who was born in Johnstown and lived in London and Philadelphia before moving back home, said he was tired of Mr Trump’s divisiveness.
“I think this is very new,” he said, pointing to a small crowd of Trump supporters who had gathered across the road and were shouting. “It’s part of the story ... we’ve become much more confrontational, much more divided, every person is much more willing to go at loggerheads.”
But Mr Trump is still likely to win here, despite Mr Biden’s attempts to make inroads. Trump supporters still outnumber those of Mr Biden.
Standing across the road from Mr Biden’s waiting supporters, Meghan Mcintosh, a 39-year-old nursing assistant, said Mr Trump has “done so much for our country.”
“He brought back jobs, he protects us, he is the best president I’ve seen in my lifetime. I feel like he’s given us back our freedom.”
The task for the Biden campaign, instead, will be to chip away enough of Mr Trump’s support here to build on the lead he has built in urban areas and suburbs elsewhere in the state.
If Mr Biden wins Pennsylvania, Mr Trump’s path to the White House all but disappears.