It is not hard to miss the border between the industrial, mostly Democratic city of Scranton, Pennsylvania — Joe Biden’s hometown — and its decidedly more right-leaning outskirts.
Amid all the American flags, the “Biden for president” lawn signs quickly give way to “Trump-Pence” placards instead.
In Olyphant, a small town north of Scranton, 53-year-old David Mitchko sits at the entrance to his garage, which is hung with two large flags emblazoned with the name of US President Donald Trump.
Another giant pro-Trump sign sits in the yard of Mitchko’s little white house. His whole street looks like it could be getting ready to welcome the American president for an official visit.
Soda can in hand, the Olyphant native remembers how rare it was to see a Trump sign in Lackawanna County during his first run for office in 2016.
“Last election, if you were here, you would hardly ever see a Trump sign or the support that people are showing for him now,” he said. “But it’s changing. It’s definitely changing.”
Mitchko himself was a Democrat during the last presidential election cycle, but he found himself casting his ballot for the Republican.
“I went and voted for Trump because I liked what he had to say.”
Mitchko has continued to drift further away from the Democratic party, because, he says, “they’re not for the working people like they used to be.”
He and his wife spent 20 years working in a CD- and DVD-manufacturing plant.
“They employed well over 4,000 people at the booming time,” Mitchko said of his former employer. But they eventually “closed their doors, and moved the jobs down to Mexico.”
‘14,000’ Trump signs
Mitchko defends Trump tooth and nail, and says Democrats are wrong to criticize him the way they do.
“No matter what he says, it’s not good. No matter what he does, it’s not good. They investigate him, come on, almost four years now. Torture,” he said.
He said that was what pushed him to officially leave the Democratic Party two years ago and join the Republicans.
But this year his commitment to assure a Trump victory goes even further. He has turned his garage into a depot to hand out Trump lawn signs and bumper stickers, and says he has handed out some 14,000 of them to people who were lining up outside to get them.
“I was surprised to see some priests come, the local police officers from all the boroughs and townships and the prison guards from different counties coming, truck drivers,” Mitchko said.
Sitting on the steps of the family home, his daughter Mackenzie listens avidly to her father. It is her first election and she will vote for Trump.
“I think he is just trying to do what’s best for America and for the people,” said the 19-year-old student.
Pennsylvania is one of the key swing states that could determine the outcome of the election. Trump won it in 2016 but polls this year show the president trailing Biden.
In Lackawanna County, where Scranton and Olyphant are located, Democrats have seen their lead dwindle though. Barack Obama won it by 27 points in 2012 — but four years later Hillary Clinton won it by 3.5 points.
Trump made a campaign stop here on Thursday, the same day Biden made his acceptance speech as his party’s candidate for president.
Lance Stange, chairman of the county Republican Party, does not hide his optimism. Since Trump’s election there have been “at least 1,000 people in the county, approximately, that have left the Democratic Party and join the Republican Party.”
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Trump’s team in the northeast of Pennsylvania continue campaigning on the ground.
“We have done over 50,000 doors out of this office and several hundred thousand phone call attempts” since May, said Stange, criticizing Democrats who he said were not actively campaigning.
In the building across the street, Evie Rafalko-McNulty is a well-known local Democrat. An elected county official, her office is adorned with photos of her with Barack Obama, and Bill and Hillary Clinton.
She said that with the pandemic, no door-to-door canvassing has been possible, but she said the Democrats were sending out mailings and hitting the phones.
“I think for Joe Biden, the task is a lot easier than it was four years ago,” she said.
“Joe Biden, he’s a part of us and he’s a part of Pennsylvania. And when he even wasn’t here, he was a neighbor in Pennsylvania, in Delaware. So he doesn’t have to really prove himself a lot.”
“I think his task is just to be him and talk about the values of the people of Pennsylvania,” she added.