Joe Biden urged Philadelphians on Sunday to surge to the polls and fight “voter suppression," even as President Donald Trump signaled plans to attack a legitimate vote count expected to extend past Election Day.
“Every day is a new reminder of how high the stakes are, how far the other side will go to try to suppress the turnout, especially here in Philadelphia,” Biden said before about 50 cars filled with supporters at Sharon Baptist Church in the city’s Wynnefield Heights section. “There’s too much on the line to sit it out.”
Later, at FDR Park in South Philadelphia, Biden said, “Every generation has to fight to keep the democracy. I never believed we’d have to fight this hard, though.”
His two Philadelphia speeches Sunday came as Biden and Trump held competing campaign stops in critical swing states, each pushing through the final days of one of the most charged elections in memory.
While new polls Sunday continued showing Biden with strong leads — both nationally and in Pennsylvania, the state that could decide the entire election — memories of 2016 loomed over the homestretch, when Trump defied public surveys to stun Democrats and much of the country.
Visiting Philadelphia for two of the final events of his campaign, Biden aimed to rouse voters in the Democratic core of a state that his party lost by less than 1 percentage point four years ago.
In a city where Black voters drive much of the Democratic support, Biden cited vast racial disparities in the effects of the coronavirus and in treatment by law enforcement, rattling off the names of Black people killed by police — including Walter Wallace Jr., the Black man shot and killed by officers in West Philadelphia last week as he wielded a knife and struggled with mental illness.
“The blinders have been taken off. The American people, they’ve seen, they’ve seen how bad things are,” Biden said, while also saying burning, looting, and violence “must never be tolerated.”
“We only have two more days, two more days to put an end to this presidency that has from the very beginning sought to divide us, to tear us apart," he said.
Biden’s events came a day after Trump raced across Pennsylvania for four rallies.
Trump laid the groundwork to dispute the election results and the counting of mail ballots in his visit Saturday, leveling baseless claims of voter fraud and playing on the country’s tensions by predicting “bedlam” as votes are counted after Election Day. He again urged his supporters to watch Philadelphia, and continued on similar themes Sunday.
It is widely expected that counting votes, and determining a winner, will take longer than usual, perhaps several days, because of the large number of voters using mail ballots to avoid crowds during the coronavirus pandemic. Mail ballots take longer to process — that’s normal, not a sign of fraud. What’s unusual is the sheer volume of them being used.
Trump, however, insinuated that he intends to try to stop the count, and top advisers hinted that he may try to declare victory before all the votes are counted, effectively attacking the election itself.
“We should know the result of the election on Nov. 3. The evening of Nov. 3.,” Trump said at a rally Sunday in Iowa. “That’s the way it’s been and that’s the way it should be.”
Later, in North Carolina, he said, “As soon as the election is over, we’re going in with our lawyers.”
Although news organizations often project winners based on seeing the bulk of results on election night, the counting of votes always continues well past Election Day. And it’s possible that Trump will appear to have an initial lead in the hours after polls close Tuesday night because more Republicans are expected to vote in person. Democratic votes are expected to climb as more mail ballots are tallied because more Democrats are using that method — a phenomenon known as “the blue shift.”
» READ MORE: How we’re reporting election results data
“President Trump is terrified of what will happen in Pennsylvania,” Biden said outside the church. “He knows that if the people of Pennsylvania get to have their say, if you have your say, he doesn’t stand a chance."
Touting his Pennsylvania ties, Biden, a Scranton native, also claimed to be wearing an Eagles jacket — though it looked as if he were wearing a University of Delaware jacket from his current home state.
Later, he denounced the president for making a baseless claim that doctors are inflating the death toll of the pandemic so they can make more money.
"It’s a disgrace," Biden said. "He’s a disgrace to say it.”
Biden’s first event on a cold, gloomy Sunday came at a Black megachurch, with religious leaders watching under the steady rain.
As the cars in attendance honked, Black Philadelphia religious leaders and elected officials described Trump as “an absolute disaster for Black America,” as the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler put it.
“He’s openly encouraged white supremacists with his rhetoric and tweets,” Tyler said. “You cannot be for us and them at the same time.”
The Rev. Robert Collier, president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, called for “a margin of victory ... so large that it cannot be disputed.”
Of the key swing states, Pennsylvania has the most voters left in play. As of early Sunday, Pennsylvania’s early voting so far had reached about 38% of the turnout in 2016. That’s a far lower share than other battlegrounds such as Michigan (53%), Wisconsin (63%) and Florida (91%). It leaves Pennsylvania likely to see a rush of votes at polling places Tuesday.
Two new polls out Sunday suggested Biden is in strong position to win Pennsylvania, and the presidency, if he can get his voters out and all votes are counted. A Washington Post-ABC News poll found Biden leading 51% to 44% in Pennsylvania, while a New York Times/Siena College survey found a similar 49% to 43% edge for the former vice president.
Those two polls are consistent with weeks of major surveys finding Biden steadily ahead by about 5 to 8 percentage points in the state.
The surveys suggest a difficult path for Trump. Any victory in Pennsylvania would likely depend on a wide range of polls drastically undercounting his support, or problems with voting — such as “naked" mail ballots missing inner secrecy envelopes, or litigation to dismiss a large share of votes.
“I don’t understand how we have a president of the United States who is actively suppressing the vote,” Sabra Townsend, 58, of Germantown, said at Biden’s second event, at FDR Park.
Hundreds there parked their cars on a muddy field to see Biden at a socially distanced “drive-in” rally. They sat on their car hoods and peered out windows as rain poured down.
Caroline Vahey, a 40-year-old lawyer who attended with her husband and two children, said a President Biden would set a better example for their kids. “They don’t know this isn’t normal.”
Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, whose department oversees elections, said Sunday that she expects 10 times as many mail ballots to be cast in Pennsylvania as in 2016, but that the “overwhelming majority” of ballots should be counted “within a matter of days." This is the first year any Pennsylvania voter can cast a ballot by mail.
Under Pennsylvania law, officials can’t begin counting mail ballots until the morning of Election Day, and the process is time consuming. Some counties won’t start counting mail ballots until the following morning.
”I want to be clear that elections have never been called election night," Boocvkar said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “Our military and overseas ballots, you know, the men and women who are serving our country, they have until a full week after Election Day to cast their ballots. So, I just want to set that straight, that this is a process, and we want to make sure that every single vote of every valid voter is securely and accurately counted.”
Biden and Trump both have more events scheduled in Pennsylvania on Monday as the campaign reaches its final hours — including another drive-in rally in Philadelphia featuring Sen. Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate, her husband, Doug Emhoff, and musician John Legend.
Biden on Monday will be in Beaver County, just west of Pittsburgh, while his wife, Jill, campaigns in Erie, rural Lawrence County, and suburban Allegheny County. Then, together, the Bidens and musician Lady Gaga will hold a drive-in event with Black voters in Pittsburgh.
Harris will campaign in Luzerne County in Northeastern Pennsylvania, then hold an event with Latino voters in the Lehigh Valley, while Emhoff holds two events in Lancaster County, one in Montgomery County, and one in Bucks County. Harris and Emhoff will conclude the day in Philadelphia.
Trump is coming back to Pennsylvania for a rally in Luzerne County on Monday, the epicenter of the vote swing that drove his 2016 upset.