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Greetings from two opposite corners of Pennsylvania, where we’ve both found something incredible: signs of a regular presidential election.

A pandemic-induced freeze to campaigning that had been thawing for a couple months has melted away completely this week, as the race shifts into a higher gear just before Labor Day. Joe Biden was in Pittsburgh on Monday, Mike Pence was near Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday, and President Donald Trump will be in Westmoreland County tomorrow.

There are rallies — although only one side is putting them on right now. There are even tussles over lawn signs. Read on. Follow all our election coverage. And email us at election@inquirer.com.

— Julia Terruso, Andrew Seidman (@JuliaTerruso, @AndrewSeidman, election@inquirer.com)

At top, Joe Biden in Pittsburgh on Monday. At bottom, Mike Pence in Exeter on Tuesday.
Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press and Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer
At top, Joe Biden in Pittsburgh on Monday. At bottom, Mike Pence in Exeter on Tuesday.

Two very different campaigns

It’s almost like a normal presidential campaign out here.

Yesterday, we were at a rally with Pence in Luzerne County. Today, after a swing through the Harrisburg suburbs, we’re in Westmoreland County, where we’ll see Trump himself tomorrow. Both Northeast Pennsylvania (where Pence was) and Southwest Pennsylvania (where Trump will be) are onetime Democratic strongholds where Trump surprised in 2016 and where Republicans may need to do even better this time to offset losses in the suburbs.

But there is still something different about this coronavirus campaign season: Only one side is campaigning like there’s no pandemic.

Consider that Biden spoke in front of just a small group of reporters in Pittsburgh as he condemned violence and looting and accused Trump of fomenting chaos in the streets. Supporters didn’t show up, because they weren’t invited.

Almost 300 miles away, hundreds of Trump supporters lined a highway to welcome Pence. One elderly woman told us her son urged her to stay home — not because of the coronavirus, but in case protesters infiltrated the crowd.

We’re expecting an even bigger crowd for Trump himself tomorrow. Meanwhile, traveling through Cumberland County outside Harrisburg on our way west, the way to find Biden supporters was knocking on doors with Biden signs out front.

This all reflects the alternate universes the parties and their leaders are living in: Democrats sheltering in place with Biden, Republicans venturing out to rally for Trump. It played out in how they formally accepted their parties’ nominations, too, with Biden speaking to the camera from a mostly empty Wilmington event space, before Trump addressed a largely maskless crowd at the White House — and treated them to a fireworks display on the National Mall.

Biden has held smaller, socially distanced events, with eastern Pennsylvania, close to his Wilmington home, as a frequent destination. And his campaign has signaled he’ll do more in-person campaigning in the weeks ahead.

But Trump measures his supporters’ enthusiasm by crowd sizes, so the crowds are here. Biden is betting voters will ultimately reward his cautious approach at a time when the pandemic is still killing about 1,000 people a day in the U.S.

Cynthia Greer

Answering your questions about voting

Do I need a stamp to vote by mail?

No. All counties will provide prepaid postage for submitting your filled-out mail ballot, funded by the state. (You still need postage for ballot applications and voter registration forms.)

When is the last day I can vote by mail?

Your ballot must be received by county elections officials by 8 p.m. on Election Day, according to state law. That means it doesn’t matter when you postmark or physically mail your ballot. What matters is whether it is received by the end of Election Day.

That’s one reason why it’s a good idea to request your ballot early and return it as soon as possible: If mail delivery is slow or unpredictable and your ballot arrives after Election Day, it won’t be counted. Even if you put it in the mail days before the election.

— Jonathan Lai (@Elaijuh)

What we’re paying attention to

Overheard on the campaign trail

“We’re not too far from our opponent’s boyhood home, but it’s Trump country now.”

— Vice President Mike Pence, during a rally Tuesday in Exeter, near Joe Biden’s childhood hometown of Scranton

Campaign lawn signs stashed safely in a tree in Cumberland County, Pa.
Courtesy of JOHNNY FREIDHOFF
Campaign lawn signs stashed safely in a tree in Cumberland County, Pa.

Lawn sign larceny

People stealing each other’s campaign lawn signs isn’t a new political phenomenon. But like many things in 2020, it seems worse now.

The Washington Post delved into sign-swiping in Pennsylvania, including all the ways people are trying to deter thieves (including glitter, vaseline, and displaying them only from inside, through windows).

We saw some of this in Cumberland County, where one man got so sick of his signs getting pilfered that he put the four he had in a tree (see above). The lone Democrat on the Mechanicsburg borough council zip-tied hers to her fence posts. We also saw a sign next to a Biden sign that warned would-be sign snatchers: “Every time you steal a sign we will donate to Biden’s campaign.”

Robert Forbes, a retired Army officer from Camp Hill, had one of the most brazen tales of treachery: “I had a friend come over, he’s a Republican. Few hours after he left I got a text message from him. It was a picture of my Biden sign.”

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