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Joe Biden Brings Old Fashioned Politics To Northeast Ohio

M.L. Schultze
Joe Biden made a stop at the state's largest county fair.

Eastern Ohio’s Trumbull County leans traditionally Democratic – but there’s  a lot of support this year for Donald Trump. And a handful of people were holding Trump signs outside the union hall where Joe Biden spoke.

But overall, it was friendly territory for the vice president – a United Autoworkers hall around the corner from the now-thriving GM plant saved by the auto-industry bailout.

"You’re now selling 17 million cars a year, made in America. The most ever. You’re making the best damn cars in the word again," said Biden to about 200 people.   His speech celebrated the strengths of unions, fair play, hard work and the middle class – and held Donald Trump up as the antithesis of those things.

"I know I’m not supposed to get angry but I’m so sick and tired of hearing people like Trump and the Chamber of Commerce, the national chamber, talking about we get paid too much, that we don’t work. Give me a break: This is a guy born with a silver spoon in his mouth that now he’s choking because his foot’s in his mouth along with spoon.”

But where Biden really hit his stride was when he waded out into the crowd after the speech, mugging for selfies and recalling a half-dozen visits to the Mahoning Valley in the past.

And then he did what township trustees, village clerks and local politicians all over Ohio do: he went to the county fair - actually, the state’s largest county fair, in Canfield. Biden did the same thing four years ago nearly to the day, and some people were lined up before he got there expecting the unannounced visit. Those who didn’t figured it out pretty quickly from the motorcade, black security limo, and dozens of secret service people surrounding him.

Still, there was time for more hugs, more selfies, more memories and a meatball sandwich with extra cheese from Antone’s.

Biden moved through the crowd like a man in no hurry – and as the afternoon progressed, even with staffers trying to keep him on schedule, his stride got more leisurely, his time more invested in the people he met along the way.

With Youngstown’s former Mayor Jay Williams – now head of the federal Economic Development Administration -- at Biden’s side, the motorcade moved onto two neighborhoods on the South Side. The first was supposed to give the vice president a five-minute “before picture” of a neighborhood ravaged by the housing collapse and urban decay.

Kimberly Clark Baldwin spotted the flashing lights as the motorcade moved into the neighborhood where she grew up, “I’ve seen Biden and Clinton down at the Covelli Center, when Bill Clinton came. I’ve seen Barack, he came to my plant, I got to hug him. I got a picture of him … ohhh I just love him.”

Still, she was content to watch from a distance. Until, Biden called her over, along with her mother, husband and others from the neighborhood. And the 5 minutes in the neighborhood stretched into a half hour.

Then his motorcade moved onto the “after” neighborhood, Idora, where hanging baskets and flower boxes decorate the restored homes occupied by new families.

The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation – with help from volunteers, the Recovery Act and Treasury Department’s Hardest Hit funds – has refurbished the neighborhood, attracting young families like Jay Brownlee’s back to the city.

“Our church was doing some work here in the neighborhood and they had three houses up for sale and my mother-in-law called and said, ‘Hey, come down and check out these houses.’ And long story short, I did and I loved it,' said Brownlee.

Credit M.L. Schultze / WKSU

The vice president zig-zagged from house-to-house up the street – a kind of door-to-door campaign with hardly a whiff of politics.

One woman commiserated with him over the loss of his son, Beau, to cancer. He asked how long it had taken her to recover from a similar loss.

Another invited him to her barbeque.

He pulled small stuffed dogs from his pockets to give to children. And he sat with a family on their front porch steps, petting their dog, talking about his German shepherd and posing for family pictures.

Biden ran out of time before he ran out of neighborhood, and the motorcade rushed him to the Youngstown air base so he could get to Parma for his second formal campaign stop.

But even getting the plane off the ground took longer than expected: first the ever gregarious Joe Biden had a chat with the firefighters at the bottom of the steps to his plane – and posed for a picture with the bright-yellow helmet they gave him.

M.L. Schultze came to WKSU as news director in July 2007 after 25 years at The Repository in Canton, where she was managing editor for nearly a decade. She’s now the digital editor and an award-winning reporter and analyst who has appeared on NPR, Here and Now and the TakeAway, as well as being a regular panelist on Ideas, the WVIZ public television's reporter roundtable.