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Biden Supporters In Pennsylvania Look Ahead To A 'Traditional Presidency'

Joe Biden speaks to union members in Erie, Pa., on Oct. 10. The president-elect flipped Erie County back into Democrats' column.
Joe Biden speaks to union members in Erie, Pa., on Oct. 10. The president-elect flipped Erie County back into Democrats' column.

Even as President Trump continues to undermine the election results that made Joe Biden the president-elect, states have begun certifying their votes.

In some places, it's been controversial, as in Wayne County in Michigan, where the canvassing board initially deadlocked 2-2 along party lines, before the Republican members reversed course and certified the election results.

There were no such problems last week in Erie County, Pennsylvania.

The election was close there — Biden won by just 1,424 votes, flipping the county back to Democrats — but the local board of elections praised the vote as being well-run and organized. And the seven-member board, made up of four Democrats and three Republicans, voted unanimously to approve the result and send it to the state.

So with the books now closed on the election in Erie, we decided to check in with some Biden supporters in the county whom we'd encountered earlier in the campaign.

To a person, the tension has melted away — even with Trump refusing to concede.

"Walking on sunshine, man"

Take Michael Keys, a city councilor in Erie. When we first met after Labor Day, he was a bit stressed. Now, with the election over, his greeting is beyond effusive.

"I'm walking on sunshine, man!" he says as he greets me in the lobby of the Booker T. Washington Community Center in Erie. We're both wearing masks. His has a message in big, bold letters stretched across his mouth. It reads: "VOTERS DECIDE."

Michael Keys is a city councilor in Erie.
Don Gonyea / NPR
Michael Keys is a city councilor in Erie.

In September, Keys was working hard to turn out the African American vote in the city of Erie. Now he's quoting the lyric of that pop song from the 1980s, and he's full of optimism.

He says right off that he doesn't expect Biden to fix everything. But he does see a path for the new president to not only spread some hope, but also opportunity.

"It's my hope we'll be able to foster more inclusion and more equitable policies," Keys says. "We have to have equity, you know; that's one of the things that the Trump plan left out was equity."

Another big hope for Keys is that there'll be investment in America's cities, to create jobs and to reform police departments. He says the issues raised by the killings of George Floyd and others must be addressed, and that he expects Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to be committed to that.

He then mentions the 1994 crime bill, which then-Sen. Biden authored, and which sent so many African Americans to prison, often with long, mandatory sentences.

"You know," he says, "it would be ironic that the same people who put together the '94 crime bill, and worked under the '94 crime bill, would be the same people who dismantle it. That would be my dream."

A vote for governing from the center

Maryann Frontino is a 65-year-old lifelong Republican who left the party and switched her registration to independent this summer, because of Trump.

Maryann Frontino left the Republican Party this year.
Don Gonyea / NPR
Maryann Frontino left the Republican Party this year.

Looking ahead to Jan. 20, when Biden is sworn in, she thinks the change will be dramatic.

"It's probably going to feel more like a traditional presidency where we have friendly relations with our allies instead of combative relationships with them," she says. Frontino adds that she expects the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, and to resume productive dialogue across the Atlantic.

As for Washington politics, she acknowledges that hardcore partisanship and gridlock will persist. She adds, however: "My expectation is that it's going to be, at least on [Biden's] part, a kinder, friendlier and more professional presidency."

Frontino says she hopes Biden will govern from the center, and that maybe, she says, "at least a few Republicans will be willing to work with him." And she hopes progressive Democrats give the new president room to find compromise.

"I think it is bigger than Joe Biden"

In talking to Biden voters, you often hear hope but not much confidence that there really is an opportunity for the new president to unify the country.

Scott Slawson heads the United Electrical Local 506 union in Erie. His members work at the WABTEC locomotive assembly plant where, according to Slawson, you can see the political divisions even on the shop floor.

He applauds Biden for talking about unity, and about addressing the deep distrust people often have of those who vote differently than they do.

"I strongly believe that it's something that we have to fix," says the union leader. "We have to figure out how we unite as individuals, as families, as a country."

It's something Trump never even attempted, he says. He says Biden is certainly more suited to the task, but then Slawson says, "You know, I think it is bigger than Joe Biden, but it takes somebody to start that, that sparks start that flame. Right?"

Slawson says it's important Biden doesn't give up on the challenge of bringing the country together.

And given the pandemic and the economic struggles as a result of it, he says the incentive should be there for people to want to find solutions and to want the new president to succeed.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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