CLEVELAND, Ohio—Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden visited this city on Election Eve at the behest of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in a last-ditch effort to motivate enough base voters to show up against Donald Trump in the state the president won easily four years ago.
“When Sherrod tells me to come to Ohio the day before, I come,” Biden said in Cleveland on Monday.
“Ohio, one more day.”
The evening before the former vice president’s arrival, campaign officials kept the substance of the event vague, only sharing that it was scheduled “to encourage Ohioans to vote.” But the fact that Biden was nudged to enter Cleveland, a city favorable to Democrats, indicates a desire within the party to appeal to Black voters in a state where their turnout could be decisive.
Ohio polls show a nail-biter between Biden and Trump. The two were actually in the city together for the first presidential debate—just before Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19. The current tightness prompted Biden’s team to add a stop to his calendar while campaigning in neighboring Pennsylvania, widely viewed as a must-win for him, for the rest of the day.
“Ohio in 2008 and 2012, you placed your trust in me and Barack,” Biden said, after sprinting on stage. “In 2020, I’m asking you to trust me again. I’m proud of the coalition this campaign has built to welcome Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. I’m running as a proud Democrat, but I will govern as an American president.”
Democratic activists and voters believe that Biden has a shot at restoring the state’s traditional bellwether status in their favor. If they do, they’ll have to overcome what critics have long described as an array of obstacles to voting, especially among communities of color. This year, that includes just one mail ballot dropbox per county, except in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County—which has two.
“He recognizes opportunity here in Ohio,” Shontel Brown, the chairwoman of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, told The Daily Beast. “People like to write off Ohio as red. We’re more ‘rigged’ than ‘red.’”
“If you look at the numbers, we’re more purple,” Brown continued. “Cleveland has the highest density of the Black vote, and it is critically evident in this election that our city could be a deciding factor for the presidency.”
Elected officials and outside groups targeting Black voters have been working pre-election registration efforts particularly hard, a strategy in tandem with the Biden team’s approach at the national level.
“There’s been a lot of effort from the NAACP to get people registered to vote,” said Danielle Sydnor, the head of the organization’s Cleveland chapter. “Collaborative efforts around voter registration and voter mobilization was up this election cycle. Activation at the polls was also created to deter voter suppression and people from leaving, which has made a huge difference.”
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), a Biden endorser in Congress who the nominee said he spent time with ahead of his speech along with Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), added that she was glad to see him make a last trip.
“We’re glad Biden is here,” she told The Daily Beast. “We’re going to win Ohio.”
Trump triumphed in the state during the last presidential election, capturing its 18 electoral votes far more easily than his other prizes like Wisconsin and Michigan. This year, the Biden campaign has been cautiously hoping to make inroads for months—Ohio was included as a possible place to “win back” in their public battleground strategy.
“I don’t care how hard Donald Trump tries. There is nothing—nothing—that is going to stop the people of this nation from voting,” Biden said.