SCRANTON, Pa. -- At Hank’s Hoagies, sandwiches are on order, along with a helping of politics.
“A lot of political people around here,” said owner Tom Owens.
That includes a life-size cutout of former Vice President Joe Biden, which makes more sense once you realize Hank’s Hoagies is located in his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
He made an unscheduled stop there last October.
“He’s a great guy,” Owens said. “When you meet him, it’s like you knew him all your life."
This corner of Pennsylvania is part of the so-called Rust Belt. It’s a collection of states scattered around the Great Lakes – an area of former industrial powerhouses stretching from western New York, through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and into southeast Wisconsin.
“There’s this whole string of connected states that share media markets, that share some common demographic factors and where small shifts in the vote can have big results in the Electoral College,” said Prof. Barry Burden, a political science professor and director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He said both presidential campaigns will likely pay special attention to this area for one main reason.
“There are a lot of people living here, which means there are a lot of electoral votes to be had,” Prof. Burden said. “Several of the states are really up for grabs in almost any presidential election.”
That includes Pennsylvania, which holds 20 electoral votes and has a long history of being a swing state. Republicans won the state during presidential elections of the 1980s: 1980, 1984 and 1988. Then Democrats won it in the 1990s and 2000s: 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 – until Republicans won it once again in 2016.
That’s not the only Rust Belt state that’s gone back and forth, so has Ohio, with 18 electoral votes.
“I'm telling you, I kind of like what Trump's doing," said Ohio voter Charles Krumel. In Toledo, Ohio – months before election day, voters are already paying attention to the issues.
“Most important thing is keeping the stock market up for us retired people, keeping social security for us retired people and keeping the economy going," said Alan Morse, another Ohio voter.
Back in Scranton, Pennsylvania, there are similar concerns, but one trumps it all.
“The coronavirus,” Owens said. “Just to get everybody on the same page in the country. Get a plan – get a unified plan.”
Issues that could very well bring the road to the White House right through the Rust Belt.