By: Kelsey Carolan
Just a few weeks ago, Trump advisor Rudy Guiliani spoke to a group of Trump supporters in a packed campaign office in northeast Philadelphia — a section of the city that used to be reliably blue.
Pennsylvania is a battleground state, and with Philadelphia comprising over 1.1 million registered voters, candidates look to the city and its suburbs for votes. And it is usually a Democratic stronghold.
But with northeast Philadelphia being home to a large population of police officers and pro-law enforcement becoming a message of Trump’s, the GOP sees untapped potential.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of Democrats vote for Trump — registered Democrats vote for Trump,” Brian McCafferty, creator of the Trump for Philly Facebook page said. “And just because registered Democrats voted in droves right now with the mail-in ballots, that doesn’t mean they voted for Biden.”
McCafferty, a northeast Philadelphia native, said he used to vote for Democrats but has been disillusioned by Democratic leadership in the city. He said he believes voters see their reactions to the protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd as anti-law enforcement, leading some to fear for their own safety.
“Whenever there’s a problem in this country now, we’ve created a precedent of ‘Okay, go burn the city down,’” McCafferty said. “Philly is a mess, it’s awful what happened here in a matter of seven or eight months so ‘defund the police,’ yeah, people are scared of that.”
He said the over 7,000 Philadelphians who are a part of the Facebook page he created would agree. Larry Teal, a registered Democrat in northeast Philadelphia, was one of them.
“In my opinion, once the looting started, there should have been major law and order steps that came into play,” Teal said. “The fact that the Biden and Harris camps supported it and downplayed it to that they were all peaceful protests, like I was never a huge fan of Biden but I was never anti-Biden, but it completely changed my mind.”
Teal said he’s seen the area change politically. Prior to the 2016 election, he said he believed the Democratic party was more aligned with his beliefs, catering to the working class and unions. But that changed once it began moving further to the left.
“The party that I was starting to get involved with a little bit to align with doesn’t exist anymore and I think it was way more moderate,” Teal said.
Trump saw strong support in the area in 2016, with Democrats losing over 11,000 voters from 2012. Vice President Mike Pence visited the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5, the local police union located in the far northeast area, in July amidst ongoing protests, promoting a pro-law enforcement message to hundreds of people.
Robert Walls, a retired Philadelphia police officer, said the only political voice police officers have is voting, besides who their union endorses. The national FOP endorsed Trump this election, and the FOP Lodge #5 endorsed Trump in 2016.
“They can’t strike, they can’t even be too verbal,” Walls said. “There’s no real resources to pitch their gravestone.”
Walls said that’s why some cops are basing their vote off of who will advocate for them — he said about 50% of his own vote is determined by who supports law enforcement.
This has presented a problem for Biden as calls to “defund the police” have rung throughout the Democratic party in the wake of killings of Black people at the hands of police officers. However, Biden has tried separating himself from that slogan.
“I think it [the slogan] has been twisted,” Elliot, a Biden supporter and campaigner, said. “I had one guy who was voting for Biden, because he was a union guy, but he didn’t like the defunding of the police. I had to go through the whole story of that’s wrong, but he was still voting for Biden because he was a union guy.”
Elliot, who also campaigned for President Obama and Hillary Clinton, said while more people in the northeast area are less shy about supporting Trump now, he thinks more people are more supportive of Biden than they were of Clinton.
“I don’t know if it was misogyny or not but I think a lot of them [voters] have gone back the other way because Joe’s a union guy and they all know it,” he said. Historically, unions have played an influential role in electing Democratic candidates to office.
Walls said that while he does see why the Trump campaign is focusing some of its energy on the northeast area, he said they should not underestimate the overall changing demographics of the area, which he predicts will benefit the Democrats.
“Long-term residents of northeast Philadelphia have been so fed up with the ineffectual responses to all their problems by city council and the mayors for the last decade and that disgust has led them to leave the Democratic party,” Walls said. “But it’s no longer Black and white. There’s a major South American presence and it’s in the northeast. And the first couple of times they’re [immigrants] voting, they’re voting for Democrats.”