Why Politicians Like To Talk About Scranton

The gritty Pennsylvania city has emerged as a symbolic battleground this election season. We talk with the Obama campaign and a neighborhood organization about how a slumping economy is affecting Scranton.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, Juan Williams joins us trying to answer this. The conventions are over. So, what is this election about?

BRAND: Try this. Maybe it's the economy again. The big news today, a spike in unemployment last month, 6.1 percent in August, and that is a five-year high.

CHADWICK: And a big issue in the states where people think this campaign will be decided, places like Pennsylvania, and that gritty city the candidates keep talking about.

(Soundbite of speech, 2008 Democratic National Convention, August 27, 2008)

Senator JOE BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware; 2008 Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee): I'm here for everyone I grew up within Scranton and Wilmington.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

(Soundbite of speech, 2008 Republican National Convention, September 3, 2008)

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska; 2008 Republican Vice Presidential Nominee): We tend to prefer candidates who don't talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

CHADWICK: The vice-presidential nominees, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, and the really big guys are talking about Scranton, too.

BRAND: We're joined now by NPR's Audie Cornish. She's traveling with the Obama campaign, and Audie, where are you?

AUDIE CORNISH: Well, right now, we're on a bus headed to a town hall to a company just outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania. It's called Shot Glass. It's the sort of thing Senator Obama has been doing all week. Yesterday, he was at a hydropower company. He's definitely made a point in the economy, and has been making those points in front of blue-collar workers.

BRAND: And so, both Senator Obama and Senator McCain are spending a lot of time in places like Scranton, in places in the Rust Belt, where the economy has affected people perhaps disproportionately.

CORNISH: The economy is the central issue. These are two states in which it's incredibly important because they have lost many jobs, say, in Ohio with fuel industry or coal industry, and these are two battleground states that both Obama and McCain need to win. Pennsylvania, the Democrats have won the last two election cycles, but Ohio not so much. And so, Senator Obama is trying to make head way with voters that he didn't get so far with during the primaries.

BRAND: NPR's Audie Cornish with the Obama campaign. Thanks, Audie.

CORNISH: Thank you.

CHADWICK: We're joined by Mike Hanley. He's executive director of United Neighborhood Centers for Northeastern Pennsylvania, the region that includes Scranton. Mike, welcome to Day to Day.

Mr. MICHAEL HANLEY (Executive Director, United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern Pennsylvania): Thank you, Alex.

CHADWICK: What are you hearing from people there?

Mr. HANLEY: We're just thrilled that we're getting so much national press at all the convention. Everybody seems to have Scranton on the tip of their tongue. Certainly, the fact that Senator Biden, it's his hometown, and Senator Clinton has her roots here, I think, has brought that to the forefront.

CHADWICK: What is it that draws these two campaigns to make Scranton the iconoclastic American community of this campaign?

Mr. HANLEY: Scranton is really an up-and-coming community, I think. It's a community that has suffered in the past, a mining town for many years, and the manufacturing town, and much of that has gone away. Right now, we're in the period of rebirth. CHADWICK: You're not actually worst off than the rest of the country. You're not better off, either. I've read the unemployment numbers for July for the region. Six-point-one percent, that's just where the country is now.

Mr. HANLEY: Yeah, that's right. We're actually a growing community, which we're not seeing that much on the northeast these days, I think. The latest census figures had Scranton actually with an increase in population. It's a great place to be at this juncture.

CHADWICK: You work in a social-services agency. So, you deal with people who need help with community services, with housing, with looking for jobs?

Mr. HANLEY: That's correct. Yes, we deal with the folks from birth through senior citizens.

CHADWICK: With these new unemployment figures out today - nationally, with this spike in unemployment - what is the employment situation there?

Mr. HANLEY: It's a real mix, and I'm not sure that there's anything that really stands out and makes a different from any other part of the country. Businesses are hurting economically, and of course, that trickles down to the employees. There is a lot of folks who are actually underemployed here, who have been struggling kind of on the edge.

CHADWICK: What are you hearing about the election?

Mr. HANLEY: There's a lot of optimism and a lot of hope for change here. And so, people are really evaluating things in the national level, and find out who is best to be able to step up to the plate and make that change happen, and to help Scranton continue its rebirth here.

CHADWICK: So, you don't get any sense that people think that, oh, we really do need change and that means Senator Obama. Or we like this guy Senator McCain, because we know that he's a maverick, and he has a very appealing personal story and he's saying the right thing.

Mr. HANLEY: I think the people are struggling. Folks that we're talking to in our senior centers are really weighing back and forth. Folks that we're talking to in the street, people who are in our child-care centers or working families, all of them are really looking at this and I think it is a really struggle for them at this point in time.

CHADWICK: And what are they waiting to hear?

Mr. HANLEY: You know, I don't know. I think they're just waiting to see how it plays out in the next few months and what kind of messages these are getting.

CHADWICK: Mike Hanley is executive director of United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern Pennsylvania. That's where Scranton is. Mike, thank you.

Mr. HANLEY: Thank you.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.