On Tuesday, President Joe Biden is travelling to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to discuss gun violence.
Then, on Saturday, former president Donald Trump will head to the same small town to hold a rally at the Mohegan Sun Arena to support Pennsylvania GOP Senate candidate Mehmet Oz and gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano.
On the surface, it might be surprising to see two presidents visit a city with less than 41,000 residents that is a two-hour drive from Philadelphia.
But while these trips are ostensibly about Mr Biden promoting his agenda and Mr Trump attempting to rally voters for his preferred candidates, both men have their eyes trained on 2024. Mr Trump is all but certain to want a rematch against Mr Biden – and places like Wilkes-Barre will be vital for either candidate.
Wilkes-Barre is based right in Luzerne County and is not too far from Scranton, where Mr Biden was born and spent part of his childhood before his father relocated the family to Delaware.
For decades, it was a solidly blue territory, and registered Democrats outpace registered Republicans by about 10,000 in the county.
In 2000, Al Gore won the county with 52 per cent of the vote to George W Bush’s 43.8 per cent. It voted for John Kerry in 2004 by about 3.4 points. When Barack Obama nominated Joe Biden to be his running mate in 2008, the ticket beat John McCain by 8.4 points there. But that margin tightened when they ran for re-election against Mitt Romney, who proved to be a strong candidate among Independents and in suburbs, and they only won by 4.8 points.
But that changed in 2016 when Donald Trump became the first Republican to win Pennsylvania since George HW Bush in 1988, which was also the last time a Republican carried Luzerne County. Mr Trump did so largely on the backs of industrial counties like Luzerne, where he beat Hillary Clinton by a whopping 19.4 points. Republican Senator Pat Toomey beat Democratic candidate Katie McGinty by 7.65 per cent of the vote.
One potential reason for Mr Trump’s surge in the area and why it swung hard right might be his economic populist message. One study after the 2016 presidential election noted that manufacturing jobs have dried up there. Today, Amazon is the largest employer in the county, followed by the federal government.
Incidentally, when Josh Shapiro, now the Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania governor, made his first run for attorney general, he only lost the county by less than one per cent.
“Shapiro has always been top vote getter in Luzerne when he ran for AG,” Ed Mitchell, a Pennsylvania Democratic consultant, told The Independent over text message.
In 2020, Mr Trump again won Luzerne County. But Mr Biden overperformed Ms Clinton by about five points. Mr Biden’s performance in Wilkes-Barre partially contributed to this.
In addition, Luzerne County is home to one of the few congressional districts that elected a Democrat to Congress while voting for Mr Trump in 2020, and Representative Matt Cartwright is running for reelection.
Mr Mitchell pointed to the old aphorism in which famous criminal Willie Sutton said he robbed banks because that’s where the money is.
“Biden and Trump are in Luzerne County because that’s where the swing voters are.”