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Biden bus rolls through Steubenville

SHOWING SUPPORT - Braving the rain, supporters of the Biden-Harris ticket in this year’s presidential election attended a “Soul of the Nation” bus tour Tuesday and stocked up on signs, T-shirts and other election paraphernalia supporting the Democrat campaign. -- Linda Harris

STEUBENVILLE — Democratic faithful braved the morning rain to catch a glimpse of the Biden-Harris “Soul of the Nation” bus Tuesday morning in downtown Steubenville, ignoring a vocal group of Republican partisans gathered on a sidewalk nearby.

“This is America, we get to speak,” shrugged Sarah, a Jefferson County resident who was hesitant to use her last name because a family member’s job requires discretion. “They get to say what they think.”

But she also said being able to speak her mind about government leaders is, in a nutshell, one of the reasons she’s voting for the Democrat nominee. “I want us to continue to be able to speak,” she said. “I think under a Trump administration for four more years, that could be a problem.”

“What I find interesting, I think Trump people feel like they don’t belong, that’s why they do this,” she added, gesturing at the protesters. “I think his whole campaign pulls out what’s in our worst nature; Biden pulls out what’s best in us.”

Tuesday was Day 2 of the Biden-Harris bus tour through the Buckeye State, though neither the former vice president or his running mate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, was on board. On Monday, the bus also stopped in Columbus, Canton and Youngstown; Tuesday it stopped in St. Clairsville and Marietta, in addition to Steubenville.

The idea, party leaders said, “was to show support for the campaign and make sure people have a plan to vote.” They also handed out signs and other election paraphernalia.

“We just want to make sure people know they have all these different ways to vote,” including casting an absentee ballot,” one said.

Biden supporters trickled in, arriving alone or in groups of two or three, waiting patiently to approach the merchandise table where they could stock up on signs, T-shirts and other election paraphernalia. Their small numbers drew snickers from the banner-wielding Trump protesters clustered around a pickup parked at the intersection of North Court and Ross streets, using a loudspeaker to make their voices heard.

“Don’t engage them, that’s what they want,” one man advised. Ignoring him, another yelled back, “Was that flag made in China?”

The Rev. Melody Essex of Shaffer Chapel AME, McIntire, said she was there to replenish her stockpile of election materials.

“I just laughed and kept coming in,” she said. “My mind’s made up. I prayed. We can’t continue for four more years. I believe we’ll be in another civil war if he comes back.”

Therese Elder didn’t let the rain or the withering comments from the Trump partisans dampen her enthusiasm for the Biden-Harris ticket.

“I don’t think there should be political war,” Elder said. “It should be about (picking) a president that suits America’s needs.”

J David Core, a Toronto resident, said he’s the last person to criticize anyone for protesting at a political event.

“It’s America, it’s free speech,” Core said. “I turned out for a Santorum event when he was here” campaigning eight years ago. “If they want to make their voices heard, that’s their right. But the things they’re saying over the loudspeaker just demonstrate how uninformed they are — like saying Joe Biden will ban fracking or that he hates babies. Biden has specifically said he won’t get rid of fracking (and) he’s Catholic. In his personal life he’s opposed to abortion but he doesn’t feel he has a right to tell other religions how to feel.”

The Trump caravan followed the Biden bus to its stops in Martins Ferry and Marietta, and the stop in Martins Ferry by the Democratic presidential campaign proved contentious.

Shortly after the bus arrived, a caravan of close to a dozen vehicles carrying people in support of Trump arrived and took up a position across the road. American flags, pro-Trump flags and American flags with a “thin blue line” in support of law enforcement were evident, along with a “Women for Trump” sign.

The site quickly became a microcosm of opposing views seen and heard across the nation during this contentious election, with many on the Trump side being vocal about the issues that brought them there.

The spokesman for the Trump caravan, Steve Billingsley of Jefferson County, held a loudspeaker and leveled several criticisms against the Democratic presidential candidate.

“The steel mill was shut down because of Obama and Biden,” he said, referring to the former RG Steel, which went bankrupt in 2012.

“I haven’t seen the plant open up in the last four years, or any other time. What about the coal mines that were closed?” state Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire said. “We’re here to support our candidate because we believe in … the message he’s talking about … the needs that we have with health care and dealing with the COVID issue and helping rural Ohio, and they’re just here to yell.”

Billingsley said the caravan was composed of Belmont and Jefferson county residents who turned out to show the Ohio Valley’s support for Trump’s re-election campaign. He said Trump supporters were waiting for the Biden campaign bus at its expected stop at the Ohio Valley Mall. The campaign opted early Tuesday to change locations and stop at the union lodge instead.

“He’s not for truth, he’s for lies. He’s not for unity, he’s for division. He’s not for hope, he’s for fear,” Billingsley said. “Biden is in the wrong territory.”

Cera also spoke about the excitement he has observed among voters, adding there was a steady stream of people arriving to pick up campaign signs in the first 20 minutes of the campaign stop. He added that many Democrats turned out despite the change in location.

“I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the Democrats. More than I’ve seen in a number of years,” Cera said.

There were some brief exchanges between the Biden and Trump supporters as Democrats arrived to pick up signs.

One Democrat said she found the rhetoric from the pro-Trump group unsettling but declined to identify herself.

Other Trump supporters who chose not to identify themselves voiced the belief that a Biden administration would enact socialist policies and increase taxes.

(Staff writer Robert A. DeFrank contributed to this report.)

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