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Demonstration at Democratic Presidential Campaign Stop

Photo by Robert A. DeFrank – The “Battle for the Soul of the Nation” campaign bus in support of presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden stops in Martins Ferry on Tuesday to pass out campaign material for local Democrats. Supporters of President Donald Trump’s re-election also arrived to demonstrate.

MARTINS FERRY – A stop in the city by the Democratic presidential campaign Tuesday proved contentious.

The “Battle for the Soul of the Nation” campaign bus in support of presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden and running mate Sen. Kamala Harris stopped at the United Steelworkers of America union hall and handed out signs and other campaign items to local Democrats.

Soon, a caravan of close to a dozen vehicles carrying people in support of Republican President Donald 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?” Ohio 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.

“The Biden supporters come down here and think that Biden is for this country. He is not,” Billingsley said. He criticised Biden for support of the Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court legalizing abortion, adding that this went against Catholic beliefs. “He’s supposed to be a Catholic.

“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.”

“We’re showing that we’re here. They keep thinking that we’re silent, that there’s no Trump supporters, but we’re here,” he said. “This valley is red.”

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.

“We are here because we just strongly support Vice President Biden and we so much want him to get into office to help bring our country back to normal,” Carol Campbell of Shadyside, secretary and treasurer of the Belmont County Democratic Party, said. “We need to bring back normalcy to our country, and we need a decent, kind and thoughtful man with good policies to be leading us. … We’re excited and we’re optimistic.”

Her husband, Ross Campbell of Shadyside, a retired steelworker, said he believes Biden would be supportive of the union.

One Democrat said she found the rhetoric from the pro-Trump group unsettling but declined to identify herself. On the Trump side, one unidentified supporter said the division among people across the country began under the Obama and Biden administration. Others said the Democrat side had gone “too far” and that Trump supporters have been the subject of unfairly biased coverage.

Billingsley said the Trump supporters had come to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights.

“If they would come over here instead of calling us nasty and calling us racists and come over here to talk like human beings, we wouldn’t have to talk like that,” Billingsley said. “We don’t like when we’re called racist, because we’re not.”

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

Several were critical of the restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic. There were no masks visible on the pro-Trump side. Masks were required for people picking up Biden campaign gear. Democrat Mary Beth Hoffer of St. Clairsville said Biden would be “for science.”

Social issues were also evident. One woman with a loudspeaker referenced biblical injunctions against homosexuality and said the Democratic Party was complicit in murder for supporting abortion laws.

“I’m here to support love and equality. I have gay family members,” Biden supporter Rosie Dennis of Brilliant said. “I think it’s pretty sad that they’re running on hate. I think there’s better ways to get your point across.”

Others also spoke in favor of “law and order” and said Democratic leadership would bring opposition to the Second Amendment and “anarchy.”

One Trump supporter, who said he was a veteran but declined to give his name, voiced criticism of the Obama administration’s foreign policy and said he and others have experienced a lack of support for veterans and the military.

The Biden bus toured Eastern Ohio Tuesday, also stopping in Steubenville and Marietta.

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