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Clinton, Biden have Pennsylvania homecoming, face cheers — and jeers

A Donald Trump supporter parks his Truck outside where Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are speaking in Scranton, PA. on Aug. 160815.
Jeff Cox | CNBC

SCRANTON, Pennsylvania — Hillary Clinton is the first lady from Arkansas, the senator from New York and the globetrotting first lady/secretary of state with ports of call over the world.

On Monday, she was the presidential candidate with little-girl roots in Pennsylvania.

For the Democratic nominee, a campaign stop here with Vice President Joe Biden was something of a homecoming. Though not actually from Pennsylvania herself, her grandfather was born there and her father, Hugh Rodham, worked there at the Scranton Lace Company before making his name in Chicago.

During her childhood, the Rodhams used to summer in nearby Lake Winola in Wyoming County, on the northern tier near the New York state line but far from the bright lights and bustle of New York City.

It was this setting that Clinton hoped to use as a springboard to victory over her bombastic Republican opponent Donald Trump.

Making it even sweeter is that Clinton isn't the only one with ties to northeastern Pennsylvania: Biden was born in Scranton and lived there for about the first 10 years of his life.

While that doesn't exactly make them a bunch of old coal crackers, it does connect them to a region they'll need to carry strongly for Clinton to take the Keystone State battleground.

Do the people here think she'll remember them if she makes it to the White House?

"I would say so," said Lorraine Swader, just a few weeks away from her 81st birthday, as she waited for Clinton to take the stage. "Her father is buried here in Scranton. I'm proud of her and I'm proud of Joe Biden."

The region has deep blue-collar roots and is more prone to vote Democrat than Republican. Lackawanna County went strongly for President Barack Obama in his 2012 race against Republican Mitt Romney, carrying the county 52 percent to 46.8 percent.

Polls so far indicate Clinton has a comfortable 9.2-point lead in Pennsylvania. However, Trump enjoys considerable support in Lackawanna and neighboring Luzerne counties, attested to by the 12,000-strong throng that turned out for a rally down the road a little way in Wilkes-Barre in late April.

The Trump contingent was out in force before the Clinton rally.

"If it were any other woman I would vote for her. She's corrupt," said Frank Rybak, a retiree from Tunkhannock who stood next to a tractor-trailer festooned with pro-Trump messages. Trump's "not a politician," he added. "They tell you one thing and do another."

Slogans on the trailer, written in capital letters, were vintage Trump: "Keep Mexican Dope in Mexico," "Close the Borders," "Build the Wall."

There were packs of Trump backers roaming the grounds outside the Riverfront Sports building. They carried signs that said, "Hillary for Prison" and "We Will Not Forget Benghazi."

Trump's "a good guy. He's got everyone talking about immigration," said Bob Kunigel, 66, who carried a sign and wore a "Make America Great Again" hat. "I remember when (the Clintons) were in the White House. It was a scandal every week."

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden arrive at a campaign rally, Monday, Aug. 15, 2016, in Scranton, Pa.
Mel Evans | AP

Kunigel hopes Trump can carry the region.

"It's the corrupt voting that has me worried," he said, echoing a Trump warning. "If it's a fair election, he'll win."

Clinton, though, is banking on her roots giving her a boost.

During the rally, she spoke of the Lake Winola days and pointed out that the Bidens and Rodhams lived just a few blocks away from each other.

"When Joe and I were deciding where to have our first campaign really, there really was only one answer," Clinton said.

Biden made an appeal to the area's character.

"Scranton deserves what it always deserved because it is made up of so many people with grit and courage … (and) determination who never, ever gave up," he said. "They deserve someone who not only understands them, they deserve someone ... who is made of the same stuff. That's Hillary Clinton."

The team got a boost from Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr., whose father, the former governor, is a legend in the area. The elder Casey may be known more to a national audience as the pro-life Democrat denied a speaking opportunity at the 1992 Democratic convention, but around here he's remembered as a two-fisted political leader who never back down from a fight.

But skepticism remains over Clinton.

In addition to the hard-core Trump supporters who turned out, she also faced protests from her left-flank, a group that could be critical as the race tightens up in the fall.

Carl Romanelli, a 57-year-old pro-marijuana activist from Wilkes-Barre, was there to remind folks that the Bernie Sanders crowd is alive and well and hasn't forgotten how their candidate was treated during the contentious nomination race.

"We're sick and tired of phony debates and phony elections," said Romanelli, whose late father Carl Sr. was a well-known editor for the Citizens' Voice newspaper in Wilkes-Barre.

For her part, Clinton is looking forward, training her message on the challenge from Trump and hoping to shore up her support in places like Scranton.

"No matter what Donald Trump says, America is great," she said to thunderous applause. "The American dream is big enough for everyone."