MONTOURSVILLE, Pa. — President Donald Trump on Monday promised to continue pushing for job growth, unleash coal and shale, and bring back industrial plants as he attempted to woo voters in this key battleground state ahead of the next presidential election.
In doing so, Trump, a Republican, struck many of the same notes he did during the 2016 presidential election, when he narrowly captured Pennsylvania. But he also added a few updated twists — garnering applause as he derided a “phony” witch hunt, socialism, and the “crazy” Democrats.
And the first-term president also tried a new variation of his previous campaign slogan.
“We have saved America. We’ve made America great again, and we are going to keep America great,” he told a crowd gathered inside an airport hangar in rural Lycoming County, where Republicans account for more than half of all registered voters.
Later in the roughly hour-long rally, he told the crowd, “Your dreams are my dreams. Your hopes are my hopes, and your future is what I’m fighting for.”
Trump’s visit comes two days after former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential contender, branded the president at a Philadelphia rally as America’s “divider-in-chief” and aimed to strike a more conciliatory tone with voters.
It also came the day before a special election to fill a vacant congressional seat that covers, among other areas, Lycoming County.
“Trump’s coming, ostensibly, to campaign for [GOP candidate State Rep. Fred] Keller, but, in reality, what’s it about?” asked political analyst and pollster G. Terry Madonna. “It’s about Trump and Pennsylvania. This gives him a reason to get here.”
Keller faces Democrat Marc Friedenberg, a cybersecurity professor, in a special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Tom Marino in the 12th District. Tt was scheduled for Tuesday to coincide with party primaries.
Trump described Keller as a “tough man” who is tough on crime and loves police, veterans, and current members of the military.
The district lies in the middle of Trump country. And on Monday, as people in this small town awaited his appearance, support for the president appeared strong.
The road to the rally was lined with stalls selling Trump hats, T-shirts, and buttons. One sold flags for Trump’s 2020 campaign and a slogan “no more bull—,” which at least two children wore as capes. Outside the airport hangar, food trucks set up, including two selling Mexican food.
A handful of protesters stood near a single barricade en route, some holding signs that read, “Hate has no home here,” and others calling for the election of the Democratic congressional candidate.
Both Democrats and Republicans are eyeing Pennsylvania as a key state in the 2020 presidential election, in part because Trump won the state in 2016 by roughly 44,000 votes, or less than 1 percentage point.
Already, with 18 months before the presidential election, Democratic candidates have begun visiting Pennsylvania. Biden came to Philadelphia this weekend. Sen. Bernie Sanders went to Pittsburgh. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke have also visited.
Those trips are only the beginning. On Monday, Trump promised to return.
“I’m here to see you, but I’ll be seeing you a lot over the next year,” he said, adding that he has “got to win this state.”
One recent survey predicted Biden would have a wide lead over Trump in Pennsylvania, and placed several other Democratic candidates either slightly ahead of or running even with Trump in hypothetical matchups.
On Monday, Trump sought to brand Biden — in his words, “Sleepy Joe” — as beholden to foreign governments. “He’s going to save every country but ours,” Trump said. He also accused Biden, who was born in Scranton but represented Delaware, of abandoning Pennsylvania for another state.
Earlier in the day, before the president spoke, state Democrats issued a statement encouraging people to “ignore the president’s rantings and ravings” and instead focus on Tuesday’s elections, which some in political circles will be watching closely.
On Tuesday, voters will narrow down candidates to face off in the November general election in some judicial and local races. Also on the ballot are special elections to fill vacancies in Congress, two state Senate seats, and one state House district.
Many outside observers, noting Republican voter registration edges in those areas, expect the vacant seats to go to GOP candidates. But some Democrats are hopeful, pointing out that they made gains in the state legislature last November.
“If the Democrats were to pick up one or more of those, it would be a gigantic upset, and it would be something that might portend for the elections next year,” Madonna said.
Inside the airplane hangar, where Trump’s supporters gathered, most of the discussion focused on 2020.
Mixed in with the crowd were Donna and Taylor Hessinger, a mother and daughter from Palmerton in Carbon County, about 100 miles away. Both said they voted for Trump four years ago and intend to do so again.
“He’s the man,” Donna Hessinger, 62, said of Trump.
She likes his stances on immigration, thinks the border wall is necessary, and appreciates his verbal commitment to veterans. In recent years, she said, she’s felt her Christian faith is under attack.
Since Trump’s election, she said, “I have hope" — hope that America will continue to be what she considers a great country.