WILKES-BARRE – As a number of fellow Republicans backed away from him, Donald Trump energized supporters in northeast Pennsylvania on Monday by attacking Hillary Clinton, criticizing media coverage of his campaign, and suggesting that election results could be rigged in Philadelphia.
"Everyone in Pennsylvania loves Trump," the Republican presidential nominee told an enthusiastic and chanting crowd Monday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena, expressing disbelief that he is behind in polls in the state. "There's no way we're 3 [percentage points] down."
In fact, an NBC News/Marist poll released Sunday found Clinton leading Trump in Pennsylvania by 12 percentage points.
Trump's stops in western and northeast Pennsylvania came just one day before the state's deadline for voters to register for the Nov. 8 election, and shed light on Trump's campaign strategy for the state. Pennsylvania is a key battleground for both parties, and Trump is counting on high turnout in smaller cities and rural areas.
Trump drew a crowd of 2,500 Monday afternoon in the Western Pennsylvania borough of Ambridge, where 29 percent of residents live in poverty.
Hours later he was in the northeast part of the state to campaign in Wilkes-Barre, the seat of Luzerne County. The county is 90 percent white and has a median household income of $45,000, according to U.S. Census data. Luzerne County has more registered Democrats than Republicans, but state voter data show more new Republicans have registered this year than new Democrats. Trump won the county's Republican primary with 77 percent of the vote.
Trump repeated attacks Monday night that he made in the debate 24 hours earlier, promising to have a special prosecutor investigate Hillary Clinton if he wins, and questioning Clinton's private speech excerpts released by WikiLeaks. He also suggested that the election could be "stolen" in Philadelphia.
"I just hear such reports about Philadelphia," he said. "We have to make sure this election is not stolen from us."
There is no evidence that the election in Philadelphia is in any way threatened and city GOP officials have said suggestions of rigging in the 2012 presidential election are unfounded. The state Republican chairman, Rob Gleason, has said he does not fear election rigging in Philadelphia or anywhere in Pennsylvania.
In an hour-long speech in Wilkes-Barre, Trump drew the loudest applause when attacking Clinton and the media.
"They are so dishonest," Trump said of reporters covering the campaign. "Without the media, Hillary Clinton couldn't be elected dogcatcher."
The crowd frequently burst into chants of "CNN sucks" — referencing Trump's criticism of a CNN focus group that determined he lost Sunday's debate against Clinton.
Jessica Tirpak, 32, of Tuscarora, said Monday night was her second time at a Trump rally. She brought her 2-year-old son, Hunter, dressed in a suit and with his hair styled as Trump's.
Dressing up Hunter as "baby Trump" is "our way of shedding some light on a negative campaign," she said before the rally. Trump later lifted Hunter up on stage and kissed him, calling him a "beautiful boy."
Tirpak said she was initially taken aback by the 2005 video released last week in which Trump talks about groping women — until she looked at the "big picture."
"Actions speak louder than words," she said. "What you get from Donald Trump is edgy, but it's real."
Kara Hodorowski, 34, of Wilkes-Barre, agreed, saying she continues to admire Trump for his successful work in business.
"As a woman, of course the words are not what you want to hear a man say," she said. "But I've heard just as bad, if not worse, come out of the mouths of men and women on both sides."
Joseph Birtel, 45, of Scranton, said he believed other Republicans were dropping their support of Trump because "they have to save their own butts."
"Once you take away all the smoke and mirrors ... it comes down to do you want change, or do you not want change?" said Birtel, who works as a rehabilitation director.
Not everyone in the crowd supported Trump. Anna Lehane, 18, of Dallas, said she felt it was her "civic duty" to come protest with few friends. She wore a homemade T-shirt that said "Grab my pussy. I dare you," a reference to that leaked tape in which Trump boasts about grabbing women's genitals. Another man in the crowd identified himself as a former Bernie Sanders supporter who dislikes both Clinton and Trump but wanted to see what a Trump rally was like.
But the supporters in attendance appeared energized as Trump repeated his campaign platform.
"Oh, we're going to make Pennsylvania so rich again, your jobs are coming back," he said in Wilkes-Barre. "We're going to be ending illegal immigration. We're going to stop the jobs from pouring out of our country."
He promised to return to Pennsylvania before Election Day, and to increase his number of "get out of the vote" stops.
"I'm going to make three, four, five stops a day," he said. "I may be limping across that finish line, but we're going to get across that finish line."