JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — President Donald Trump returned to this former Pennsylvania industrial hub Tuesday night for his second campaign rally since being treated for COVID-19 and declared that he “felt like Superman.”
“I feel your pain because I felt your pain,” an energized Trump told a raucous crowd of thousands at John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport.
“This election is a simple choice,” said Trump, who emerged from Air Force One without wearing a face mask. “If Biden wins, China wins. All these other countries win. We get ripped off by everybody. If we win, you win, Pennsylvania wins, and America wins. Very simple."
Trump’s campaign stop here came a day after his doctor said the president had tested negative for COVID-19 on “consecutive days” and was “not infectious to others.” Some medical experts questioned the latter conclusion, saying the type of test Trump took doesn’t show whether those who have contracted the virus should continue isolating.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people with mild to moderate COVID-19 cases should quarantine for as long as 10 days after symptom onset — and that in severe cases, people can remain infectious longer. Trump’s doctor said Saturday that the president had met the 10-day threshold, but the White House has not disclosed the severity of his symptoms. Trump held a rally in Florida on Monday just hours after his doctor’s pronouncement.
In Johnstown on Tuesday, he again declared himself “immune” from the virus — a claim some experts have said cannot yet be made with certainty — and joked that he could mingle with the crowd and start kissing everybody.
The president’s supporters were unfazed by his recent bout with the coronavirus.
Thousands of people lined up outside the county airport hours before his arrival. Almost all wore masks on the way into the event, but many took them off upon reaching their seats, which were arranged without social distancing.
Laureen Coy, of Indiana, Pa., said she wasn’t afraid of the coronavirus because of her religious beliefs.
“I believe you’re either in faith or you’re in fear, and you can’t be in both,” said Coy, 53. “So I’m in faith.”
Coy said the top reasons she supports Trump are his efforts to protect religious liberties and his opposition to abortion. “He is keeping God in our country," she said.
Beth Custer, of Seward, Pa., said she voted for President Barack Obama before backing Trump in 2016.
“I just know what’s going on with the left right now, and it’s not good,” said Custer, 52. “I like my freedom. I like my guns. I like our rights. I don’t like wearing these masks and all this [coronavirus] BS; kids can’t go to school.”
“A lot of people are waking up now," added Custer, a state employee and union member. “They’ve been quiet too long, and we’re just losing our freedoms one by one.”
Andrew Maul, 52, said he supports Trump because of his non-interventionist approach to foreign policy.
“I’m a traditional Catholic, I value human life, and I think a lot of this warfare has been unjust over the past few decades,” said Maul, who is active in local Republican politics in Pittsburgh. Trump, he said, “hasn’t been dropping bombs like Obama and getting us into additional wars or meddling in Libya.”
Maul said he doesn’t believe Trump has had a flawless presidency and is willing to criticize his missteps. But he wanted to see Trump speak in person and said he will vote for him this year because he is “anti-establishment.”
“I don’t worship the man," he said. "I applaud the good things he does. I criticize the bad things.”
“While he throws super-spreader parties at the White House, while Republicans hug each other, without concern of the consequences, how many of you have been unable to hug your grandkids the last seven months?” Biden said.
Biden is set to participate in a town hall meeting in Philadelphia on Thursday, and in the last three weeks he has campaigned in Johnstown, Gettysburg and Erie. Democratic elected officials are holding “Ballots for Biden” events this week across Pennsylvania as they try to bring attention to the state’s new vote-by-mail system.
Trump’s rally came as he tries to convince voters that he’s not only recovered from the virus but also is ready to move the country past the pandemic — even as coronavirus cases are increasing in Pennsylvania and scores of other states.
The president campaigned outside Harrisburg shortly before he tested positive for the virus, and previously made several trips to southwestern Pennsylvania. And Vice President Mike Pence will be in Reading for a campaign rally Saturday.
Both parties see Pennsylvania as a crucial battleground state that could well prove decisive in the Electoral College. Biden has consistently led Trump in polls of Pennsylvania voters, and in recent weeks both candidates have focused on white working-class voters in more rural parts of the state. Surveys show Trump’s support among rural voters in areas such as Johnstown has softened since they helped propel him to victory in 2016.
Trump seemed to take stock of his own political vulnerabilities Tuesday, telling the crowd: “Suburban women, will you please like me?”
The president also heaped praise on Judge Amy Coney Barrett, his nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, as the GOP-led Senate Judiciary Committee continued to hold confirmation hearings in Washington. “Fill that seat!” the crowd chanted. “Fill that seat!”
Trump reiterated his false claim that Biden would end fracking. Biden has pledged to stop issuing new permits for drilling on public land but says he would allow existing fracking operations to continue. Trump lashed out at Gov. Tom Wolf over coronavirus business restrictions, even though the governor has lifted most of them.
And Trump attacked a variety of familiar foes: Chris Wallace, the Fox News anchor who moderated the presidential debate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.), Biden’s running mate, Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.), Biden’s son Hunter, and others.
Ahead of Trump’s visit, Pennsylvania Democrats accused Trump of rushing his Supreme Court nomination so that Barrett, a conservative, would be on the bench by the time the court hears arguments next month on a lawsuit that seeks to invalidate the Affordable Care Act.
Democrats, citing Barrett’s past statements, warn that she would vote to strike down the health-care law known as Obamacare. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) said that “it would be nice” if Trump “would explain to the people of Johnstown and Cambria County” how he’s going to preserve their health care and protect those with preexisting conditions.
“He’s had four years but there’s still no health-care plan,” Casey said.