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Trump baselessly sows doubt about election at Pennsylvania rallies while coronavirus surges

Trump’s daylong trip across Pennsylvania in the closing hours of the campaign was a sign of the critical role it plays in his electoral math.

President Donald Trump takes in cheers from the crowd at a campaign event at Headquarters Farm in Newtown on Saturday.
President Donald Trump takes in cheers from the crowd at a campaign event at Headquarters Farm in Newtown on Saturday.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

President Donald Trump traveled across Pennsylvania on Saturday, holding several large-scale rallies in defiance of public health guidance during which he leveled baseless claims of election fraud — and made no secret of the importance the state holds for his reelection hopes.

“If we win Pennsylvania, it’s over,” Trump told several thousand supporters gathered at an airport hangar in Reading. “It’s over. Let’s do it.”

Over the course of four appearances, Trump laid out a closing argument of sorts, although hardly a new one. He played down the pandemic a day after coronavirus cases reached new highs, attacked Joe Biden personally, and painted a picture of a country locked down if his rival wins the White House — even though Trump is president of a country where the economy and daily life have been upended by the pandemic.

“Under Biden, there will be no school, no graduations, no weddings, no Thanksgiving, no Easter, no Christmas, no Fourth of July, no nothing,” Trump said during one rally in Butler, about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh, near the end of a year when schools have been closed and graduations and weddings canceled.

Earlier in the day in Bucks County, Trump called Pennsylvania “the state that will save the American dream.” He spoke outside the house George Washington used to stage his crossing of the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War. And he drew an ominous parallel to the 2020 election — the stakes of which both parties have framed in apocalyptic terms.

“It was a tough night,” Trump said in Newtown. “It was a violent night. ... It turned the entire tide of the war. ... They were determined to live in a country where power belongs to the people ... That priceless inheritance is at stake just three days from now.”

Trump continued to baselessly sow doubt about an electoral process already well underway and set to reach its climax Tuesday, amid fears of political violence and a president who has refused to commit to accepting the results.

He again encouraged his supporters to go to Philadelphia and scrutinize polling places there. Only official campaign poll watchers certified by the city can do that. He complained that the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t overturned a state Supreme Court ruling extending the deadline for mail ballots. The case remains pending before the high court, and Democrats fear it may toss out ballots that arrive after Election Day with no recourse for voters. He suggested that Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, would tamper with mail ballots. County elections officials process ballots, not the Wolf administration.

And he signaled that if results aren’t known the night of the election, they can’t be trusted.

“You wait and very bad things can happen with ballots,” Trump said.

» READ MORE: What we will and won’t know on election night in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania elections officials aren’t allowed to begin opening mail ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day, it could take days to complete that count, and there is no evidence whatsoever that anything nefarious will happen during the process.

“November 3rd is going to come and go and we’re not gonna know and you’re gonna have bedlam in our country,” Trump said.

Trump’s daylong trip across Pennsylvania in the closing hours of the campaign was a sign of the critical role it plays in his electoral math. With Biden leading by larger margins in other that states Hillary Clinton lost in 2016, Trump has few paths to victory without winning Pennsylvania.

He stopped in in Bucks, Berks, Butler, and Lycoming Counties.

Both candidates plan to crisscross the state in the coming days. Democratic nominee Biden will spend Sunday in Philadelphia. On Monday, Jill Biden, Kamala Harris, and her husband Doug Emhoff will join him.

A parade of Biden surrogates, including Pete Buttigieg and actors like Debra Messing, also appeared around the state Saturday. Trump’s son Eric and daughter Ivanka will campaign in the state Sunday. Vice President Mike Pence will hold two rallies in Pennsylvania on Sunday, in Erie and Latrobe. And Trump will also be back with a rally in Luzerne County on Monday.

» READ MORE: Trump has put Philly on the front lines of his attack on voting

In Newtown, Trump was notably subdued for a crowd of several hundred gathered on a cool Halloween morning. His performances later in front of larger crowds were more energetic. But all hit on common themes he brings up in the state, including a baseless claim that Philadelphia will be a hot spot for voter fraud.

“We have to be very, very careful in this state," Trump said. “What happens in Philadelphia, we have to be very careful. Everyone has to watch.”

Trump repeated his frequent false claim that the U.S. is “rounding that turn” on the pandemic, despite both cases and hospitalizations spiking across the country, and deaths once again on the rise. Just a day earlier, the U.S. reported almost 100,000 new cases, a world record for a single day. Public health officials and advocates have been increasingly critical of the rallies as likely avenues for the virus to spread.

“I’m here,” he said referring to his recovery after contracting the virus, later adding, “I’m a great physical specimen.”

He accused Biden of “betrayal and treachery,” drawing boos and a chant of “Lock him up.”

In a statement Saturday, Biden said Trump’s “refusal to take COVID-19 seriously or be honest with the American people about the reality of the virus has cost Pennsylvania thousands of lives and hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

» READ MORE: How Biden’s lead is different from Clinton’s — and why the polls are different this time

Campaigning for Biden in Michigan, former President Barack Obama assailed Trump for focusing on the size of the crowds at his rallies.

“When a country’s going through a pandemic, that’s not what you’re supposed to be worrying about," Obama said. “That’s the difference between Joe Biden and Trump right there. Trump cares about feeding his ego, Joe cares about keeping you and your family safe.”

A Suffolk University/USA Today national poll released Thursday showed that 59% of likely voters disapprove of Trump’s decision to hold large campaign rallies during the pandemic, while 64% approve of Biden’s decision to forgo such gatherings.

Trump won Pennsylvania four years ago by less than 1 percentage point. He lost Bucks County to Hillary Clinton only narrowly, even as she won Philadelphia’s other suburban collar counties more comfortably. He won Berks County, home to Reading, by 10 points. Lycoming and Butler Counties are more indicative of Trump’s focus in other stops this month on maximizing vote totals in areas he won comfortably: He won Lycoming by nearly 45 points and Butler by 37 points.

In a final Muhlenberg College/Morning Call poll released Saturday, Biden maintained a slim 5-point lead over Trump in the state — within the survey’s margin of error. Polls have consistently showed Biden leading Trump by mid- to high-single digits in a state that could determine the winner. Strategists in both parties have expected the race to tighten at the end.

Trump personally attacked Biden’s physical appearance throughout the day, mocking his eyes (accusing him of having face lift surgery), his stature (“very slight”), and his mental fitness, at one point looking around imitating a confused person.

Before the Bucks rally on Saturday, Lynn O’Brien, a veteran of the U.S. Army Nursing Corps, said she thought Trump had “a very good chance” of being reelected.

“I think the people who have been hesitant to speak out will show up at the polls.” Asked why people are reluctant, O’Brien said, “I think because of fear of being censored or canceled, or have your sign taken out of your yard. Things like that have been going on. We hear about it and say, ‘No, that’s not for me.’”

Milo Morris, of Riegelsville, predicted a tight race, but said, “I think he will pull it out.”

“I think at this point people very much have their minds made up. I haven’t run into anybody who is sitting on the fence still," Morris said. "So people are either all in for Biden or all in for Trump.”