LATROBE, Pa. — President Donald Trump rallied supporters Thursday night in Southwestern Pennsylvania, pledging to “keep your jobs in America” and bring “rioters, looters, violent extremists,” and “anarchists” to justice.
“Joe Biden wants to surrender your jobs to China. You know that,” Trump told cheering supporters inside an airport hangar. “He wants to surrender your nation to the radical left-wing mob.”
Speaking for about 90 minutes, Trump took on a litany of familiar foes: “the fake news media,” “the fake polls, the fake everything,” “the plague from China,” Mitt Romney, Nancy Pelosi, and mail ballots. He again encouraged those who vote by mail to also go to the polls on Election Day to make sure their ballot was counted. Pennsylvania voters can track the status of their mail ballots online, and voting twice is illegal.
He celebrated an endorsement from the local Boilermakers union and, as he often does, reminisced about his 2016 election victory: “Was that the greatest evening ever?”
Trump also suggested, inaccurately, that Pennsylvania’s economy remains shut down under Gov. Tom Wolf’s emergency coronavirus declaration. Wolf has largely lifted restrictions, though some remain on things like indoor dining at restaurants and bars, and on larger gatherings. Earlier in the day in Harrisburg, Deborah Birx, Trump’s coronavirus task force coordinator, said Pennsylvania has done a “remarkable” job combating the pandemic.
Trump spoke 40 miles east of Pittsburgh, in Westmoreland County. Trump carried Westmoreland, an overwhelmingly white area of farms and small cities, in 2016 by a 2-1 ratio over Hillary Clinton en route to his narrow surprise victory in Pennsylvania.
His latest Pennsylvania rally came days after Biden, the Democratic nominee, campaigned in Pittsburgh and condemned the destruction and violence that erupted after the police shooting of a Black man in Wisconsin.
Biden is leading Trump in key battleground states including Pennsylvania, according to new polls released this week. A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed Biden up eight percentage points over Trump in Pennsylvania among likely voters. A Monmouth University survey published earlier this week found Biden with a narrower advantage.
Earlier Thursday, Biden traveled to Milwaukee to meet with the family of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot seven times in the back by a white police officer late last month in Kenosha, Wis., leaving him paralyzed.
The Aug. 23 shooting led to peaceful protests against police brutality and systemic racism, but the demonstrations were overtaken by looting and riots. The unrest culminated in the fatal shooting of two protesters, allegedly by a teenage Trump supporter from Illinois. Authorities charged 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse with homicide. His lawyer has said he acted in self-defense.
The president, in his own trip to Kenosha on Tuesday, surveyed the wreckage of property destroyed in the looting and blamed “domestic terror” for the violence. He did not mention Blake’s name, but said he tried to call his mother. Trump also did not acknowledge issues like police brutality that led to the unrest, and accused Democrats of failing to restore order to Kenosha and other cities like Portland, Ore.
Trump, who has described himself as the candidate of “law and order,” quickly returned to that message Thursday in Latrobe.
“Biden’s plan is to appease the domestic terrorists, and my plan is to arrest them and prosecute them,” Trump said.
Trump declared he could end months of unrest in Portland “in half an hour” if local Democratic officials there would accept federal assistance, and blasted the district attorney there. He also took a swipe at Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner: “You have somebody in Philadelphia who’s worse, huh?”
Hundreds packed into a hangar Thursday night at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, with a large overfill crowd watching outside on a screen. The line of cars on the street leading to the small airport was at least three miles long.
Open-air hangars have become a go-to rally set-up for the president’s campaign during the pandemic. Trump told the crowd in Latrobe he prefers hangars because he can get off the plane, give the speech, “and get the hell outta here.”
Some people parked in nearby shopping centers and walked the rest of the way, forming an impromptu parade of supporters.
”This area isn’t going red, it is all red,” said Michele Lippert of Homestead, about 40 miles west. “What I’ve noticed on Facebook is people are ashamed to be Democrats. My husband is a registered Democrat and he’s just so embarrassed by the party right now.”
Most people who were wearing face masks removed them and sat in folding chairs positioned with little room next to each other. Trump urged supporters to follow social distancing guidelines over Labor Day weekend, but also said of Biden: “Did you ever see a man that likes a mask as much as him?”
It wasn’t the first time Trump has mocked Biden for following public health guidelines, and Biden’s campaign quickly responded on Twitter with a picture of the Democratic nominee in a mask, saying: “The President has a duty to set an example.”
Bill Wittmer, 59, a programmer for a coal mine, said Trump supports his industry, whereas Democrats’ interest in a so-called Green New Deal threatens it.
“None of that nonsense makes any sense to folks up here,” he said.
Dawn Hoyman, 53, of nearby Derry, waited to buy dinner from a food truck outside and explained why he believes Western Pennsylvania loves Trump: ”He’s pro-life, he’s pro-God, and I am so freaking excited to be here.
“I wish I could vote for him every four years,” she added. “Congress don’t have term limits, why should the guy at the top? He should be president for life.”
Norma Day of Greensburg was moved to tears as the sun set behind Trump and Air Force One. “I’m just so excited. I love President Trump,” she said. “He’s changing the world. It’s going to be biblical.”
The Trump campaign and his allies have also tried to appeal to voters in Western Pennsylvania by falsely accusing Biden of wanting to ban fracking, the controversial drilling technique — a line of attack Trump repeated on Thursday.
Biden has said he wants to block the federal government from issuing new permits to drill for natural gas on public land, but that he would allow existing fracking operations to continue.
In addition to condemning violence during his speech in Pittsburgh on Monday, Biden blasted Trump for refusing to condemn Rittenhouse and Trump supporters who drove into Portland over the weekend and fired paintballs at counter-protesters. A right-wing protester was fatally shot during the conflict.
“This president long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country. He can’t stop the violence because for years he’s fomented it,” Biden said Monday.
Both campaigns have showered attention this week on Pennsylvania. After the president’s visit, his daughter Ivanka is stumping in Chester County on Friday. Vice President Mike Pence spoke in Northeastern Pennsylvania on Tuesday, declaring that even though Scranton is Biden’s childhood hometown, the region is “Trump country now.”