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Trump says Biden ‘abandoned Scranton’ in Pa. visit just before Biden’s Democratic convention speech

Trump’s appearance underscored the political stakes in Pennsylvania, which Trump won by less than 1 percentage point in 2016 and is again being hotly contested this year.

President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally Thursday in Old Forge Pa.
President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally Thursday in Old Forge Pa.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

OLD FORGE, Pa. — President Donald Trump said Thursday that Joe Biden had “abandoned” Scranton during his career as a senator and vice president, appearing in Pennsylvania just hours before Biden was set to formally accept the Democratic presidential nomination.

Trump spoke at a business outside Biden’s childhood hometown of Scranton, telling supporters that Biden spent the “last half-century selling out our country.”

Biden “abandoned Pennsylvania,” Trump said, acknowledging that “his parents had something to do with that.” Biden’s family moved out of Scranton when he was 10.

“He abandoned Scranton,” Trump said, accusing Biden of supporting trade deals that cost American jobs. “He was here for a short period of time and he didn’t even know it.”

Trump’s appearance Thursday underscored the political stakes in Pennsylvania, which Trump won by less than 1 percentage point in 2016 and is again being hotly contested this year. Polls have showed Biden opening up a sizable lead against Trump in Pennsylvania and other battleground states this summer, with Trump’s political standing eroded by his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.

But both parties expect the race to tighten. A possible sign of that emerged Thursday with the release of a Muhlenberg College poll that showed Biden ahead by only four points in the state. However, the margin of error in the survey, plus or minus 5.5 percentage points, means Biden’s lead could still be substantial — or it could be negligible. And it was conducted before either of the party conventions, meaning more polls in the weeks ahead will be needed for a fuller picture of the state of the race. Earlier surveys in August showed a bigger Biden advantage.

Trump spoke for more than an hour outside a warehouse for Mariotti Building Products, a kitchen remodeler in Old Forge. He looked out toward a giant American flag hanging from two cranes, in front of a crowd of about 200 people. He veered from immigration and trade to North Korea, ISIS, “the horrible plague from China,” fracking, California wildfires, and low-income housing in the suburbs. Throngs of supporters lined up down the road.

“At stake in this election … is the survival of our nation — it’s true, because we’re dealing with crazy people on the other side,” Trump said.

Trump’s swing through Northeastern Pennsylvania came a day after former President Barack Obama portrayed him as a threat to democracy and incapable of managing the country through the pandemic.

“Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” Obama said, addressing the convention from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia on Wednesday night.

“And the consequences of that failure are severe,” Obama said. “One hundred seventy thousand Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone while those at the top take in more than ever.”

In response to Obama’s speech, Trump on Thursday repeated the false claim that Obama “spied” on his campaign. The FBI launched an investigation into potential links between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016. The Justice Department’s inspector general determined that the bureau had proper reasons to open the inquiry. The inspector general did criticize investigators’ handling of wiretap applications for a Trump campaign aide.

“After eight long years, Joe Biden and Barack Obama left America weak, disrespected, and endangered,” Trump said. “We are respected again. We are a respected country.”

Eager to stay in the spotlight during the Democratic National Convention, Trump made similar campaign stops this week in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Arizona.

Trump shocked Democrats with his strong performance in Northeastern Pennsylvania in 2016, and Republicans have gained in voter registrations in the region since then. He relived that experience Thursday, and predicted a repeat.

“American labor will vote for Trump-Pence in 2020, they’re all saying that,” he said. “This used to be all Democrat until I came along.”

Democrats hope Biden’s childhood roots in Scranton and moderate profile will appeal to white working-class voters who helped send Trump to the White House.

» READ MORE: Everything you need to know about voting by mail, or in person, in Pennsylvania

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.), on a call with reporters ahead of Trump’s visit, said Biden “has the values and the spirit of Scranton in his heart.”

“Donald Trump doesn’t know the first thing about Scranton, about Lackawanna County, or about Northeastern Pennsylvania,” said Casey, also a Scranton native. “He doesn’t’ relate to us, he doesn’t share our values.”

Trump argued Thursday that a Biden presidency would eliminate manufacturing jobs and spawn a wave of violent crime.

“If you want a vision of your life under a Biden presidency, think of the smoldering ruins of Minneapolis, the violent anarchy of Portland, the bloodstained sidewalks of Chicago, and imagine the mayhem coming to your town and every single town in America,” Trump said.

Trump also lashed out at Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, saying Pennsylvania’s coronavirus restrictions are too stringent.

“Your governor has you in a shutdown. What’s going on? … It’s more dangerous than the virus,” Trump said, citing the mental health toll of quarantine. “He’s got to open the state up.”

Trump mostly discussed the pandemic in economic terms, pointing to the strength of the stock market despite the virus. He said he hoped the United States was in the “closing moments of the pandemic.” The country has added an average of more than 40,000 new cases per day in the past week, down from more than 60,000 in July but still alarmingly high to public health experts.

Trump’s message resonated with supporters like Larry Roke, 64, a retired electrician from Mountain Top in neighboring Luzerne County, who said he switched his voter registration from Democratic to Republican when Trump ran four years ago.

“I don’t know much about Joe Biden,” said Roke, a campaign volunteer who was checking people’s temperatures before they entered. “You can’t remember one thing that he did.”

“At this time he seems to be just a puppet,” said Roke, who was wearing a face mask bearing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.

And after a summer that has seen Trump, Biden, and Vice President Mike Pence make multiple appearances in Pennsylvania, Trump told supporters he’d see them again soon.

“I’ll be back to Pennsylvania,” he said, “that I promise.”

-Staff writer Julia Terruso contributed to this article.