PHILADELPHIA — President Donald Trump called Pennsylvania “the state that will save the American dream,” as he kicked off his latest blitz of rallies Saturday in defiance of public health guidelines while coronavirus cases reach record levels.
At his first of four events in the state, Trump spoke outside the house George Washington used to stage his crossing of the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War. 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,” he added. “That priceless inheritance is at stake just three days from now. And a great red wave is forming.”
And he continued working to sow doubt about an electoral process already well underway and set to reach its climax next week.
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). He suggested that Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, would be tampering 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.
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.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, anticipated Trump’s attacks on voting in the state in a statement Friday. “If all of the votes are added up here in Pennsylvania, Donald Trump is going to lose this election, which is why he has been working overtime to try and subtract as many votes as possible from this process,” Shapiro told reporters on a conference call.
Trump’s daylong trip across Pennsylvania in the closing hours of the campaign is a sign of how important the state is for reelection prospects. Following the rally at Headquarters Farm, near Washington’s Crossing, he was set to travel to Berks, Lycoming, and Butler Counties.
Both candidates plan to crisscross the state in the coming days. Democratic nominee Joe Biden will spend Sunday in Philadelphia. On Monday, Jill Biden, Kamala Harris and her husband Dough Emhoff will join him.
A parade of Biden surrogates, including Pete Buttigieg and actors like Debra Messing, also appeared around the state Saturday Trump will be back in Pennsylvania with a rally in Luzerne Monday. Vice President Mike Pence will hold two rallies in Pennsylvania on Sunday, in Erie and Latrobe. And Trump’s son Eric and daughter Ivanka will campaign Sunday.
In Newtown, Trump was notably subdued for a crowd of several hundred gathered on a cool Halloween morning, but 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.”
He encouraged supporters to vote in person: “I won’t even say go today, go tomorrow, go the next day, or go on the third, we want Election Day, thank you.”
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. Just a day earlier, the U.S. reported 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 baselessly claimed that, “if Joe Biden were president, you wouldn’t have this vaccine for four years.” Coronavirus vaccines are still in development.
And Trump painted a dark picture of America if Biden wins the White House — but one similar to the current state of the country.
“They’ll be no school, they’ll be no graduations, they’ll be no weddings, no Thanksgivings, no Christmas, no Easters, no Fourth of Julys,” Trump said near the end of a year when schools have been closed and graduations and weddings canceled during his presidency. “They’ll be nothing. We’ll be nothing.”
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.”
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, where he will appear at the Reading airport Saturday, 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. Biden’s narrow lead is largely unchanged from last week’s Muhlenberg poll, in which he led 51% to 44%.
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.
More than three million Pennsylvania voters have already requested mail ballots, about two-thirds of them Democrats. More than two million mail ballots have already been returned.
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 bring 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 Rieglesville, 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,” said. ‘So people are either all in for Biden or all in for Trump.”
©2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer