OLD FORGE, Pa. – Hours before former vice president Joe Biden accepts the Democratic presidential nomination, President Donald Trump held a rally in this key swing state where he took aim at his rival’s record and accused him of having “abandoned” Pennsylvania – even though Biden was only 10 when his family moved to Delaware for his father’s job.
“He left,” Trump said of Biden. “He abandoned Pennsylvania. He abandoned Scranton. He was here for a short period of time, and he didn’t even know it.”
Trump made the remarks at a rally Thursday afternoon outside Mariotti Building Products, a family-owned remodeling business in Old Forge, just outside of Scranton, Biden’s birthplace.
Biden has frequently visited Pennsylvania, and his 2020 campaign is headquartered in Philadelphia. During his time in the Senate, he was sometimes jokingly referred to as “Pennsylvania’s third senator” due to his roots in the state and the fact that large swaths of Delaware could be considered a suburb of Philadelphia.
At Thursday’s event, Trump also cast Democrats as the party of “mobs and criminals.”
“If you want a vision of your life under [a] Biden presidency, think of the smoldering ruins in 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 told the crowd.
As the president trotted out his frequent criticism of the Democratic-run cities, his former campaign chairman and chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, and three other men were indicted earlier Thursday on charges that they allegedly defrauded donors to a massive crowdfunding campaign that claimed to be raising money for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Biden’s campaign dismissed Trump’s Pennsylvania remarks as a distraction from the bigger issues facing the country.
“This sideshow is a pathetic attempt to distract from the fact that Trump’s presidency stands for nothing but crises, lies, and division – the opposite of what Pennsylvanians are hungry for and what Joe Biden and Kamala Harris represent,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement.
In 2016, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by less than one percentage point in Pennsylvania, breaking the Democratic Party’s three-decade hold on the state in presidential races.
But Biden, who represented Delaware for 36 years in the Senate, has enjoyed a steady, though not large, lead over Trump in the Keystone State in recent polls. A CBS News/YouGov survey of likely voters conducted between Aug. 4 and Aug. 7 showed Biden winning 49% support in Pennsylvania, compared to 43% for the president.
Other public polls of registered voters in Pennsylvania have shown a Biden lead as wide as 13 points in a head-to-head against Trump, although the gap has narrowed since the beginning of the summer.
“If the election were held today, or this week, or next week, he’d win comfortably in the state,” said Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., D-Pa., a top Biden surrogate in the state whose family has known the former vice president for decades. “I’m certain of that.”
“The president has spent a hell of a lot of money on television tearing Joe Biden down, and that will have an effect over time,” Casey said. “Frankly, I thought it would have more of an impact.”
Despite polls showing him trailing Biden, Trump on Thursday renewed his claim that the only way he can lose in November is if Democrats “rig” the election against him.
“This is just the way they’re trying to steal the election. And everybody knows it, because the only way they’re going win is by a rigged election. I really believe that,” he said, providing no evidence to back up his claim.
Clinton narrowly won Lackawanna County, where Trump traveled Thursday, although Trump trounced Clinton in neighboring Luzerne County, which swung heavily in his favor after backing Barack Obama presidential reelection in 2012.
Both counties, like much of Pennsylvania, are now suffering under double-digit unemployment rates that Democrats have made a centerpiece of their messaging heading toward November.
“This election is going to be a basic choice, not just between two candidates, but who can best tackle this virus and can deal with the jobs crisis?” Casey said. “That, I think, is going to be central to the determination that voters make.”
Biden is positioned to outperform Democrats in previous races in traditionally tougher regions for the party, Casey said, such as the conservative counties outside Pittsburgh in southwestern Pennsylvania and in the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre area that Trump visited on Thursday.
To make his case, Casey said his political team conducted a poll in June that showed Biden was down about two or three points in the Scranton media market – figures that were essentially unchanged from his poll in March 2019.
In comparison, Casey said he lost that same media market to Republican Lou Barletta by 10 points in 2018, although he comfortably won reelection that year. That same region was a 25-point loss for Democrats in 2016 according to Casey’s polling, he said.
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Sonmez reported from Washington. The Washington Post’s Antonia Noori Farzan contributed to this report.