LATROBE, Pa. – Pennsylvania once again became the center of the political universe Saturday, hosting last-weekend midterm election rallies featuring American presidents past and present.
While President Joe Biden and predecessor barack obama fired up Democrats in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, former President Donald Trump exhorted Republicans in Latrobe to vote – mostly on behalf of candidates in a key US Senate race, but also with eyes on the 2024 presidential race that could re-match Biden and Trump.
In a midterm election Tuesday that could shift the balance of power in Washington, the Democratic leaders urged voters to exercise their Constitutional right.
“Two years ago, you used that power to make Donald Trump not only a former president, but you made him a defeated president,” Biden told a crowd of cheering Philadelphia supporters who gathered at the Temple University basketball arena. “And this year, you have the power to make John Fetterman your next Senator.”
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A few hours later, and more than 250 miles away, Trump criticized Biden, attacked Fetterman, and talked up Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate candidate, doctor and television host Mehmet Oz – all the while dropping more hints that he will soon announce another campaign for the presidency in 2024.
“I’m not going to say it right now,” Trump said during a tarmac rally at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, but he told a screaming crowd that “you’re going to be so happy” very soon. “You’re going to be surprised at how soon.”
Trump told the crowd they need to elect Oz as part of a “giant red wave” on Election Day.
The Oz-Fetterman race could decide whether Republicans or Democrats control the US Senate; Pennsylvania will also go a long way toward determining the presidential winner in 2024, just as it fueled the victories of Obama, Trump, and Biden.
Pennsylvania also features one of the premier gubernatorial races in the country, with Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano against Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Mastriano is a Trump loyalist who led calls for a 2020 audit and helped bus people to the Jan. 6, 2021 rally that turned into a riot at the US Capitol.
“The abundance of competitive races in Pennsylvania make it coveted ground in this cycle,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “And the party’s biggest names are here to do what they can to get some candidates across the line.”
Biden: “I’ve lived in Pennsylvania longer than Oz”
In Philadelphia – home to the Phillies, fighting against a World Series loss – Biden and Obama argued that voting for Fetterman in the US Senate and for other Democrats represents the crucial difference between women having the right to choose, maintaining voter integrity and generally keeping a path open to advancing a Democratic agenda.
The Democratic presidents stuck to broad themes, casting the Republicans as threats to democracy in general and the Biden agenda in particular, including programs to lower health costs, aid struggling families, and re-invest in infrastructure.
All the presidents and their favored candidates catered to Pennsylvania pride.
Fetterman, seemingly sticking his tongue in his cheek, said his Republican opponent Oz “likes to pander.”
Then, wading into a commonwealth war of convenience chain preferences, said: “I just really want to get this off my chest right now: Wawa is so much better than Sheetz. My whole life, I was all about that.”
Biden, who was raised in Scranton and turns 80 this month, needled Oz as a sort of carpetbagger as Fetterman has throughout the campaign. A longtime US Senator from Delaware, Biden flexed his Pennsylvania credentials by raising his old moniker of him as “Pennsylvania’s third Senator” to make the point that he knows the commonwealth intimately.
“Look, I lived in Pennsylvania longer than Oz has lived in Pennsylvania – and I moved away when I was 10 years old,” Biden said.
As Obama did in an earlier speech in Pittsburgh, Biden said Fetterman is well on his way to recovery from a stroke: “There’s no quit in John Fetterman…There’s no quit in America.”
Trump: ‘Who the hell voted for these people?’
While bashing Biden and Fetterman, Trump also attacked Biden and the Democratic Congress over high gas prices, illegal border crossings, crime, law enforcement, and foreign relations.
Hitting the local angle, Trump said Biden climate change are gutting Pennsylvania’s busy energy industry, particularly coal mining.
“Who the hell voted for these people?” Trump said.
Trump also attacked the Biden administration over the many investigations into his conduct, including his handling of classified material, attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss, and culpability for the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021.
“It’s a disgrace what’s happening to our country,” Trump said.
At one point, Trump also had harsh words for Obama, saying he negotiated a poor deal for a new Air Force One.
In teasing a 2024 campaign, Trump used two Jumbotrons to show slides of poll results showing him leading Biden in early match-ups.
Trump also mocked potential Republican opponents during the slide show. Polls show him way ahead of potential GOP challenges, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis – whom Trump nicknamed “Ron De-sanctimonious.”
The rally ended with Trump speaking over funeral music that some have likened to a QAnon theme.
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Obama and the games of politics
Obama began the day’s rally-o-rama in the mid-afternoon, speaking only to thousands of supporters gathered at the University of Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park Saturday.
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Like so many campaign visitors, Obama buttered up the locals by giving shout-outs to local sports teams.
Obama expressed sympathy for the struggling Pittsburgh Steelers football team and their 2-6 record, noting that his Chicago Bears are a mere 3-5.
“We’re both doing a little rebuilding right now,” Obama said. “It’s okay, you know, these things kind of go in waves.”
He laid it on thick in Philadelphia, calling the city the center of the sports world, given the Phillies’ appearance in baseball’s World Series against the Houston Astros, and the fact that the Eagles football team currently 8-0, the last remaining undefeated team in pro football. He also gently mocked the pro basketball team, the Philadelphia 76ers.
“Phillies have a chance to tie the World Series tonight,” Obama said. “Eagles look like they might be the best football team in the country. The Sixers – well, it’s early. It’s still early, so we won’t talk about them right now.”
Trump also played the sports game by praising Latrobe’s favorite son and airport name, golfing legend Arnold Palmer. The former GOP president praised the late Palmer as a great man “who’s looking down” from heaven on his beloved city.
Oz vs. Fetterman
Members of the “Presidents Club” have good reason for focusing on Pennsylvania, particularly control of the Senate. The chamber is currently split 50-50, with Democrats in control because of the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.
In terms of the current Senate campaign, Obama cited Fetterman’s aggressive style and unique mode of dress. “You also know the guy’s tough,” Obama said, “and not just because he wears shorts in the middle of winter.”
True to form, Fetterman wore a black hoodie and jeans to the event; Obama wore his typical post-presidential uniform: button-down shirt and dress pants.
In brief remarks at the Trump rally, Oz said Biden has taken the country backward. He urged supporters to bring 10 supporters to the polls, but only those who believe the country is worse off than it was two years ago.
“Tell them I believe we are the land of opportunity. Tell them we are the land of plenty. Tell them I will bring change to Washington,” Oz said.
Shapiro vs. Mastrian
The presidents also weighed in on the Pennsylvania governor’s race between Mastriano and Shapiro.
Shapiro, appearing in Philadelphia, focused most on policy relevant to the commonwealth. He said he’d fully fund schools, end the reliance on standardized testing, raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour and sign an executive order eliminating the requirement of a college degree for state government jobs.
During the Trump rally, Mastrianio – wearing a Phillies baseball cap earlier in the day – attacked Shapiro’s record as attorney general, saying crime is up. He also criticized Biden over energy policy.
A noted “election denier,” Mastriano also pledged to change Pennsylvania election laws if he wins, though he is trailing Shapiro in polls.
“It’s going to be a new day in PA on Tuesday,” he told the Trump crowd.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism