LATROBE, Pa. — At one of his trademark airport-hangar rallies, President Donald Trump alternated between bashing former Vice President Joe Biden on the outsourcing of jobs in Pennsylvania, and for being soft on what he described as rioters.
“For the entire summer, Biden was silent as far-left rioters attacked law enforcement,” Trump said. “Joe Biden wants to surrender your jobs to China,” he said elsewhere in the event.
Trump’s visit to Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, about 45 miles outside Pittsburgh, drew thousands, the vast majority of whom could not get into to see Trump address a few hundred supporters in an open hangar facing a parked Air Force One.
The president’s visit is part of a flurry of presidential campaign activity in Pennsylvania, despite the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden delivered a speech in Pittsburgh on Monday in which he denounced violence associated with ongoing racial justice protests. Vice President Mike Pence stumped in Luzerne County on Tuesday in the northeastern part of the state.
New statewide polls of Pennsylvania released this week have only heightened Pennsylvania’s battleground status. They showed Biden holding on to about a three-point lead, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. Back in late July, Biden enjoyed a commanding eight-point lead against Trump.
But as Trump has closed the gap in the commonwealth, other swing state polls out this week showed Biden gaining ground, taking the slightest of leads in North Carolina, and growing to five-point polling average lead in Arizona.
Earlier in the day the Biden campaign released a statement from the former vice president about Trump’s trip to Latrobe, saying he won’t take responsibility for the economy under the pandemic. “But even before this crisis began, President Trump’s reckless economic policies and tariff wars shipped jobs overseas and lined the pockets of CEOs, while leaving western Pennsylvania workers and families behind,” Biden said.
Renee Pochciol, of Scottdale, was one of thousands of Trump supporters waiting in line in one the airport parking lots. She said she’s a lifelong Republican and believes Trump’s pro-business policies that favor deregulation can help bring back lost manufacturing jobs to the area.
“There are so many great people, blue-collar workers who need good-paying jobs,” Pochciol said. “Manufacturing jobs offer great benefits, great pay, steady hours and stability that this area needs.”
Democrats once enjoyed more luck here, when strong labor unions were a strong presence in the industrial economy. Four years ago, the predominantly white Westmoreland County of about 350,000 voted for Donald Trump by a two-to-one margin in 2016.
“They’re not for the people anymore, you know?” said John Goodlin of Mount Pleasant, regarding Democrats.
Westmoreland County played a large role in western Pennsylvania’s once-dominant steel industry. Today, about 13 percent of jobs in the county are in manufacturing, compared to 16 percent in the health care sector.
The number of people filing continued unemployment claims in Westmoreland County remains more than three times its pre-covid levels, topping 17,000 people, according to the latest data from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry. Its unemployment rate of 13.5 percent runs even with the state at large.
Trump also touched on everything to recent news reports about an undisclosed medical visit he made, that he derided as false, to his frustrations with the pandemic.
“We’re years ahead of schedule” on developing a COVID-19 vaccine, Trump claimed. “Anybody else as president, you wouldn’t be talking about vaccines for three years.”
Trump’s Latrobe visit came the same day that Biden traveled to Kenosha, Wisc., where he visited the family of Jacob Blake, and tried to contrast himself to Trump, who has eschewed the role of consoler-in-chief in office.
The president also added Thursday to his confusing set of statements about mail-in voting. He referenced ongoing lawsuits filed by his campaign and Republicans challenging aspects of Pennsylvania’s new mail-in voting system.
“I hear they’re not too happy about what they’re seeing,” said Trump, referring to the federal and state Supreme Court judges who are hearing those cases. “But we have to win those cases.”
Tom Lisi covers western Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star. Follow him on Twitter @TommyLisi.