President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump campaigned on opposite sides of Pennsylvania on Saturday, offering a preview of their potential 2024 rematch as they made a final push for their parties’ respective Senate and gubernatorial candidates in a key 2022 battleground.
The Commonwealth, which offers Democrats their best chance of picking up a seat that could help them maintain control of the US Senate, pivoted from backing Trump in 2016, to Biden in 2020. But anger about inflation, coupled with voters’ economic uncertainty across the nation, has created an even more challenging climate for Democrats facing tough historical odds this year since the party in the White House often faces steep congressional losses in the first midterm of a new administration.
Democrats – including Biden and former President Barack Obama, who joined him on the trail in Philadelphia on Saturday – are closing out the campaign by arguing Republicans have no plans to ease the brunt of inflation, claiming they could jeopardize Social Security and Medicare, as well as the basic tenants of democracy because of their blind loyalty to Trump.
Biden’s approval ratings are underwater, which has meant that Pennsylvania is one of the rare spots where the Scranton native has appeared with a Senate candidate in a closely contested race. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is running against Trump’s hand-picked candidate in Mehmet Oz, is trying to win the Senate seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Pat Toomey. Democrats, who control the 50-50 Senate because of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote, are struggling to defend seats in Nevada, Georgia and Arizona. Republicans need a net gain of just one seat to win the majority, so Democrats are hoping a Pennsylvania victory could mitigate any losses on their side in those other states.
After strolling on stage with Obama, Biden needled his former – and possibly future – rival by telling the boisterous crowd they could be heard all the way over in Latrobe, where Trump was appearing two hours later with Oz and GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, an election denier who was at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
More on key Senate races
“Your right to choose is on the ballot. Your right to vote is on the ballot. Social Security and Medicare is in the ballot,” Biden said at the Liacouras Center on Temple University’s campus in North Philadelphia.
He noted that his objective when he ran for president was “to build an economy from the bottom up and the middle out,” which he described as a “fundamental shift, compared to Oz and the mega MAGA Republican trickledown economics.”
“This ain’t your father’s Republican Party,” the president added. “This is a different breed of cat. I really mean it. Look, they’re all about the wealthier getting wealthy. And the wealthier staying wealthy. The middle class gets stiffed. The poor get poorer under their policy.”
Appearing after Biden, Fetterman called out Oz for appearing with Trump on a rally stage – “a true exercise in moderation,” he scoffed – as he sought to remind Pennsylvanians of how Trump stirred up the conspiracy theories that incited the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
He added that “inflation has hurt working families in Pennsylvania, but you need a senator that really understands what that really means,” pointing to Oz’s wealth to argue that he’s unfamiliar with the pain of higher prices.
Trump touts his poll numbers against Biden
Trump campaigned for Oz and Mastriano in Latrobe days after teasing a 2024 run in Iowa where he told the crowd he was “very, very, very probably” going to vie for the White House again.
Though Trump’s presence in western Pennsylvania may help Oz shore up GOP base voters, it also could complicate his final appeals to the moderates and independents the GOP Senate nominee needs to clinch victory – voters who were alienated by Trump during his presidency. Speaking before Trump at the rally, Oz did not mention the former President – a telling move given how Trump-backed candidates often lavish praise on the former president at his events.
It was an indication of how Trump’s visit may do more for himself than for Oz as Trump tries to build anticipation about his own plans. His aides are eyeing the third week in November for a potential announcement if Republicans fare well in the midterm elections next week, sources familiar with the matter told CNN.
Much of Trump’s speech was focused on his own achievements, grievances and debunked conspiracy theories about voter fraud in the 2020 election. He called Oz “a good man” who could help reverse “a country in decline.”
“This could be the vote that’s going to make the difference between a country and not a country,” Trump said in his push for Oz. “It could be 51 it could be 50,” he said of the balance of power in the Senate. If it’s “49 for the Republicans, this country – I don’t know if it’s gonna live for another two years.”
But Trump also spent part of the Latrobe rally reeling off the latest poll numbers that he’d seen for his potential rematch with Biden in 2024 in swing states (and even a number of red states).
Not all Republicans are happy to have the former president out on the trail in the final stretch of the midterms. Former New York Gov. George Pataki noted Saturday on CNN’s “Newsroom” that the outsized attention that Trump’s potential 2024 run is drawing so close to Election Day has been unhelpful to GOP candidates running in blue states – including New York GOP gubernatorial nominee Lee Zeldin, who is challenging Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul in an unexpectedly close race.
“It’s classic Trump that it has to be about him. It’s not about him,” Pataki told CNN’s Jim Acosta. “It’s about the future of our states, the future of America, and I just cringe when he does whatever he can to get publicity.”
Obama shows his campaign trail polish, while Biden fumbles a comment on coal
While Trump may be causing headaches for some GOP candidates, it is Obama – rather than Biden – who has been the more powerful messenger for Democrats in these closing days of the midterm election.
Campaigning with Fetterman and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro, Obama hammered his dual message that election-denying Republicans like Mastriano could put democracy at risk in 2024, as he accused Republicans of having no plans to help American families with their costs.
He tried to draw a particular contrast between Oz and Fetterman on that front, attacking the celebrity surgeon’s career on TV. “If somebody’s willing to peddle snake oil to make a buck, then he’s probably willing to sell snake oil to get elected,” Obama said in Pittsburgh. Later in Philadelphia, he described Fetterman as “a guy who has been fighting for regular folks his whole life.”
To galvanize younger people and other voters who are not as reliable in a midterm year in Philadelphia – where Democrats must run up the score to win in Pennsylvania – Obama reflected on his own midterm setbacks, telling the crowd he wanted to “offer a history lesson” based on his party’s 2010 and 2014 losses.
“Sometimes I can’t help imagine what it would have been like if enough people had turned out to vote in those elections,” Obama said. “Imagine if we had been able to fix our broken immigration system back in 2011. Imagine if we’d been able to pass meaningful gun safety legislation back then to prevent more deaths. Imagine if we’d been able to reduce our emissions even further than we did. We’d be further along in avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. If we had kept the Senate in 2014, we’d have a very different Supreme Court making decisions about our most basic rights. So midterms are no joke.”
Earlier in Pittsburgh, Obama noted that some Republicans are already talking about impeaching Biden if they win the majority. “How is that going to help you pay your bills?” he asked.
While Obama has been able to traverse the country campaigning in competitive states like Arizona, Nevada and Wisconsin, disappointment with Biden has continued to be a drag on the most vulnerable Democrats and limited his appearances.
And comments he made in California on Friday, in which he suggested that coal plants across the country should be shuttered, didn’t play well outside of the blue state. He earned a quick rebuke from Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a moderate in the Senate, while Republicans argued his comments would be unhelpful for Democrats in coal-producing states like Pennsylvania.
Manchin said in a statement that Biden’s comments were “not only outrageous and divorced from reality, they ignore the severe economic pain the American people are feeling because of rising energy costs.”
Trump tried to capitalize on the moment, too, at his Pennsylvania rally. “Biden has resumed the war on coal – your coal. Yesterday he declared that we’re going to be shutting down coal plants across America. Can you believe this? In favor of highly unreliable wind and solar that cost us a fortune. Most expensive energy you could have – an outrageous slap in the face to Pennsylvania coal country.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement Saturday that Biden’s words have been “twisted” to “suggest a meaning that was not intended; he regrets it if anyone hearing these remarks took offense.”