MONTOURSVILLE, Pa. — Air Force One landed here Monday evening ahead of a special House election as AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” blared inside an airport hangar. Minutes later, with Air Force One parked in front of small tree-lined peaks, President Donald Trump issued a thunderous endorsement of a GOP House candidate and attack on Democrats.
And repeatedly, the friendly audience showered Trump with chants of “four more years!” And during one rare quiet moment, a man shouted, “We love you, Trump!” Minutes later, the entire crowd, which did not quite fill the hangar, shouted in unison, “We love Trump!”
“Fred Keller is a tough man. He’s tough on crime. … He loves our vets. And he will always protect patients,” Trump said of the GOP state lawmaker seeking the seat vacated earlier this year by retired Republican Tom Marino.
But the president made no bones about his other reason for being in the Keystone State Monday night: his own political future.
“There is a crucial election,” he said of Tuesday's special election before turning to his 2020 reelection bid: “I’ll be here a lot. ... Got to win this state.”
“Get out tomorrow. It’s a little bit of a referendum,” Trump said, appearing to refer to his own presidency. “Go get ‘em Fred.”
The president, as he has during his early 2020 campaign rallies in other key battleground states used some read meat issues that are important to his base to fire up the friendly crowd — which was almost all white.
“If we’re not smart it’ll end for you the Second Amendment,” Trump said to boos spawned by fears Democrats will enact strict gun-access laws. “No more Second Amendment.”
He also took a few shots at Keller’s opponent, whom he is expected to handily beat in a 12th Congressional District that Trump, now-Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona all easily won during the last three presidential general election.
“The Democrat running for the seat is a radical socialist,” Trump said, referring to Democrat Marc Friedenberg, but never naming him. “The Democrat … wants to open your borders,” he added without providing supporting evidence.
A list of polls show the president trailing the leading handful of Democratic nominees, something the president brushed off before he left the White House Monday.
“I don’t know. I think we’re doing very well in Pennsylvania. We won it last time. The polls had us losing Pennsylvania last time and we won,” Trump said on the South Lawn, according to a pool report. “And I expect we’ll win it this time because the coal industry, the steel industry, the car industry, they’re all doing incredibly well.”
Later, Trump jabbed at the “New Green Deal,” a climate change-targeting plan pushed by some in the Democratic Party’s most progressive wing. He said Democrats want to “knock down all the buildings in Manhattan and rebuild them without windows.” And he said Democrats want to “triple your taxes.”
Trump made his sixth appearance in the state since taking office at a time when numerous polls show him trailing most of the top Democrats.
A Quinnipiac University poll released May 15 shows an uphill fight in the Keystone State for the president, with him trailing former Vice President Joe Biden led 11 points. Fifty-three percent of those polled in the state preferred the Scranton native, known colloquially as “Middle Class Joe,” while 42 percent wanted a second Trump term.
Trump hit Biden over the crowd size at his kickoff event on Saturday, saying that was just about “600 people” while the Monday night audience was “thousands and thousands.” And he tried to ding Biden for saying foreign leaders have urged him to seek the White House. “You bet they do,” Trump said to more boos. “He said he’s running to save the world. … He’s going to save every country but ours.”
He also hinted at a large campaign kickoff event, saying the crowd size here was large “and I’m not even announcing.” But he noted he likely will in a few weeks.
Notably, the Trump 2020 team announced the Montoursville rally after Biden’s camp announced his Saturday campaign kickoff rally in Philadelphia. The former vice president revealed last week that his campaign headquarters will also be in that city.
Dovetailing with other recent polls, the Quinnipiac survey also showed Trump trailing Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and running close with Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
The crowd inside the medium-sized regional airport hangar was not exactly lathered into a frenzy by the warm-up speakers, including Donald Trump Jr. They were polite with reporters working the crowd, and several enthusiastically chatted with a Roll Call reporter before Trump arrived.
The first “U-S-A!” chant occured at 5:08 p.m., just under two hours before the president was scheduled to arrive. And the first “Lock her up!” chant broke out 20 minutes later.
Trump supporters gushed about the president as they awaited his arrival after long lines stretched through a parking lot outside the hangar and then up a two-lane street about three hours before the president’s 7 p.m. arrival.
“He’s doing a great job,” Daryl Bucknor said as he stood near the press area. “I have no problems with him or anything he’s done.”
Sharon Kingsbury danced along to classical rock tunes alongside her son while waving a “Trump 2020” sign in front of her.
Like just about all other Trump supporters interviewed Monday in the area, she declared he is “doing a great job.”
“Just the fact that he’s kept his promises. He has really kept his word on everything he said he would do,” she said with a smile. “He’s not really a politician. And he doesn’t care what they think.”
One local Republican official who spoke on condition of anonymity said GOP officials here feel confident Keller will win Tuesday.
One local Republican official who spoke on condition of anonymity said GOP officials here feel confident Keller will win Tuesday. The source said Trump’s appeal there is he has mastered how to talk to his supporters.
But on Keller, should he indeed win Tuesday, several people interviewed Monday evening want him to focus on creating more jobs in the 12th District. Several want him to try to bring home more federal bacon.
“Rural areas are having a hard time,” said George Rizzo. “It’s hard to keep young people here. … And he should tell them to stop with the regulating. … They manipulate, they regulate, and it just doesn’t work.” His wife Barbara nodded and added: “And broadband, that’s a big challenge out here.”
Biden was clearly on the president’s mind as he ended the rally by telling the crowd that the Scranton native “abandoned you” when he moved to Delaware. He also contended Biden, during decades in the Senate, let his home state down by failing to keep manufacturing jobs there.
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