Biden, Obama, Trump target key state in midterms countdown

US President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump

PHILADELPHIA – US President Joe Biden and his two predecessors converged on Pennsylvania Saturday, making closing pitches in a key battleground state for next week’s midterm election.

Biden was set to rally alongside his old boss Barack Obama as the Democrats deployed their big guns to build the energy they hope will spread nationwide and reverse the late rightward-shift in polling.

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And, in a preview of a potential 2020 rematch, the midwestern state is also playing host to Biden’s predecessor and bitter political rival Donald Trump.

Obama was the first to appear Saturday, lashing out before a crowd in Pittsburgh at what he said were Republican plans to cut government spending.

“They want to gut social security. They want to gut Medicare. They want to give rich folks and big corporations more tax cuts,” Obama said.

Still the party’s most bankable star six years after leaving the White House, Obama threw his support behind Democratic candidate John Fetterman, who is in a dead heat against Republican TV physician Mehmet Oz in their crucial Senate race.

Biden and Obama were to appear later in the day in Philadelphia, the historic cradle of US independence where the 44th and 46th presidents will woo voters from the suburbs that make for a crucial base of Democratic support.

Hours before the rally was scheduled to begin, hundreds of people lined up to enter the Liacouras Center to attend the event.

“It’s very important that Democrats stay in the position they’re already in,” said Jennifer Hahn, 57, a clinical psychologist from the town of Audubon, outside Philadelphia. “The biggest issues facing us are climate change, gun violence and our rights being stripped away.”

The Keystone State backed Trump over Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, but preferred Biden to Trump in 2020.

Strategists from both parties believe the side that wins the post vacated by retiring Republican Senator Pat Toomey will hold the majority in the upper chamber of Congress next year.

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Fetterman and Oz sparred for an hour in state capital Harrisburg 10 days ago, with Fetterman still struggling with communication issues after a stroke in May upended his campaign.

‘Chipping away’

“The month-to-month shifts in support for Oz are not statistically significant,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

“The overall trend suggests he has been chipping away with some voters who have not been completely comfortable with him, but that mainly happened prior to the debate.”

Just a few miles east of Pittsburgh in Latrobe, Trump — who has ambitions to return to the White House — will seek to firm up support in a region that delivered him big margins in 2016 and 2020.

One attendee, Shawn Ecker Grey, 44, voiced excitement about a possible Trump candidacy for 2024 “because we need our country back. We really do. And it’s not going to happen if someone doesn’t stand up like he is.”

Pennsylvania is seen as a must-win for control of the Senate, but it also weighs on the balance of power among the country’s 50 state governors, influential officials who weigh in on most aspects of voters’ lives, from education and health care to voting rights.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro has been spotlighting the fringe views of state senator Doug Mastriano, his far-right opponent who was involved in Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

A victory for Trump-backed Mastriano would give the prominent election denier oversight of the state’s voting system for the 2024 presidential race.

Like Biden, Trump has visited Pennsylvania twice this year, rallying for Oz and Mastriano most recently in early September.