WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden is making his third trip to Pennsylvania in less than a week and returning just two days after his predecessor, Donald Trump, staged his own rally there — illustrating the battleground state’s importance to both parties as Labour Day kicks off a nine-week sprint to crucial midterm elections.
Trump spoke Saturday night in Wilkes-Barre, near Scranton, where Biden was born.
The president made his own Wilkes-Barre trip last week to discuss increasing funding for police, decry GOP criticism of the FBI after the raid on Trump’s Florida estate and argue that new, bipartisan gun safety measures can help reduce violent crime.
Two days after that, Biden went to Independence Hall in Philadelphia for a prime-time address denouncing the “extremism” of Trump’s fiercest supporters.
On Monday, he’s attending Labour Day festivities in Milwaukee, in another key swing state, Wisconsin, before travelling to Pittsburgh for that city’s parade. The White House says Biden will celebrate “the dignity of American workers”.
The unofficial start of fall, Labour Day also traditionally kicks off political crunch time, with campaigns scrambling to excite voters ahead of Election Day on November 8.
That’s when control of the House and Senate, as well some of the country’s top governorships, will be decided.
Trump has endorsed candidates in key races around the country and Biden is warning that some Republicans now believe so strongly in Trumpism that they are willing to undermine core American values to promote it.
The president said on Thursday that the midterms will be a battle “for the soul of the nation”, the same slogan he used to win the 2020 election, and that “blind loyalty to a single leader, and a willingness to engage in political violence, is fatal to democracy”.
Biden added in that speech that “MAGA Republicans are destroying American democracy”, referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign cry and pointing to incidents like last year’s mob attack on the US Capitol.
Trump said during his Saturday rally that Biden’s Philadelphia appearance featured “the most vicious, hateful and divisive speech ever delivered by an American president”. “He’s an enemy of the state,” the former president said.
Monday will see Biden return to another theme that was a centrepiece of his 2020 campaign, that labour unions burnished the middle class, which in turn built and strengthened modern American society.
Endorsements from key unions helped Biden overcome disastrous early finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire to win the Democratic primary, and eventually the White House.
He has since continued to praise labour unions —even though many voters without college degrees, many working class, remain among Trump’s strongest bloc of supporters.
Mary Kay Henry, president of the two-million-member Service Employees International Union, called Biden championing unions heading into the midterms “critical” and said that the labour movement must “mobilise in battlegrounds across the country to ensure that working people turn out”.
“We’re really excited about the president speaking directly to workers about if he had the opportunity, he’d join a union,” Henry said.
She added: “This president has signalled which side he’s on. And he’s on the side of working people. And that matters hugely.”
Biden, meanwhile, has a personal history with Pittsburgh’s Labour Day parade, which is among the nation’s largest. He attended the 2015 installment as vice president and returned in 2018.
Both times, Biden, now 79, faced questions about whether he’d run for president in upcoming elections — which he opted against in 2016 before winning the White House in 2020.
This year, the oldest president in the nation’s history has faced speculation about if he’ll seek a second term in 2024 — though he’s insisted that’s his intention, and the pressure has dissipated some in recent weeks, amid a string of policy and political successes for Biden and his party.
Still, both perennial presidential battleground states Biden is visiting on Monday may provide key measures of Democrats’ strength before this November and 2024.
With inflation still raging and the president’s approval ratings remaining low, how much Biden can help his party in top races remains to be seen.
In Wisconsin, Democratic Lt.Gov Mandela Barnes is trying to unseat incumbent Republican Sen Ron Johnson but drew criticism from Johnson’s campaign for being noncommittal beforehand about appearing with Biden in Milwaukee.
In the state’s other top race, Tim Michels, a construction executive endorsed by Trump, is attempting to deny Democratic Gov. Tony Evers a second term. Evers said he planned to join Biden on Monday.
Pennsylvania voters are choosing a new governor, with state Attorney General John Shapiro facing another Trump-endorsed Republican, Doug Mastriano, and a new senator. That race is between Democratic Lt Gov John Fetterman and Trump-backed celebrity heart physician Mehmet Oz Shapiro and Fetterman both planned to attend Monday’s Pittsburgh parade.
The Pennsylvania and Wisconsin races could decide which party controls the Senate next year, while the winner of each governorship may influence the results in 2024’s presidential election.
The stakes are particularly high given that some Trump-aligned candidates have spread lies about widespread fraud that did not occur during the 2020 election — raising questions about what might happen if a candidate they don’t support wins the next presidential contest.