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Trump is back in PA, and it feels like presidential campaign season again

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures at a campaign event Jan. 27, 2024, in Las Vegas. (John Locher/AP)
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures at a campaign event Jan. 27, 2024, in Las Vegas. (John Locher/AP)
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By Charles Thompson | pennlive.com (TNS)

When former President Donald Trump jets into Harrisburg Friday, it kind of feels like the race for Pennsylvania’s 19 electoral college votes – the 5th-biggest batch in the nation – is on.

Technically, Trump’s visit to the Great American Outdoor Show at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex is not a campaign appearance; he’s being brought in Friday as a closing-weekend headliner to the show sponsored by the National Rifle Association.

But Trump’s day job these days is running for president so, if the shoe fits…

President Joe Biden, the incumbent Delawarean and presumptive Democratic Party nominee of course, has visited Philadelphia more than any other metro area as president, and made his first 2024 campaign appearance near Valley Forge last month.

So with Trump back in the state for the first time since 2022, the swing-state battle is joined.

As always, both campaigns very much want to put Pennsylvania’s in their column as they build out a map to 270 Electoral College votes.

“The general consensus is you can’t win without Pennsylvania,” said a former staffer Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania staffer who has stayed active in state politics but asked not to be identified for this story because of his current position.

National Republicans feel that way, he said, even though Democrats have been on a bit of a roll in the major statewide elections since 2016.

Remember, when Trump won Pennsylvania that year, he won the national election. Same thing for Biden in 2020.

But, the Trump forces feel that if the Democratic Party hadn’t successfully got Green Party nominee Jill Stein tossed from the Pennsylvania presidential ballot four years ago, there’s no telling how that 2020 race, which Biden won by less than 81,000 votes, or a margin of 1.17%, would have turned out.

The current average of Pennsylvania polls from the last three months as tabulated by shows Biden and Trump in a statistical dead heat,

So both parties are as engaged as ever with Pennsylvania for 2024.

While Friday’s is not a direct campaign event, the Great American Outdoor Show audience is by definition a pro-Second Amendment crowd that is likely to skew more toward Trump than Biden.

Trump is expected to sing that chorus Friday, even though there were times during his term in office when he made short-lived In the end, the former president retreated to a more standard NRA position.

That’s also where he’s expected to be Friday.

“President Trump looks forward to returning to Pennsylvania and speaking at the NRA Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg to discuss the importance of protecting the Second Amendment rights of all Americans,” a Trump campaign official said Thursday night.

He will also, the official said, “focus on Joe Biden’s support for unconstitutional gun grabs.”

in the U.S. by repeatedly calling on Congress to take additional action, including: Reinstatement of a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; and expanding background check requirements for gun purchases.

His efforts have not found momentum to date, largely because of resistance from Congressional Republicans.

it will be interesting to see where else Trump’s remarks go Friday. Several Outdoor Show attendees interviewed by PennLive earlier Thursday made plain that gun rights are not the only issue that they’re casting their votes on this year.

In an unscientific sample, their support for Trump ranged from tepid to enthusiastic.

“I’m not a not-supporter” one man from Bridgeport, Conn. told PennLive, before adding “I would rather see other candidates for the office because of the tensions he causes.”

But Trump was clearly the peoples’ choice.

Several show attendees said they’re picking Trump because of what they consider a trainwreck of an economy under Biden’s watch, a need for tighter border security and a desire to see the return of the “America First” agenda to the White House.

“Why are we sending all this money over there?” Dillsburg resident Doug Wonders asked at one point, in a reference to the government’s security packages for Ukraine and Israel. “Let’s worry about ourselves. Not everybody else.”

And no, they said, they do not have qualms about Trump’s post-2020 election activities.

Wonders said while he doesn’t condone the violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, he believes it’s unfair to pin that on Trump. Wonders said he feels most of the criminal charges against Trump have been filed solely to weaken him politically.

PennLive reached out to the Biden campaign for comment on Trump’s appearance Thursday and learned the Democrats will not be standing silent.

Among other things, the campaign noted the Democratic National Committee will unveil a billboard in Harrisburg Friday seeking to underscore what it considers Trump’s weak response to some acts of gun violence in the past.

Featuring the tagline “Get over it,” the billboard is said to reference the former president’s reaction to a school shooting in Perry, Iowa earlier this year.

At a campaign rally in Sioux Center, Iowa on Jan. 5, Trump condemned the violence and offered support and sympathy to the victims and their families. But then, rather than speak to potential policy solutions, he said “we have to get over it, we have to move forward.”

The Biden campaign said it also plans to work with former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot at an event in 2011, and Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun violence prevention organization, to fact-check the former president and respond to his speech.

“Donald Trump’s solution to gun violence is to ‘get over it’ and flood the streets with more guns – just like the gun lobby has ordered him to do.” Biden campaign communications director Michael Tyler said in a statement.

“If Trump is allowed back in the Oval Office, he’s promised a new plan to arm teachers and allow universal concealed carry permits across the country. More guns, not less,” Tyler’s statement continued. “That’s Donald Trump’s plan to make us safe.”

©2024 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit pennlive.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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