Biden, Obama, Trump target key state in midterms countdown

Philadelphia, United States AFP

by Andrea Bambino with Frankie Taggart in Washington

President Joe Biden, Democratic superstar Barack Obama and Republican firebrand Donald Trump all converged Saturday on Pennsylvania to push their parties to the finishing line in a race Biden said marks a “defining” moment for US democracy.

The battle of the serving and two former presidents marked the start of a final crescendo before Tuesday when Americans will decide who controls Congress during the last two years of Biden’s first term.

Polls put Republicans well ahead in the fight for the House of Representatives and also show them with momentum in the Senate as voters, already riled up by culture wars around gay rights and abortion, seek to take out frustration over four-decades-high inflation and rising illegal immigration.

With Pennsylvania one of the handful of swing states that will decide the overall balance of power, both sides brought out maximum firepower.

Biden and Obama rallied in Philadelphia alongside Senate candidate John Fetterman and governor candidate Josh Shapiro.

Trump, who was defeated by Biden in 2020 but has spent the interval promoting conspiracy theories and plotting his own possible White House comeback, was to rally in Latrobe alongside Fetterman’s opponent, TV celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, and Shapiro’s far-right opponent Doug Mastriano.

Speaking to thousands in a cheering Philadelphia arena, Biden said voters face “a choice between two vastly different visions of America.”

Biden and the Democratic candidates labeled the Republicans as the party of the wealthy and emphasized their own support for trade unions, social security and reinforced protections for rights to abortion.

But Biden, citing Trump Republicans’ growing support for conspiracy theories undermining elections, said an even bigger agenda was at stake.

“Democracy is literally on the ballot. This is a defining moment for the nation and we all, we all must speak with one voice,” Biden said.

– Top Democratic star –

Before joining the Philadelphia rally, Obama appeared in Pittsburgh to tear into Republicans as a party that wants to “gut” social security and “give rich folks and big corporations more tax cuts.”

Still the party’s most bankable star six years after leaving the White House, Obama hopes his support will tip the balance for Fetterman.

Although Fetterman faces the added challenge of recovering from a serious stroke, he and Oz are in a dead heat.

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

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 15, 2022 former US President Donald Trump and Kari Lake, whom Trump is supporting in the Arizona’s gubernatorial race, speak during a rally at the Canyon Moon Ranch festival grounds in Florence, Arizona, southeast of Phoenix. – She talks incessantly about a stolen election, blasts the “fake news” media at every chance and has parlayed her TV fame into a political career: Kari Lake is delighted to be called “Donald Trump in a dress.” (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP)

– Trump’s comeback bid –

Just a few miles east of Pittsburgh in Latrobe, Trump will seek to firm up support in a region that delivered him big margins in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.

Success for candidates he supports on Tuesday would help Trump launch his own comeback campaign, despite facing serious legal threats over attempts to overturn his 2020 defeat and the hoarding of top secret documents from the White House at his Florida golf resort.

One supporter arriving early for the rally, 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, whose decisions impact most aspects of voters’ lives, from education and health care to voting rights.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Shapiro has been spotlighting the fringe views of Mastriano and his involvement in the Trump-led attempt to overturn the last 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.

Trump, 76, has already claimed baselessly that the state’s elections have been “rigged,” echoing his false claims that his own 2020 defeat was the result of fraud.

“As Biden’s approval rating plummets, Pennsylvania crime spikes, and Pennsylvanians grapple with a 74 percent hike in heating oil, coupled with record inflation, just weeks away from winter,” Trump’s office said in a statement.

“The America First Movement offers the Keystone State an alternative vision for America: safe streets, cheap gas, low inflation, and a thriving American economy.”

© Agence France-Presse