Vice President Mike Pence made campaign stops in Pennsylvania on Monday — the last day residents in the battleground state could register to vote — to make a closing argument for President Donald J. Trump, who is trailing in the polls with 15 days until the general election.
Pence spent most of his hourlong speech at Capital City Airport near New Cumberland by revisting what worked in the past.
The Trump campaign in 2016 narrowly won Pennsylvania by little more than 44,000 votes, or less than 1 percentage point. But the upset victory in Pennsylvania and other blue-collar Rust Belt states helped Trump turn “reliably blue” states red and win the presidency.
Trump won on promises to bring back coal and steel jobs that once helped Pennsylvania small towns flourish. When those jobs were lost to automation, low demand and global trade deals, many working-class communities were forced to reinvent themselves.
Despite the highest unemployment levels in Pennsylvania since the early 1980s, when the steel industry collapsed, Pence said Trump made America great again.
“And then the coronavirus came,” said the vice president, who heads the White House task force that oversees the pandemic.
“We’re one day closer to being done with the coronavirus,” Pence said.
His words were in stark contrast to those of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who earlier Monday said the state is in the middle of a fall surge.
“The fall resurgence is here, and while we always have to take this virus seriously, now is really the time to double down and really keep the people around us safe,” Wolf said.
Pence, hours later, said, “We are opening America again.”
The vastly different styles to handling the virus between Democrats and Republicans is a major driver in the presidential election. Biden is maintaining a lead over Trump in the polls, largely because of wide margins on his approach to the pandemic.
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Pence didn’t talk about those differences much. Instead, he addressed the crowd of hundreds in Fairview Township, in reliably red York County, with several topics that appeal to Trump’s base: the economy, lower taxes, law and order, conservative judges, school choice and faith.
He criticized Biden for dodging questions about whether he would add justices to the Supreme Court.
“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are going to pack the court with liberal, activist judges,” Pence said.
The criticism comes as Trump and the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate are pushing through the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, who the president picked to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. If Barrett is approved, the addition of a conservative jurist would shift the high court’s nine-member bench to the right.
If Biden wins and Democrats control the House and Senate, conservatives fear they would grow the Supreme Court beyond nine members and add liberal judges. Biden has not answered whether he would do that, but he said he would give an answer before Election Day, which is Nov. 3.
“If you’re going to run for the highest office in the land, you need to answer questions about the highest court,” Pence said about Biden.
Pence also took aim at Biden for the recent dueling town halls between the presidential candidates. Biden had a 90-minute town hall in Philadelphia, hosted by ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos, and Trump had a 60-minute town hall in Miami, hosted by NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie.
Biden didn’t just get easy, softball questions at his town hall, Pence said. He got “beach balls.”
Trump, on the other hand, took “fastballs,” according to Pence, and “hit every one of them out of the park.”
Pence said he’s looking forward to seeing the presidential candidates face off in the final presidential debate at 9 p.m. Thursday.
The vice president continued to highlight Trump’s big accomplishments Monday by reminding the audience that Trump revamped trade deals with Canada and Mexico, which he said are a “win” for Pennsylvania.
Trump is a supporter of “energy-rich” Pennsylvania, Pence said while accusing Biden of banning fracking.
“You can take it to the bank,” the vice president said.
Biden for months has repeatedly said he would not ban fracking.
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Pence also said Biden would raise taxes if he’s elected, though the Democratic nominee has repeatedly said he would not raise taxes on households earning less than $400,000 annually.
The vice president drew some of his biggest cheers for the blue — both the police and Penn State football.
Pence received the loudest cheers of the day when he said, “Under President Donald Trump, we’re going to back the blue.”
He also received loud cheers when he pointed to the return of Penn State football this weekend when at 3:30 p.m. Saturday the Nittany Lions face the Hoosiers at Indiana University.
Pence delivered a similar message on Saturday at the Reading Regional Airport in Berks County.
It’s part of a bevy of visits from both campaigns in a state regarded as a “tipping point” that could decide the election. Former Second Lady Jill Biden campaigned in Pennsylvania Monday. Trump will campaign in Erie Tuesday evening. Former President Barack Obama will campaign in Philadelphia Wednesday.
Democrats issued a statement before Pence’s visit through Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat from Biden’s hometown of Scranton.
“With just over two weeks until Election Day, President Trump and Vice President Pence are hoping that voters will forget their four years of their failures and broken promises, but Pennsylvanians deserve better,” Casey said in the statement.
“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the leaders we need to help our Nation recover from the effects of this terrible virus, get back on the right track, and build back better than ever by creating millions of good-paying jobs.”
Candy Woodall is a reporter for the USA Today Network. She can be reached at 717-480-1783 or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.