President Biden and former President Obama are going head-to-head with former President Trump in Pennsylvania this weekend, underscoring the significance of the battleground state ahead of Tuesday’s midterm election.
Biden and Obama will hold a rally for Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) in Philadelphia on Saturday, while Trump will host a rally for GOP Senate candidate Mehmet Oz and state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R), the party’s gubernatorial candidate, on the other side of the state in Latrobe.
The campaign swings come amid signs the Senate race is tightening considerably. Polling from Emerson College and The Hill released on Thursday showed Oz leading Fetterman in a post-debate poll, painting a picture of growing momentum for Republicans.
But while Saturday’s events are key for the candidates on the ballot next week, the importance is also heightened for those who may be squaring off once again two years from now as Pennsylvania has become ground zero for the fight between Biden and Trump.
“If you look at all of the swing states … Pennsylvania is really the biggest,” former Gov. Ed Rendell (D) said in an interview. “It is a good microcosm of the election. … I think Pennsylvania is the best test. It’s the biggest prize and it’s going to be purple for a while.”
Biden famously secured the presidency the Saturday after the election in 2020 by winning the Keystone State’s 20 electoral votes, which Trump had nabbed four years before. However, times have changed, and so has Biden’s standing in the Commonwealth. According to the Emerson College Polling-The Hill survey, only 39 percent of likely voters approve of the job he’s done in office.
“At the end of the day, too much Joe Biden,” said one national Republican strategist when asked about the visit. “Nobody needs anymore Joe Biden. Wrong message. Wrong messenger.”
“I can’t imagine how that’s helping anybody in Pennsylvania if you’re a Democrat,” they added.
But Democrats argue that there is much value to having Obama and Biden on the same stage ahead of Election Day, especially for galvanizing the Democratic base in strongholds like Philadelphia.
“People are going to see the Obama-Biden duo again,” one Democratic operative told The Hill. “That’s a valuable image.”
The timing is also important for Trump, who may launch a third presidential bid only days after the midterm elections wrap up. To his supporters, Tuesday will provide a snapshot of how voters view him by proxy.
“It’s very important. He’s going to see, ‘Do I still have it?’ and he’s going to see that around the nation with the people that he endorsed,” said Rob Gleason, the former chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, a Trump ally. “If there’s a Republican wave, he will take credit for it.”
The location of the appearances also isn’t a surprise. Biden and Obama will campaign in Philadelphia, a longtime deep-blue bastion that helped hand both individuals the White House. However, widespread crime in the city has presented issues for the party, with Oz and national Republicans messaging on that issue heavily in the final three months.
As for Trump, his stop in western Pennsylvania is aimed at boosting turnout among rural voters that are considered crucial for Oz on Tuesday.
“Fetterman probably needs some Biden voters, but Oz needs Trump voters more than Fetterman needs Biden voters,” said one Pennsylvania-based GOP operative.
“This one is an important one, but he doesn’t really own losses like the way a traditional politician does,” that operative said of the importance of the race for Trump. “But Oz is his. Oz is the nominee because of him. … If Oz can’t come across the finish line, there’s going to be some blame on Trump.”
Despite Biden’s poor approval rating, Democrats are welcoming his appearance in the City of Brotherly Love, especially alongside Obama in a push to boost African American turnout on Tuesday. Rendell noted that getting that bloc to the polls is a concern of his heading into Election Day.
However, they believe that Trump’s appearance in the state can only be a net positive for the party in power. While the ex-president played a key role in getting Oz over the hump in the May primary against David McCormick, his presence has been notably limited since then as Oz has shifted his focus to winning voters in the Philadelphia suburbs, which is ripe with moderates.
“Anytime there’s focus on Trump, it benefits our side of the aisle,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), who is one of the two Philadelphia-based members of Congress. “I personally know Republicans who hope he remains banned from Twitter because they know that the more visible Trump is, the better for Democrats.”
Even moreso than Trump, Democrats are trying to tie Republicans across the ticket to Mastriano, who Republicans routinely have panned for having one of the worst campaigns on the 2022 map. The Pennsylvania-based GOP operative predicted that Mastriano will lose to Shapiro by between 7 and 12 points, creating issues for Oz and down-ballot congressional candidates.
“I do think that the Oz team and the ecosystem have done a really good job at separating him from Mastriano,” the operative said, adding that any Shapiro lead over 10 percent “starts to get troubling” for Oz.