Aug 30, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Pennsylvania split screen: Biden v. Trump

Illustration of a MAGA hat and aviator sunglasses positioned as if being worn.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Call it a 2020 flashback — or a foreshadow of 2024: Residents of Wilkes-Barre, in northeastern Pennsylvania, are getting dueling visits this week, first from President Biden, then from former President Donald Trump.

Why it matters: Their visits underscore the region's significance in national politics.

  • Pennsylvania is one of the biggest political battlegrounds on the midterm map. But Trump-endorsed candidates have jeopardized the GOP's ability to gain ground in this perennial swing state.
  • Wilkes-Barre is close to Biden's hometown of Scranton, a onetime Democratic stronghold that's become a lot more Republican lately. It's located in one of the most hotly-contested swing districts on this year's midterm map.

Driving the news: Biden is holding an official White House event on Tuesday at Wilkes University, giving a speech focused on public safety. Trump holds his first midterm general-election rally on Saturday, at an arena a few miles down the road.

  • Biden's visit is the make-up date for July plans that had to be postponed when he got COVID.
  • Trump is headlining an event with three of his endorsed candidates in Pennsylvania, now the GOP nominees for their respective contests: Doug Mastriano for governor, Mehmet Oz for Senate and congressional challenger Jim Bognet for a House seat.

By the numbers: Luzerne County, where Wilkes-Barre is located, featured one of the biggest pro-Trump swings of any major county between 2012 and 2020. Former President Obama carried the county with 52% of the vote in his re-election, but Trump won 57% of the vote there against Biden in 2020.

  • The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter moved Pennsylvania's Senate race to "lean Democrat" this month, citing widespread GOP concerns with the state of Oz's campaign. Rep. Matt Cartwright, who represents Luzerne County in Congress, is only one of five Democrats left holding a district that Trump carried in 2020.

What they're saying: Bognet, Cartwright's GOP challenger and a former Republican consultant, has trumpeted his Trump endorsement.

  • "I was proud to work for President Trump in his administration to advance the America First agenda. I'm the only challenger in Pennsylvania endorsed by President Trump, and I'm excited President Trump is having a huge rally in my district this Saturday," Bognet told Axios.
  • But Bognet scrubbed most of the Trump mentions on his campaign website after winning the GOP primary, according to HuffPost — even though Trump carried the district by three points in 2020.

What's next: Biden will be back in Pennsylvania on Thursday to deliver a prime-time speech on "the continued battle for the soul of the nation" at Philadelphia's Independence Hall.

  • Next week he'll be in Pittsburgh for a campaign-style Labor Day parade featuring Democratic and union leaders.
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