HERSHEY, Pa. — On the day House Democrats filed articles of impeachment against him, President Donald Trump returned to a state crucial to his re-election hopes next November.
After a summer and fall spent stumping in states where it hopes to expand the electoral map, the Trump campaign is putting a renewed focus on battleground states with the rally here on Tuesday night, one in Florida last month and one in Michigan scheduled for next week, in an effort to motivate voters he'll need to secure again to win.
Tuesday night's campaign rally was the first Trump had held in the state in nearly seven months, despite it being ground zero for the general election fight to come.
Wisconsin is another state likely to be in contention, but the campaign has no announced plans to travel there this year. The last rally in the state was in April.
“Americans don’t agree with this rank partisanship, but Democrats are putting on this political theater because they don’t have a viable candidate for 2020 and they know it,” said Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale.
Diehard Trump supporters like Barbara Hitcho of Schnecksillve, Pennsylvania — who got in line 10 hours before the Hershey rally started — echoed that sentiment.
“There are people out here that are so enraged. We are so fed up. And so of course, we're going to be strong and coming back to vote for President Trump again,” she said, while being moved to tears when speaking about him.
“He’s done such a great job, and this is the way he’s being treated? It’s very upsetting to me,” she said.
The re-election machine is gambling that the impeachment headlines will actually spur some voters who have sat on the sidelines to get involved. Since Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced the inquiry in late September, the campaign says it has gained nearly 100,000 new volunteers for their operation, according to Trump Victory spokesman Rick Gorka.
That, coupled with a fresh wave of donors that have also been motivated by what the president brands a “partisan scam,” could prove helpful in places like Pennsylvania, Trump campaign officials say.
The campaign believes some voters who were only “lukewarm” to Trump before the impeachment inquiry began may now be fully behind him because they are “sick of all the hearings and nonsense from Democrats,” said Gorka, who said he was cautiously optimistic that swing voters might be turned off by the whole process, which could help the president.
Trump narrowly won Pennsylvania in 2016, by just 44,000 votes over Hillary Clinton. But he lost in Dauphin County, where Hershey is, and Democrats are hoping to seize on recent gains in the suburbs from the 2018 midterms and beyond in order to keep these kinds of places blue.
Last month, the president’s re-election effort held a voting day “dry run,” marshaling thousands of volunteers nationwide in a show of organizing force a year before the election. The reason, in large part, was to create a contrast with Democrats, who won’t be able to fully scale their operation until a nominee is anointed months from now.
In Pennsylvania alone, the Trump campaign says it has held hundreds of training sessions and “MAGA Meet Ups” this year, boasting that they have “the biggest and baddest ground game” in their structure here. And, they note, the economy is overwhelmingly a top issue for Republicans here, many of whom said they feel better off financially now than they were four years ago, according to internal polling conducted by the campaign.
Vice President Mike Pence, who introduced Trump at the Hershey rally, campaigned on a branded bus featuring their 2020 ticket throughout Western Pennsylvania earlier in the day.
Trump has visited the Pittsburgh area twice in recent months to discuss the economy, and at Tuesday's rally he predicted victory in November, saying, “We are going to win it again even bigger,” despite Democratic election gains in the state since 2016.
The Trump campaign is also hopeful that some swing voters who voted for Clinton in 2016 will be encouraged by a strong economy and consider voting for Trump next year. According to statewide data provided by the campaign, 32 percent of Democrats in Pennsylvania agree they are in better shape economically today than in 2015.
At Tuesday’s rally, Parscale tweeted that the campaign identified more than 23,000 voters, 82 percent of whom were from Pennsylvania and 20 percent of whom were once registered Democrats.
Outside Giant Arena on Tuesday night, the president’s most ardent supporters said the two articles of impeachment charging the president with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress only reinforced their continued loyalty to Trump, even while conceding Trump has had missteps.
“Nobody's perfect. And he hasn't been without mistakes, but he certainly has done more things right then wrong,” said Robert Dressler of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, who argued the impeachment “stupidity” will only motivate people who think like him to show up for the president again in 2020.