LATROBE, Pa. — President Donald Trump doubled down on the notion that his supporters should vote twice in the November election, promoting voter fraud while stoking unfounded fear about the validity of the presidential election results at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania Thursday night.
“These mail-in ballots are a disgrace and they know it. Sign your mail-in ballot. Sign it and send it in and then you have to follow it. And if on Election Day or early voting, that is not tabulated and counted, you go vote,” Trump said, reiterating a similar message he had for voters in North Carolina a day earlier.
Trump appeared to justify his call to vote twice by telling rally attendees that if their mail-in ballot came in after they had voted in-person, then it would not get counted. It is illegal to vote twice.
“They are not going to be able to tabulate it because you will have voted. You have to make sure your vote counts. The only way they are going to beat us is by doing that kind of stuff.”
Pennsylvania requires mail-in ballots to be received by county election offices by 8 p.m. on Election Day. Voters in the state can track their mail-in ballot’s progress online and are able to see when their country receives their completed ballot.
“I want to see the results of the election on November 3rd. It could go on forever,” Trump said.
Trump also made light of coronavirus guidelines, as he held a campaign event that violated state orders aimed at reducing the spread of the virus.
“Did you ever see a man that likes a mask as much as him?,” Trump said of Democratic nominee Joe Biden. “It gives him a feeling of security. If I were a psychiatrist I would say this guy has got some big issues.”
Trump has offered Americans an overly optimistic picture of the coronavirus in recent weeks, holding large in-person campaign events around the country and glossing over the more than 187,000 dead and a still-crippled economy.
"He always gets up and is like ‘COVID-19, COVID-19,’” Trump said, mocking Biden.
Trump has hosted a series of rallies on airport tarmacs in the past few weeks with Air Force One serving as a backdrop, as the president works to accommodate the realities of campaigning during a pandemic. Hundreds of attendees gathered in the semi-open airport hangar Thursday evening, sitting on folding plastic chairs not spaced at a social distance.
Supporters were given disposable gloves, hand sanitizer and face masks before entering the venue.“Do we have to keep these on inside?,” one supporter, pulling at his “MAGA” face mask, asked a campaign volunteer who was directing people into the hangar.
“It depends on where you’re sitting and where these guys are,” said the volunteer, pointing to reporters.
Pennsylvania restricts indoor gatherings to 25 people and outdoor to 250 to slow the spread of the virus. Trump’s rally violated those health rules, as there is no exception for political events. Trump has consistently made light of state coronavirus rules, joking that his campaign rallies are “peaceful protests” and should be granted the same slack as recent Black Lives Matter protests.
White House press secretary Kalyeigh McAnany tweeted a picture that appears to show quite a bit more than 250 people in an outdoor overflow area.
The campaign was giving out Trump 2020 signs Thursday that read “This Is a Peaceful Protest.”
Trump held an indoor campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June, but the event was lightly attended and received significant blowback from health experts who said Trump was putting the local area at risk to the virus. Multiple Trump staffers in Tulsa tested positive for the coronavirus.
“We’re doing the hangar thing now cause the arenas, you can’t do it,” Trump said.
Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 by less than 1 percentage point — or 44,000 votes. As President, Trump has visited Pennsylvania nearly 20 times opting to go to smaller cities and rural areas that helped deliver him the state.
In August, Trump campaigned in Old Forge, just outside of Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s hometown of Scranton.
With 20 Electoral College votes, Pennsylvania is critical in the presidential race. Only California, Texas, Florida, and New York offer more electoral votes.
A poll of registered Pennsylvania voters released Wednesday by Monmouth University showed the race tightening, with 49 percent backing Biden compared to 45 for Trump. The president had yet to lead in any statewide Pennsylvania poll since the spring.“
Donald Trump basically won because his turnout in rural and small-town Pennsylvania went up,” said Terry Madonna, a professor and the director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. “Trump’s going to Latrobe because he’s not doing as well.”
While Trump is still more popular than Biden in places like Latrobe, Madonna said, he has fallen off from his 2016 support when he won southwest counties in the throes of the old mining and mill towns by upwards of 20 percentage points.
With Biden expected to draw a significant amount of votes from the Philadelphia area where roughly half the state’s population is concentrated, Trump cannot afford to lose any of his support here.