In Delco, Trump tells faithful of need to repair inner cities

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump addresses supporters at a rally in Aston, Delaware County, on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2016.

In a wide-ranging speech that jumped from the protests in North Carolina over the shootings of black men by police to the need for health-care reform and plans to build a wall separating the United States from Mexico, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivered a remarkably on-message speech Thursday night to a crowd of thousands in Delaware County.

For the second time in less than 10 days, Trump addressed a Delaware County audience, this time in Chester Township, touting a broad platform that included repairing inner-city communities and bringing manufacturing jobs back to the country - particularly to Pennsylvania.

Throughout the nearly hour-long speech at the film-production facility Sun Center Studios, the real estate mogul hardly veered off-script, only taking a few jabs at Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. In one moment, noting Clinton's cleared campaign schedule leading up to the first presidential debate Monday, Trump asked the crowd: "Where is Hillary today? . . . Some people think she's sleeping."

With unrest still simmering in Charlotte, N.C., and across the country over recent police-involved shootings, Trump stayed neutral Thursday, offering support for police officers patrolling violent city streets and for the African American communities impacted by the violence.

"The rioting in our streets is a threat to all peaceful citizens and it must be ended and ended now," Trump said to an audience filled with thousands of potential voters, many of whom wore "Make America Great Again" hats and hoisted Trump-Pence signs over their heads.

"The main victims of these violent demonstrations are law-abiding African Americans who live in these communities and only want to raise their children in safety and peace with a good education."

And, he said, "the problem is not that there are too many police. The problem is that there are not enough police. . . . Our men and women in blue need our support, our thanks, and our gratitude."

Trump's second visit to Delaware County this month underscores just how crucial Pennsylvania - most notably, Philadelphia and its suburbs - has become in the final seven weeks until Election Day.

With one-third of the state's voters residing in Philadelphia and its neighboring counties, the candidate who clinches the five-county region, political analysts say, could have a near-guaranteed path to the White House.

But the 70-year-old presidential hopeful faces difficult odds: In the 2012 election, four of the five counties - all but Chester County - voted for President Obama. In the election before, in 2008, all five went with Obama.

Still, political analysts say, the Keystone State is not impossible for Trump: A Sept. 8 poll from Quinnipiac University found Clinton led Trump by only five percentage points in the state.

"Can he win? Yes, but he's got a huge uphill battle," said G. Terry Madonna, the veteran pollster who directs the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College.

"Make no mistake about it, it's going to be a tough slog here. He's down with 48 days to go. That's a tough thing to make up."

According to some experts, Delaware County could be among the most crucial - and among most feasible - counties for Trump to win in his bid to take the state. Once a GOP stronghold, infamous for its political machine, Delaware County has a history of Republican control that runs deep.

And while Delaware County Democrats have made huge gains in recent years - in 2013, the number of registered Democrats surpassed the number of Republicans for the first time in nearly a century - Trump could be attempting to tap back into its GOP roots in a bid to turn the county red for the first time in years, Madonna said.

As a whole, the state has turned slightly more Democratic in the last two decades. The last time Pennsylvania voted a Republican into the White House was in 1988, when Republican George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis.

Trump has done particularly well in Western Pennsylvania, places where demographics align with what experts say is the candidate's key voting base: voters who are white, male, and middle-aged, who feel as though recent economic growth has yet to reach them.

The candidate stopped in Pittsburgh on Thursday morning, where he spoke to natural gas executives and promised an energy revolution.

Hours later - and after a brief stop for a cheesesteak in South Philadelphia - Trump promised the same thing to his crowd of mostly white, middle-aged attendees, almost all of whom were highly engaged, booing when Trump talked of Clinton and Obama and cheering at his own proposals. At least 3,000 filled the room where Trump gave his speech, with thousands more waiting in an additional overflow room.

"We are going to unleash an American energy revolution," Trump said. "Oil, coal, natural gas, shale, energy, renewable - this will add at least a half-million new jobs every single year. To be a prosperous nation, we need to be a country that makes and builds things in our own country."

Beyond energy, Trump's Thursday speech was precise in addressing some topics that have shaped Pennsylvania for decades, and others in only recent years. Repeating his claims that he will bring jobs back to America, Trump lamented Pennsylvania's loss of manufacturing jobs - and promised to bring them back with a high tax on any products made outside of the country.

"To hell with the state of Pennsylvania, [the companies] say, so they fire all of their workers. . . . They will go to Mexico, they will go to someplace else," he said. "Not going to happen [in a Trump administration] because they will pay a 35 percent tax every time they make their product" outside of the U.S.

Just days after Clinton addressed a crowd of college students at Temple University on Monday, Trump also laid out a plan for making college education affordable. If president, he said he would implore universities to reduce the cost of college and student debt, using federal funding as a bargaining chip.

"I'm going to work with Congress with reforms to make sure if universities want access to all these federal tax breaks and tax dollars paid for by you," Trump said as the crowd erupted in cheers, "that they are going to make good faith efforts to reduce the cost of college and student debt."

Throughout the event, the crowd remained largely peaceful, with only one protester escorted out within the first five minutes. Taking the stage just minutes after notorious Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight introduced Trump, calling him "the best person available" to solve the nation's problems, the candidate arrived on stage to the theme song from Rocky.

An hour later, when it was time to leave, the Rolling Stones' You Can't Always Get What You Want blared as Trump stopped for autographs. Nearby, a Rocky Balboa statue was positioned just yards away. Even from a distance, the figurine's Trump-Pence T-shirt was noticeable. 

cmccabe@philly.com

610-313-8113@mccabe_caitlin