WASHINGTON -- As a big swing state close to Washington and with two major media markets, Pennsylvania offers a lot to entice presidential visits.
And for President Trump, there’s the added bonus of his favorite thing: a win.
That helps explain why Trump will mark his 100th day in office with Saturday night's rally in Harrisburg, one aides hope will mirror the campaign events that fueled his upset victory in the Keystone State in November. He’s also expected to tour a local factory, according to two people familiar with the plans.
The scene will return Trump to the setting where he appears most comfortable -- in front of adoring crowds -- and, the White House hopes, provide a contrast to criticism that the inexperienced president has stumbled out of the gate.
It also doubles as a none-too-subtle jab at one of Trump’s favorite foils, the media. His event is planned for the same time that reporters in Washington will mingle with celebrities at the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner, and coverage of the rally is likely to overshadow the gala of insiders and elites.
Both events end a week in which Trump aides have strenuously courted the media with briefings touting his accomplishments, even as key plans for a border wall and Obamacare repeal remained very much on the drawing board. The White House hopes the rally will give Trump a chance to put a spotlight on another major effort that is just getting rolling, a tax-overhaul plan he expects to unveil Wednesday.
The president will seek his boost in a state he visited frequently last year, and where, in Gettysburg, he first laid out a 10-point plan for his first 100 days in office (a timeline that he now derides as arbitrary and unfair).
“The Pennsylvania victory was one that the president is very proud of,” Marc Short, the president’s legislative director, told a handful of reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “I think you'll see him go there many more times throughout his administration.”
Val DiGiorgio, Pennsylvania’s GOP chairman, noted Trump already had returned to the state once since the election, for a December “thank-you” rally in Hershey, where he told supporters, “We made history together.”
His aides recognize the importance of the state, DiGiorgio said, as "a place that he's dedicated to helping rejuvenate, a Rust Belt state, and also in terms of his reelection.”
Trump visited Philadelphia to speak to Republican lawmakers during a congressional retreat in January, and often talks up his ties to the University of Pennsylvania, where he went to college. But his success, and many of his visits, come far from the Ivy League school in an urban setting. His style resonates most in central, northeast, and southwest Pennsylvania.
“He has kind of an anti-politics-as-usual appeal that really resonates with blue-collar, middle-class voters, and you see that very clearly in the midsection of the state and then Western Pennsylvania,” said Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster based in Virginia. “There's a sense among these voters that they believe him, he gets them, he understands them, and he talks to their issues.”
At the same time, Trump’s presidency has spurred massive protests in Philadelphia and elsewhere and created warning signs for Republicans in moderate suburbs like Chester and Delaware Counties, two counties he lost. Trump also narrowly lost Harrisburg’s home county, Dauphin, though he won 56 of the state’s 67 counties.
National polls suggest that Trump’s base remains fiercely loyal but that he has done little to win over people who opposed him.
And Democrats on Tuesday argued that his first 100 days have let down the working-class Americans who powered his unexpected wins in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
“The president came into a state like Pennsylvania and talked a lot about trade -- I was glad he was raising that issue,” Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) said at a news conference. “I was glad that he talked about renegotiating NAFTA. Where is the plan for that? We haven't seen a plan for that.”
He added that Trump has failed to deliver an infrastructure plan that might help repair Pennsylvania’s many failing bridges or ensure the solvency of long-term health and pension benefits for retired coal miners.
Short, the White House aide, said the health benefits would likely be addressed in a spending bill being crafted this week, though the pension benefits will have to wait until later. International talks on NAFTA are expected this summer. Trump staffers also say that by signing 13 separate bills rolling back government regulations and signaling support for lower taxes, the president has already improved the environment for hiring.
David Urban, a lobbyist and operative who helped steer Trump’s campaign in Pennsylvania, said the president targeted Keystone State concerns with executive orders creating a national commission on opioid abuse and an investigation into countries that export cheap steel to the United States.
"I don't think the president wavered one bit in his support for the same people, principles that he articulated during the campaign,” Urban said. Trump is “totally aware of the great support he got out of the commonwealth.”
Of course, even Trump’s aides acknowledge a practical reason to come to Pennsylvania: It’s an easy trip. Former President Barack Obama frequently visited for similar reasons, though often choosing different locales.
“There is a reality,” Short said, “that the proximity makes it also easier on a Saturday evening to go there and do a rally.”
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