Trump heads to Pennsylvania with eye on Biden

Rally may be first in series

By Jeremy Diamond and Betsy Klein, CNN
Copyright 2019 CNN

President Donald Trump

(CNN) - President Donald Trump kicked off his hangar rally Monday in Montoursville, Pennsylvania, touting the economic growth under his administration and taking aim at Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden.

His speech touched on familiar topics, such as immigration, and he slammed Democrats and touted his own record. Trump predicted that it should be "very easy" to debate the eventual 2020 Democratic nominee because of his economic successes.

"Those debates should be very easy when we meet whoever we're going to meet," he said.

The rally in central Pennsylvania, a key battleground state, highlights Trump's commitment to campaign in areas that have been flashing warning signs for his reelection campaign. Trump foreshadowed that he will be back here quite a bit in the coming year.

"I'll be seeing a lot of you all in the next year ... Gotta win this state," he said.

The President's challenges in Rust Belt states, critical to his narrow 2016 victory, are at the forefront of advisers' minds. Polling conducted by the Trump campaign last month confirmed cracks in his support in Pennsylvania and Michigan, reinforcing warnings from the 2018 midterms, when Democrats took back the House.

Trump hopes rallies will be part of the solution to shoring up his support. Frustrated by the increasing amount of TV news coverage the Democratic presidential candidates are attracting, Trump is looking to shift the spotlight back to his campaign.

The Trump campaign is now eyeing a cluster of rallies next month to formally kick off Trump's reelection campaign, a source close to the campaign told CNN.

The President arrived in Pennsylvania just two days after former Vice President Joe Biden rallied supporters in Philadelphia, casting his bid for the Democratic nomination in terms of his ability to defeat Trump in a general election.

Trump slammed the former vice president on trade policy and referenced Biden's comments that "foreign leaders called him up and begged him to do it."

"That's what they want," Trump said. "They like him."

His administration, he said, is "straightening out" unfair trade policies, adding that companies are "going to build places in Pennsylvania and others like the old days."

Trump also responded to comments Biden made a few weeks ago that China is "not a competitor."

"What they've (China has) done to us is indescribable economically," Trump said. "I don't blame China, I don't blame President Xi, I don't blame them. Our leaders allowed it to happen. Well, it's not happening anymore. I ran and we have saved America."

Trump has focused his energy on Biden -- who leads Trump in Pennsylvania by 11 points according to a recent Quinnipiac University survey -- more than any other candidate. That's despite the fact that some of his own advisers worry Trump's fire will only serve to bolster Biden's standing in the crowded Democratic field.

"I think we're doing very well in Pennsylvania. We won it last time. The polls had us losing last time in Pennsylvania and we won," Trump said when asked about the poll by reporters on Monday as he left for the rally.

Beyond Pennsylvania, Trump is looking to kick his campaign into a higher gear next month ahead of the first Democratic debates.

Trump campaign aides are also finalizing plans for a blitz of rallies beginning around June 16, the anniversary of Trump's 2016 campaign launch, the source said. Trump's reelection campaign has been in existence since his first day in office and he has been holding campaign rallies since early in his term, but campaign aides note that Trump has not yet held a formal kickoff rally. Axios first reported on the plans for the campaign launch.

Aides expect Trump to grow more restless as he watches Democrats take over his television. He has already begun publicly airing some of those grievances, tweeting on Sunday to complain about Fox News' town hall with Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Indiana, mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

The campaign is also debating ways to counterprogram the Democratic debates that will start soon, looking at the possibility of ramping up Trump's rallies, including potentially hosting some in the same city as the debates.

Trump's Monday rally came on the eve of a special election for Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District, a conservative stronghold where Trump hopes Fred Keller keeps the seat in Republican hands.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins and Sarah Westwood contributed to this report.

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