President Donald Trump took the fight to Joe Biden’s old backyard and insisted his Democratic rival would be the state’s “worst nightmare” if elected president.
In a particularly in-your-face bit of campaign trolling, Mr Trump staged a small rally just outside the former vice president’s birthplace in Scranton, Pennsylvania mere hours before Mr Biden was to formally accept the Democratic presidential nomination.
The campaign framed Mr Trump’s speech as a review of “a half-century of Joe Biden failing America”, and the location pointed to the importance of Pennsylvania as a battleground state.
“Joe Biden is no friend of Pennsylvania — he is your worst nightmare,” Mr Trump declared.
Mr Trump sought to diminish Mr Biden’s ties to Scranton.
The former vice president often spotlights his early years in the northeast Pennsylvania city as evidence of his middle-class upbringing.
MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!pic.twitter.com/ZcvCqqitui
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 20, 2020
Mr Biden was born in Scranton but his family moved to Delaware when he 10.
His father, Joe Senior, was once a sales manager at a car dealership in Scranton, but quit when he thought the owner was trying to humiliate employees during a Christmas party.
The family eventually moved to Delaware, where Joe Sr found work.
Mr Biden’s speech will come hours later from his Delaware hometown and, as the culmination of the four-day convention, will surely dominate headlines and cable news.
But Mr Trump has offered a robust slate of competing activity, holding multiple in-person events this week meant to draw a contrast with the largely virtual campaign Mr Biden has conducted during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Trump visited two other battlegrounds, Wisconsin and Arizona, as well as Minnesota, one of the few blue states from 2016 that Mr Trump’s team feels like he may have a chance to flip this autumn.
But his campaign has been warily watching his standing falter in the trio of Rust Belt states that carried him to the presidency in 2016.
Mr Trump is planning more convention counterprogramming with an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News Channel show just before Mr Biden is to deliver his acceptance speech.
The so-called Blue Wall of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, meant to provide Electoral College insurance for Hillary Clinton, instead all broke for Mr Trump by slim margins in 2016.
He captured Pennsylvania by a mere 44,000 votes four years ago and has since clashed with the state’s Democratic governor over efforts to reopen its economy.
When I first launched my campaign, I said we’re in a battle for the soul of this nation.
As I accept the nomination tonight, it’s clear what’s at stake in the next 75 days.
We can and will win. Join us in the fight: https://t.co/vegxIzIAkN
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 20, 2020
Many in the Trump campaign have all but written off Michigan, a state battered by the virus, and whose governor has repeatedly fought with the president.
But advisers believe Pennsylvania, like Wisconsin, remains in play and could be captured again if the economy continues to rebound.
Mr Trump returned to northeastern Pennsylvania, where he did unexpectedly well in 2016, winning Luzerne County and nearly winning in Lackawanna County, both of which have a solid registration advantage for Democrats.
They bear the hallmarks of Trump country: They are whiter, with lower median incomes and fewer people with college degrees, than the rest of Pennsylvania.
The number of Republican registrations in Pennsylvania has outpaced Democrats this cycle and many political observers believe the state, which has many white, older voters, could become stronger for Republicans.
But Mr Trump has stubbornly trailed Mr Biden, whose team aims to return Pennsylvania to the blue column, where it had been from 1992 until 2016.
To that end, Mr Trump is seeking to portray Mr Biden as out of touch with more moderate and conservative parts of the state, making the argument that Mr Biden is a “puppet of the radical left”.
Mr Trump said he wass best suited to return the country back to its pre-pandemic status, when unemployment stood at the lowest rates since the early 1960s and the economy was experiencing moderate growth.
He said a Biden win in November would usher in economic pain for Americans and more chaos in US cities that have endured sometimes violent protests in recent months over police brutality and racial injustice.
“If you want a vision of your life under a Joe Biden presidency, imagine the smouldering ruins of Minneapolis, the violent anarchy of Portland and the bloodstained sidewalks of Chicago coming to every city and town in America,” Mr Trump said.
The outdoor rally drew a few hundred supporters.
Many, but not all, wore masks and seats were lined up closer than sixfeet apart, the space recommended by public health experts to reduce the chance of transmission of the coronavirus.
The former vice president is particularly suited in the Democratic field to carry Pennsylvania, with his deep ties to Scranton and messages catering to white working-class voters and black voters in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Scranton is in Lackawanna County, which went for Mrs Clinton in 2016, and Mr Biden’s team hopes to increase turnout there.
The Biden campaign dismissed Mr Trump’s visit as a lame campaign gambit.
“This sideshow is a pathetic attempt to distract from the fact that Trump’s presidency stands for nothing but crises, lies and division,” said Biden spokesman Andrew Bates.