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Trump rallies in North Philly as he tries to win over voters in Pennsylvania's bluest city

Anna Orso, Aliya Schneider, Fallon Roth and Jesse Bunch, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Political News

PHILADELPHIA — Former President Donald Trump stood in the heart of North Philadelphia Saturday and described it as a “wild time” in the city, saying violent crime has surged and vowing to send “federal resources” if he’s elected.

In an 85-minute speech that included multiple appeals to Hispanic and Black voters, he slammed his rivals as “despicable,” proposed an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)-style fighting league for migrants, falsely claimed he’d won the city of Philadelphia in past elections, and promised to restore security to the country.

“The people of our country are looking for hope, whether they’re white, brown, Black or anything else. They’re looking for hope,” Trump said. “They’re tired of being called stupid people all over the world.”

Trump’s rally at Temple University’s Liacouras Center was the first time the former president has held one of his signature events in Philadelphia, a city of 1.6 million people wherein registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 7-to-1 margin. Four years ago, the former president received only 5% of the vote in precincts within a half-mile radius of Temple’s campus.

The event put in clear relief the effort the Republican nominee is making to win over voters — especially people of color — in traditionally Democratic strongholds. He recently rallied in Las Vegas and the South Bronx, New York. At the rally Saturday, the Trump campaign’s second in Philly this month, signs read: “Philadelphia is Trump country.”

“I was like, Philly? Is he sure?” said Tom Mathena, 47, a Trump supporter and construction worker from Wilmington, Delaware. “It was a bold move.”

Trump has something of a complicated relationship with the city, where officials four years ago released a tally of votes that effectively clinched the White House for President Joe Biden.

Some Philadelphians remain miffed that Trump canceled the Eagles’ visit to the White House after the 2018 Super Bowl, and others recall that he famously said during a debate:“Bad things happen in Philadelphia.” And his campaign’s off-the-rails news conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping in 2020 is an enduring punchline.

None of that was evident among his supporters, who lined up along Tony & Luke’s in South Philly Saturday, waving flags as Trump stopped for a cheesesteak on the way to his rally.

Miles north, thousands more poured into the arena after waiting outside in temperatures that threatened to hit 100 degrees. They wore red T-shirts that said “no more bullsh—” and held signs with the former president’s mugshot reading “never surrender.”

The Liacouras Center, which can hold about 10,000, did not open the upper level to attendees — just the lower bowl and roughly 10 rows of floor seats at the arena were full. The crowd was overwhelmingly white, but a higher concentration of Black supporters were seated in the section behind where Trump stood, making those supporters visible on the televised live stream.

“It’s President Trump who says ‘I’m going to open up opportunities for everybody, not just one, but for everybody,’” said James Earl Jones, a Black Philadelphia business owner who spoke during the rally. “And that’s what we need.”

Biden is still expected to win Philadelphia handily. But even a small shift in votes could hand Trump Pennsylvania, a key battleground where he and Biden are polling neck-and-neck and a state that could tilt the presidency.

“We win Pennsylvania,” Trump said, “we win the presidency.”

During a separate news conference Saturday, Biden campaign surrogates predicted that Philadelphians won’t support Trump in meaningful numbers.

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, a Democrat whose district includes Temple, recalled that Trump fueled the “birtherism” movement questioning former President Barack Obama’s birthplace. He said Trump then “spent his entire presidency trying to undermine not only (Obama’s) legacy, but undermine the security that Black working families depended on.”

“This is about Donald Trump thumbing his nose at Black and brown communities and about him believing that Black people are somehow dumb,” Kenyatta said, “like we don’t remember his record.”

The rally came just days before the first presidential debate of the campaign on Thursday. And it was Trump’s first major event in Pennsylvania since he was found guilty last month of 34 counts of falsifying business records, becoming the first ex-president and major party presidential nominee to be convicted of a felony.

Trump called the trial in New York City a “sham,” and people who attended the rally said they were unfazed.

“That was just a way to try and take away from his character,” said Carla Richardson, 31, a mental health professional from Southwest Philadelphia. “And that was supposed to be a move to make you look bad and might make you look like a felon.”

 

Much of Trump’s speech focused on issues he’s emphasized on the campaign trail, namely inflation and immigration. He described recent crimes allegedly committed by migrants in graphic detail, and he vowed to begin the “largest domestic deportation operation in American history.”

“Joe Biden’s wave of bedlam and death and terror will begin to recede the moment I take the oath of office,” Trump said.

Matthew Contreras, a Trump support from New York, said immigration is a key reason he supports the former president.

“Illegal immigrants are a problem for us citizens, we need to secure the border and support legal immigration,” he said. He added: “(Trump) offers Latinos the chance to be whoever they want.”

Trump also blasted his rivals. He repeatedly called into question Biden’s mental fitness, he described U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., as “a stiff,” and slammed progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner as “a despicable Marxist.”

“Krasner has the blood of countless men, women, and children on his hands,” Trump said, “including thousands of African American citizens, because he refuses to prosecute people.”

In response, Krasner said, as if speaking to, Trump: " When did you start caring about Black and brown lives?”

“He should come and have a robust debate with me on this topic,” Krasner added, “instead of his usual cowardly drive-by where he hollers words he doesn’t even understand.”

Trump’s supporters said they were unbothered by the nominee’s broadsides.

“Everybody knows he’s not polished,” said Kristopher Liu, a Philly native who lives in Texas. “That’s how he is. That’s how he talks. But look what he’s done for the country.”

Debbie Segrest, of Cherry Hill, was buzzing as she left the Liacouras Center clad in red, white, and blue. She rarely misses a local Trump rally.

”He never disappoints,” Segrest said. But while she was enamored with Trump’s remarks, Segrest said his choice to hold an event in Philadelphia brought a different energy than a recent rally in Wildwood, New Jersey.

”It wasn’t as big,” she said. “In Wildwood, it was down the streets. Flags, everything.”

Outside the arena, where dozens of Biden supporters taunted the crowd with chants of “lock him up,” tensions didn’t escalate much, save for a few choice words and some flying fingers. Philadelphia police officers used metal barricades to separate crowds of protesters from Trump supporters.

Phillip Jefferson, a Philadelphia native and a city employee, said the former president is “desperate.”

”He knows Philadelphia is the key to Pennsylvania,” Jefferson said. He added that the former president is clearly trying to court Black voters like him, but that prospect has left him perplexed. “From what I’ve seen, none of his agenda is favorable for people of color.”

Cosmo Gamble, another protester, added: ”This is a Democratic city. He does not belong here.”

(Inquirer staff writers Rob Tornoe, Aseem Shukla, Michelle Myers, and Hannah Nguyen contributed to this article.)


©2024 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC. Visit at inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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