HERSHEY, Pa. — Donald Trump Jr. had a pretty simple message for the Republican faithful who filled a hotel ballroom here on the final night of summer 2018.
“We need to get the MAGA [Make America Great Again] voter out,” the younger Trump told Pennsylvania Republicans during their fall dinner at the Hershey Lodge. “They have to realize what’s at stake. They have to get engaged in a way that they were not in 2016. If they recognize that Donald Trump is on the ticket this November, they will win. We have to get that message out.”
The GOP foot soldiers in the audience ate up. But will it be enough?
The younger Trump’s visit to the state his father carried in 2016 comes at a precarious time for Pennsylvania Republicans. Democrats, aided by a massive influx of cash from outside and independent expenditure groups, are looking to win back the state - and Democratic voters - who defected to Trump.
Trump Jr., who was joined Friday by his girlfriend, the former Fox News anchor Kimberly Guilfoyle, was here to make sure Pennsylvania remains a Trump state.
“Pennsylvania means a lot to me,” he said. “I spent a really good portion of my formative years in Pennsylvania,” where he picked up a love for hunting and fishing.
Trump’s dinner hour appearance in Hershey was part of a broader campaign swing through key states he’s making this midterm season.
Trump Jr. spent the lion’s share of his brief remarks punching up his father’s achievements, which included, on the domestic front, tax cuts and low unemployment, and, on the foreign side, engagement with North Korea.
Predictably, he also pummeled Democrats, saying their only agenda was impeachment.
“For what? Bringing manufacturing into this country? You’re going to impeach him for that? I say it’s hate and BS. That’s not really a platform,” he said, adding that, “if Donald Trump came out today and said ‘I am favor of oxygen,’ the Democratic Party would come out and say they are vehemently against it.”
At the same time that Trump Jr. was making his pitch to Republicans, former President Barack Obama was in Philadelphia to rally and fundraise on behalf of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.
Despite Trump the younger’s optimistic predictions, Pennsylvania Republicans face significant headwinds this fall.
At the top of the ticket, Wolf holds a double-digit leader over GOP opponent Scott Wagner, a former state senator. Casey, who’s seeking a third term on Capitol Hill, holds a similar advantage over his GOP opponent, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta.
“I’m feeling good,” Barletta said, repeated a now-familiar claim that the laconic Casey had been keeping a low profile. “I’ve been out there talking to people across the Commonwealth. They haven’t seen Casey.”
Republicans hold a 51-49 advantage in the Senate. And what had appeared to be a narrow path to the majority for the Democrats has opened some in recent days with the controversy surrounding U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Barletta said that the 36-year-old sexual assault allegations lodged against Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford, “deserved to be heard,” but, like other Republicans, he questioned the timing of the charges that now threaten to derail Kavanaugh’s nomination.
On the other side of Capitol Hill, a redrawn congressional map, imposed by the state Supreme Court, has similarly shored up the electoral chances of Democrats. Democrats need to capture 23 seats to retake control of the U.S. House in November. Pennsylvania could hold the keys to as many as a quarter of those seats.
All 203 seats in the state House are up for re-election this year, as is half the 50-member state Senate. Republicans hold significant majorities in both chambers.
Still. as many as 10 House seats, primarily in the Philadelphia suburbs, are in play. The same holds true for the Senate, where a half-dozen seats in the collar counties, as well as one in the Pittsburgh suburbs, are in the crosshairs.
Pennsylvania state Rep. Jerry Knowles said rank-and-file Republicans had yet to huddle about the looming election. Nor had leaders given them any message to deliver on the stump, the northeastern lawmaker said.
“Everybody knows what the message is,” he said
With just 45 days until Election Day, the larger question is whether voters in this battleground state will buy it.
An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.