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Trump, in Pennsylvania, attacks judge as first criminal trial looms

Published 04/13/2024, 06:20 AM
Updated 04/15/2024, 06:02 AM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Combination picture showing former U.S. President Donald Trump attending the Trump Organization civil fraud trial, in New York State Supreme Court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., November 6, 2023 and U.S. President Joe Biden p
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By Jarrett Renshaw and Gram Slattery

SCHNECKSVILLE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) -Donald Trump again slammed the judge overseeing his first criminal trial during a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday, comments that portend a rough-and-tumble several weeks ahead as the former president gears up for court.

Trump is expected to be in Manhattan on Monday for the beginning of the trial, a case involving hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels.

The former president has frequently attacked Justice Juan Merchan and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in the past, accusing both men of exhibiting political bias against him.

Merchan in late March issued a gag order preventing Trump from making public statements about witnesses concerning their potential testimony and about prosecutors, court staff and their family members, if those statements are meant to interfere with the case.

On April 1, Merchan extended that gag order to include members of his own family, after the former president disparaged his daughter, who runs a digital marketing agency that works with Democratic candidates and nonprofits. The order excluded Merchan himself.

"I have a crooked judge. This has never happened before, you do know that, right?" Trump told supporters on Saturday night in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Allentown.

"Fully gagged before a highly conflicted and corrupt judge, who suffers from TDS. Does anyone know what TDS is? Correct. Trump Derangement Syndrome."

During the speech, Trump briefly referenced Iran's recent drone and missile attack on Israel, saying that it would have never happened under his watch.

"They're under attack right now," Trump said. "That's, that's because we show great weakness. This would not happen, the weakness that we've shown, it's unbelievable, and it would not have happened if we were in office."

Trump's visit to Pennsylvania, which also included a fundraiser, will be closely followed by President Joe Biden, who will make three stops in the battleground state next week, speaking first in his hometown of Scranton about his push to reform the U.S. tax code.

With 19 electoral votes - one of the highest counts among all 50 states - and voters that swing between backing Democrats like Biden and Republicans like Trump, Pennsylvania is a top prize in the 2024 presidential election and is likely to see many more visits in coming months.

Biden won Pennsylvania in 2020 by less than 1.5%, or roughly 80,000 votes, after Trump beat Hillary Clinton there by less than 45,000 votes in 2016. State opinion polls taken in March swing from showing Biden with a 10-percentage-point lead to Trump up 4 points, election data site FiveThirtyEight shows.

Democrats are betting on a strong turnout in Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs, a region that accounts for 33% of all voting registrations, to offset losses throughout much of the rest of the state. Trump and Republicans are looking to run up huge margins in less populous, largely white counties to offset urban votes.

Biden, who has been to Pennsylvania four times so far this year, will also travel to the Pittsburgh area and Philadelphia over three days, the White House said on Friday.

Trump's Saturday rally at Schnecksville Fire Hall targeted the Lehigh Valley, a mix of Rust Belt cities, sprawling suburbs and rural towns. It includes Northampton County, one of two counties Biden flipped in 2020, which has long been a reliable bellwether of statewide success. 

"If you win Northampton County, you are likely to win the state. It's that important of a location," Chris Borick, a political science professor at Pennsylvania's Muhlenberg University, said of Trump's rally.

The former president attended a fundraiser before his rally in Bucks County, another bellwether region that Biden narrowly won in 2020. The event was hosted by Jim Worthington, a wealthy gym owner who has pressured Trump to stop criticizing mail-in voting.

TRUMP ENDORSES MCCORMICK

Pennsylvania is a sprawling, politically complex place where voters historically have often elevated consensus-minded statewide candidates, a history that could affect the closely watched U.S. Senate race.

Incumbent Bob Casey, a Democrat, will battle Republican Dave McCormick (NYSE:MKC), a wealthy former hedge fund executive, one of just a handful of races in 2024 that will decide who controls the Senate.

During his rally on Saturday night, Trump offered his endorsement to McCormick, even though the two men have had a complex relationship at times in the past.

"He's given up a lot to do this, and I'll tell you what, he's the nominee of the Republican Party," Trump said.

Population shifts could affect the races here. Pennsylvania's population topped 13 million in 2021, but has declined in the two ensuing years, finishing at 12.96 million people last year. Declines since 2020 have come from counties that Biden won, according to an analysis by Franklin & Marshall College.

Democrats continue to lose their voting registration advantage in the state as they face defections from rural and blue-collar voters, who are joining Republicans or registering as unaffiliated, according to state voter data. 

© Reuters. Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 13, 2024. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

In 2020, Democrats held a roughly 700,000-voter registration advantage, but that has narrowed to 400,000 this year as Democratic voters switched to unaffiliated. 

The defections are due to voters who supported Republican candidates but never bothered to change their party status until now, some political analysts believe.

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