Trump’s rally on Biden’s home turf in Pennsylvania will be the last one before his hush money trial

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s rally set for Saturday night in northeast Pennsylvania, an area President Joe Biden considers home turf, will be the Republican’s last one before his criminal hush money trial begins Monday.

The presumptive GOP nominee and former president is scheduled to speak at the Schnecksville Fire Hall in Lehigh County. It will be Trump’s third visit this year to the vital swing state, one that could decide who wins this year’s presidential race. He also plans to attend a fundraiser in nearby Bucks County before the event.

Pennsylvania is a critical battleground in the rematch between Trump and Biden, with both candidates expected to visit the state frequently through November. Trump flipped the state to the Republican column in 2016 but lost it four years after to Biden, who was born in the northeast city of Scranton and has long talked about his roots in the city. Biden plans to deliver a major address Tuesday in Scranton on tax fairness.

Trump is navigating four separate criminal prosecutions while running to avenge his loss to Biden, creating an unprecedented swirl of legal and political chaos.

Jury selection starts Monday in New York in his trial where he is charged with seeking during his 2016 campaign to bury stories about extramarital affairs by arranging hush money payments.

It will be the first criminal trial ever of a former U.S. president. And it will limit Trump’s availability on the campaign trail, though he is expected to speak to the media after court often and has for months fundraised and campaigned on the felony charges he faces, arguing political opponents are pursuing them to stop him from winning the White House again.

Biden has argued Trump’s lies about losing the 2020 election are dangerous for the country. He has said Trump poses a fundamental threat to democracy and U.S. alliances abroad — rhetoric that Trump has argued applies to Biden.

In recent weeks, both candidates have tried to stir up their voting bases and tear apart their opponent’s coalitions, a strategy that will be tested over the coming months.

Trump recently said that any Democratic-leaning voters who support Israel should back him instead, as Biden has criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s actions in his war against Hamas. The Republican said Wednesday that “any Jewish person who votes for a Democrat or votes for Biden should have their head examined.”

He also has new ammunition to criticize Biden’s handling of the economy, as the government said Wednesday that inflation jumped 0.4% in March to 3.5% annually.

But Biden has also put Trump on the defensive over the issue of abortion, a key weakness for the GOP as many voters have opposed new restrictions that some states have placed on the procedure after justices that Trump appointed to the Supreme Court helped overturn Roe v Wade in 2022.

Trump tried to defuse the controversy and appease women voters by saying the matter should be settled by the states, instead of the federal government.

But that argument became problematic this past week as Arizona’s top court ruled that the state could enforce an 1864 law criminalizing abortion, prompting Trump on Wednesday to suggest the 19th century law was too restrictive for his taste.

Trump has instead tried to make immigration the central issue of the campaign. The Republican has sought to portray Biden as feckless on border security, given the record-high numbers of individuals who have crossed the southern border illegally during his administration. He also attacked the president for not doing more to ramp up oil drilling, even though domestic production is at an all-time high.

The area around Lehigh County has enjoyed job growth under Biden. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said it contains 445,200 jobs, up from a prepandemic total of 429,900 jobs during the Trump administration.

The area’s unemployment rate is a healthy 3.9%, meaningfully better than the 4.6% achieved before the coronavirus pandemic struck during Trump’s presidency.

Still, the Democrat has not been able to convince people that he has successfully shepherded the economy. Only 37% of U.S. adults approve of his economic leadership, according to a March poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs.

And inflation has persistently dogged Biden’s reputation. Higher costs for shelter, gasoline, auto insurance and other factors pushed up annual inflation in March, as the annual rate has increased since January. The increase to 3.5% reversed the decline seen over the past year in inflation, which in 2022 reached a four-decade peak.

Biden said he still expects the inflation rate to fall and the Federal Reserve to respond by cutting its benchmark interest rates.

“We have a plan to deal with it, whereas the opposition — my opposition — talks about two things,” he said Wednesday. “They just want to cut taxes for the wealthy and raise taxes on other people.”

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