US President Joe Biden has told voters in Pennsylvania that next week’s midterm election will be a “defining moment” for the country’s democracy, as his predecessor and rival Donald Trump called for a “giant red” Republican wave to defeat the Democrats.
The biggest names in politics in the United States, including Democrats Biden and former President Barack Obama, as well as Trump, a Republican, were in Pennsylvania on Saturday hoping to tip the balance in a pivotal midterm Senate race between Democratic Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman and Republican celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz.
Polls put Republicans in a dead heat with Democrats for the Senate and also show them well ahead in the fight for the House of Representatives as voters, already riled up by culture wars around gay rights and abortion, seek to take out frustration over four-decades-high inflation and violent crimes.
“Folks, three days, three days until one of the most important elections in our lifetime. The outcome is going to shape our country for decades to come, and the power to shape that outcome is in your hands,” Biden told thousands of supporters in the city of Philadelphia.
“It’s a choice. A choice between two vastly different visions of America.”
Trump, who sources say is preparing to launch a third consecutive run for the White House after the midterms, continues to falsely claim that his 2020 defeat by Biden was the result of widespread fraud. Multiple courts, state agencies, and members of his own administration have rejected that claim as untrue.
Still, opinion polls show a significant number of Republican voters accept the claim, as do many candidates for Congress, governor and state offices overseeing election administration.
Biden, citing the Republicans’ growing support for conspiracy theories, said democracy was “literally on the ballot”.
“This is a defining moment for the nation and we all, we all must speak with one voice,” he added.
Obama, who had also addressed an earlier rally in Pittsburgh, got the loudest cheers of the night, repeatedly urging supporters to make sure they vote.
“A lot of folks don’t pay a ton of attention to politics the way they do in a presidential year. Maybe they don’t think Congress matters as much. Maybe they don’t think their vote will matter,” he said.
But “fundamental rights … reason and decency are on the ballot,” he said, attacking Republicans as increasingly averse to everything from science to respect for rules.
“Democracy itself is on the ballot. The stakes are high,” Obama said in an echo of Biden’s warning, his voice going hoarse.
The attention on Pennsylvania underscores the stakes in 2022 — and beyond — for the tightly-contested state. The Oz-Fetterman race could decide the Senate majority and, with it, Biden’s agenda and judicial appointments for the next two years.
Fetterman held a commanding lead in the race throughout the US summer, which Oz has whittled away in the last two months.
Some factors are likely local: A stroke in May forced Fetterman to scale back his campaign schedule and has affected his speech. At a debate last month, he often stumbled over his words, in a performance even allies privately described as shaky.
But Oz’s gains also reflect a nationwide momentum shift in favour of Republicans, as voters’ focus on inflation and crime has proven more durable than concerns about abortion. Democrats’ early leads in several other Senate races, including key contests in Georgia and Nevada, have also shrunk or evaporated completely in recent weeks.
Also playing against Democrats is Biden’s unpopularity. Only 40 percent of Americans approve of the president’s job performance, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll completed on Tuesday. This has led Biden to hold back from campaigning in some key states.
Pennsylvania is also holding a governor’s contest, which will determine the direction of state policy and control of the state’s election infrastructure heading into the 2024 presidential contest.
Democrat Josh Shapiro, the state attorney general, leads in polls over Doug Mastriano, a Republican state senator and retired Army colonel who some in his party believe is too extreme to win a general election in a state Biden narrowly carried two years ago.
As Biden and Obama ended their rally in Philadelphia, Trump was in the city of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, drumming up support for both Oz, his handpicked Republican Senate nominee, and Mastriano.
Success for the two Republican candidates on Tuesday would help Trump launch his own comeback campaign. That could set the stage for a Biden-Trump rematch, though some Democrats say heavy losses for their party could increase pressure on the incumbent president to step aside and let someone else carry the party’s mantle in 2024.
Speaking to thousands of supporters, Trump decried what he called “a bloody crime wave” and warned that educators were indoctrinating children with “twisted race and gender” teachings. Of his Democratic opponents, Trump said, “They’re either stupid or they hate our country.”
And over and over, he falsely claimed Democrats cheated in the 2020 election and warned of the possibility of election fraud this coming week.
“Our country’s never been as bad as it now,” Trump said. “We have a country in decline.”
He added: “If you want to stop the destruction of our country and save the ‘American Dream,’ then this Tuesday you must vote Republican in a giant red wave.”