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Biden and Trump underscore the political importance of Pennsylvania

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Campaign planes have practically lined up in Pennsylvania this week. President Biden was in Philadelphia Thursday night. He gave a primetime address denouncing MAGA Republicans as a danger to democracy. He also visited Wilkes-Barre earlier in the week. He'll be in Pittsburgh on Labor Day while Donald Trump is in Wilkes-Barre tonight, hosting a rally for candidates that he's endorsed. I'm going to turn now to Katie Meyer, political reporter of WHYY in Philadelphia. Katie, thanks for being with us.

KATIE MEYER, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Well, so glad you're there at ground zero. Why all of this Pennsylvania travel for both Biden and Trump?

MEYER: Well, you know, this is a state with two very big open races. So Pat Toomey, U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, is stepping down, so his seat's wide open. We've got Democrat John Fetterman, who's lieutenant governor right now, and Mehmet Oz, the celebrity TV doctor you may have heard of. And then, over for the governor's race, we've got Josh Shapiro, who's the attorney general with a long history in state politics, and Doug Mastriano, who is a state senator with some pretty fringe opinions, I would say.

SIMON: In your reporting, do you find that Pennsylvanians seem to be most concerned about a couple of issues?

MEYER: Yeah. And some of them are being seen across the country in lots of races, things like the economy, prices. Crime's a big one. In the Senate race, especially, Oz has tried to criticize Fetterman for having two formerly incarcerated men on his campaign. Fetterman, as lieutenant governor, has really pushed hard for pardons for people who have questionable convictions or nonviolent convictions that have kept them in prison for a long time.

But I would say one of the big overarching themes, especially in the race for governor, has been, you know, Republicans' commitment, I would say, to these debunked theories that there was widespread fraud in the 2020 election. And Doug Mastriano, the GOP nominee for that race, he was at the Jan. 6th insurrection in Washington, D.C. He has been pretty firm in his belief in some sort of widespread election fraud, and he has some really fringe figures involved in his campaign. So Josh Shapiro, his Democratic opponent, has really, really stressed that on the campaign trail.

SIMON: Has abortion become a more urgent issue following the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade?

MEYER: It has. Pennsylvania's one of those states where it doesn't have a trigger law that would make abortion immediately illegal, but it does have a Republican-controlled legislature that's proven itself to be very willing to restrict abortion. So it's been a really vital issue. Doug Mastriano supports a total ban on abortion under all circumstances, and it's been a vital issue especially in the Philadelphia suburbs. These are really politically powerful, populous areas with some swing voters. And some voters, even Trump supporting voters I talked to like Stacey Naulty - she voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020. But she says she thinks Mastriano just might be too conservative, and abortion's a big reason why.

STACEY NAULTY: He will take it to the extreme and completely shut abortion down altogether. And that's not an answer. People, you know, rape little children, and you're going to have her, you know, have a baby, you know, out of that situation? No. It's not OK.

MEYER: Now, Mastriano has tried to shift a little bit on abortion, saying it's really up to the legislature, but he hasn't totally walked back those claims. He's just de-emphasized them.

SIMON: Katie, the president will be in Pennsylvania three times in a week. Does that indicate that Democrats see rising prospects there?

MEYER: It does, I think. If we look at big political trends, this looks like a bad year for Democrats. It's usually tough for any party who has the presidency in the first midterm after that president is elected. And in Pennsylvania, especially in the governor's race, we're coming off of eight years of a Democratic governor. And historically, we then flip to the other party for the governorship. This has happened since the '60s. So this would be an aberration if Josh Shapiro, the Democrat, wins. I'll say, though - I mean, candidates matter. And these two candidates, Dr. Oz and Doug Mastriano, are seen as tough ones, not the most regular, appealing types of Republican candidates in Pennsylvania. So it's a wild card, this race.

SIMON: Katie Meyer of WHYY in Philadelphia, thanks so much.

MEYER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Katie Meyer | WHYY