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Trump brings 2024 campaign to the Jersey Shore

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate former U.S. President Donald Trump hold up signs as they wait for the start of a campaign rally on Wildwood Beach on May 11, 2024 in Wildwood, New Jersey. (Credit: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

John Cole, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
May 11, 2024

WILDWOOD, NJ — The Garden State is not often in the national spotlight for a presidential election, but former President Donald Trump brought his campaign here on Saturday, holding a rally on a South Jersey beach not far from Pennsylvania.

“As you can see, today, we’re expanding the electoral maps because we are going to officially play in the state of New Jersey. We’re going to win the state of New Jersey,” Trump told the crowd, standing on a stage before a backdrop of carnival rides. “Millions of people in so-called blue states are joining our movement based on love, intelligence and a thing called common sense.”

Trump began Saturday’s rally more than an hour after his scheduled 5 p.m. start time, and spoke for about 90 minutes. During his remarks, he touched on familiar topics, like his hush-money trial in New York, where this week adult film star Stormy Daniels testified about an alleged sexual encounter, which Trump has denied.  He also repeated unfounded claims that the 2020 election was “rigged.”

Trump made several local references as well; he invited New Jersey GOP U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew on stage, calling him a “star,” and took multiple jabs at former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and current Gov. Phil Murphy. He also said he would “stand up to radical Marxist DAs” like Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s district attorney, who has been the target of significant ire from Pennsylvania’s GOP.

 U.S. Congressman Jeff Van Drew speaks during former President Donald Trump’s campaign rally on the beach in Wildwood, Saturday, May 11, 2024. (Photo by Tim Hawk)

A little over one mile away from Trump’s speech, TalkRadio 1210 WPHT Philadelphia, a conservative talk radio station, hosted a watch party at Mulligan’s Shore Bar and Grill. Rich Zeoli, afternoon host at the station, said that the crowd of about 200 people was evenly split between New Jersey and Pennsylvania residents.

He said Trump’s comments relating to the economy received the most positive response.

“I think when he talked about grocery prices, when he talked about the price of food, I think the economy is still the issue, I really do, more than anything,” Zeoli told the Capital-Star. “It’s going to be the issue that drives everybody.”

He added that Trump’s comments bashing wind turbines also drew a very positive reaction from the crowd, saying it’s an energy-related issue that is relevant to both New Jersey residents and Pennsylvanians who vacation in the area.

Although Trump at times went through his usual stump speech, he made multiple references that he hasn’t at past rallies in the Keystone State:

  • Trump has criticized mail-in voting over the past few years, but urged those in attendance to embrace it, even though he still referred to it as “corrupt.” Trump said “election season” begins on September 16 due to early voting, but added if he wins a second term, he wants to have one day of voting with paper ballots, proof of citizenship, and voter ID.
  • During Trump’s most recent visit in Pennsylvania one month ago, he made no mention of abortion. On Saturday, he thanked the six Supreme Court justices — three of whom he appointed — who ruled on the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. He described abortion as a “very divided issue,” but said the decision to leave it back to the states is the correct decision.
  • Trump has often criticized Biden over his administration’s economic policies, but spent a great deal of time driving home the issue on Saturday. “On day one we will throw out Bidenomics and reinstate MAGAnomics,” he said. Trump also took issue with Biden’s commitment to phasing out the 2017 tax reform legislation that was signed during his administration. Biden has hit Trump over this policy on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania.
  • A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Trump bemoaned what he called “riots” at his alma mater. On Friday morning, Philadelphia police disbanded a two-week long encampment of pro-Palestinian protesters. Although Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro called for the disbandment and said the situation was “out of control,” there were no reports of riots at the university.

With less than six months until the general election, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have made numerous visits to Pennsylvania. Over the past several weeks, Trump has largely been sidelined from campaigning by the trial in New York. 

Saturday was Trump’s first rally in New Jersey in 2024, but he’s campaigned in the state in previous cycles. In January 2020, Trump held a rally in Wildwood’s Convention Center and blasted Democrats for their effort to impeach him.  

Carrying New Jersey is not likely for Trump, according to national outlets like the Cook Political Report which rates the state as “solid Democratic.” New Jersey has not voted for a Republican candidate for president since 1988 and Trump lost the state by double digits both times he was his party’s nominee for president. 

 Former President Donald Trump speaks during his campaign rally on the beach in Wildwood, Saturday, May 11, 2024. Photo by Tim Hawk

However, an Emerson College poll matching Biden and Trump against each other conducted in late March showed Biden only leading Trump by 7 points in New Jersey, while 15% of those polled were undecided. Biden led Trump by 5 points when that poll included third party candidates like Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Jill Stein, and Cornel West. It remains to be seen which third-party candidates will make the ballot in New Jersey. 

Even if New Jersey is not on the radar of most pundits for the election, Wildwood is a popular destination for vacationers in the Philadelphia region and Trump’s rally will attract those from the crucial Keystone State and media coverage from the market. 

Zeoli told the Capital-Star that he thinks it was a strategic move to hold the rally at the Jersey shore in order to include multiple media markets. He added the location may also have been a way for Trump to thank Van Drew, who switched parties during the previous election cycle and backed Trump’s candidacy.

Trump’s most recent appearance in Pennsylvania was on April 13 when he attended a fundraiser in Bucks County and held a rally in purple Lehigh Valley. He’s visited Pennsylvania three times in 2024, including a surprise Philadelphia appearance at Sneaker Con in February.

Over the past week, Trump has held interviews with media outlets in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey markets, including a television interview with Harrisburg-based WGAL and radio interviews with TalkRadio 1210 WPHT Philadelphia and New Jersey 101.5.

Trump received some promising numbers this week in Pennsylvania with polling conducted by AARP Pennsylvania and Muhlenberg College showing him with a slight lead over Biden, while U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) holds his advantage over Republican challenger David McCormick. 

Biden has visited Pennsylvania three times since Trump’s most recent appearance in the state, with campaign events in PhiladelphiaPittsburgh, and Scranton, bringing the president’s total number of 2024 trips to the Keystone State to seven.

On Wednesday, Harris held a campaign event in the Philadelphia suburbs where she was joined by actress and singer Sheryl Lee Ralph to discuss abortion and reproductive rights. 

As of late April, Biden’s campaign has opened 24 coordinated campaign offices across Pennsylvania, including in red areas like York and Lancaster. Trump doesn’t appear to have any Pennsylvania campaign offices open yet, although his campaign leadership has recently said it prefers to run a “leaner” operation than in past campaigns.

Ahead of Trump’s Saturday visit, the Biden campaign held a call with reporters Friday, featuring New Jersey Democratic Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill. She blasted Trump’s business record in New Jersey

“I suspect that when Trump holds that rally in Wildwood, you will see a lot of people coming from outside our state because here inside our state, we know that Trump filed for bankruptcy five times,” Sherrill said. “That he really undermined the economic viability of Atlantic City, that he didn’t pay workers, he didn’t pay contractors, he had small businesses going out of business because of his failed promises.”

And if there was any doubt the audience was largely from Philadelphia and its surrounding counties, it was most notable when Trump welcomed former New York Giants Lawrence Taylor and Ottis Anderson at the rally. Multiple “E-A-G-L-E-S” Eagles chants broke out in the crowd while the former players were onstage.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.