Trump spends last Saturday before debate meeting with Christian voters and courting Pennsylvanians

Former President Donald Trump, in keeping with his preference for shunning traditional debate prep, spent his last Saturday before his first one-on-one showdown with President Joe Biden on the campaign trail.

Trump addressed a gathering of Christian conservatives Saturday afternoon in Washington, DC, touching upon his familiar campaign messages while emphasizing his efforts to undo the federal right to an abortion by nominating the justices who helped overturn Roe v. Wade. Later Saturday, he traveled to Philadelphia for a more traditional campaign rally in a key battleground state.

The back-to-back public appearances stand in stark contrast to Biden’s approach to the first of two presidential debates, hosted by CNN on Thursday. The president and his team are spending the weekend before the debate at Camp David, poring over briefing binders and holding mock debate sessions as he crams for his high-stakes meeting with Trump.

While Trump has held informal briefing sessions with advisers and allies, he has also kept up an active campaign schedule. He held a rally in Racine, Wisconsin, on Tuesday and attended a fundraiser Thursday night in Ohio.

Trump’s campaign is relishing the juxtaposition of the two candidates’ preparation styles.

“While Joe Biden’s advisors force him to hide away at Camp David for some much-needed rest, President Trump is keeping up with his busy campaign schedule,” Trump spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said.

Speaking to reporters at a Philadelphia sandwich shop Saturday, Trump said, “I look forward to Thursday. I know he’s locked up in a log cabin someplace. You can imagine what he’s doing,” referring to Biden.

Earlier Saturday, the former president attended the annual “Road to Majority” conference hosted by the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a group founded by leading evangelical voice Ralph Reed. Trump has addressed the conference nine times over the years, though his appearance Saturday came as he has tried to distance himself from the strident anti-abortion positions of Christian groups – like Faith & Freedom.

After arguing for a federal abortion ban and leading the charge to overturn Roe v. Wade, Trump now says future fights over access to the procedure should be left to the states. His reversal on abortion comes after Trump blamed the issue for the GOP’s underwhelming midterm performance in 2022 and before his party will vote on its first platform since the fall of Roe at its convention next month.

Reed told CNN he doesn’t believe Trump’s position is at odds with faith voters.

“The president’s position simply reflects the short-term political reality for both sides,” he said. “Neither side has the votes to pass federal legislation that reflects their values and aspirations.”

Reed added: “The long-term political reality is whoever wins that battle at the state level will build the momentum and gain the votes to achieve what they want at the federal level.”

Democrats have campaigned aggressively and spent millions of dollars reminding voters of Trump’s role in eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion. The Biden campaign slammed Trump’s appearance at the Washington event as proof of where he stands on the issue.

“You are the company you keep,” Biden campaign spokeswoman Sarafina Chitika said, “and Donald Trump’s position is clear: he ‘proudly’ worked alongside extremists to overturn Roe, he promised to work ‘side by side’ with a group promising to ‘eradicate’ abortion, and this Saturday, he’ll deliver the keynote address to fellow extremists committed to banning abortion nationwide.”

Trump’s rally in Philadelphia on Saturday evening marked his fourth appearance in Pennsylvania this year as the race for one of the top battlegrounds heats up.

Former President Donald Trump attends a campaign rally at Temple University in Philadelphia on June 22, 2024. - Chris Szagola/AP
Former President Donald Trump attends a campaign rally at Temple University in Philadelphia on June 22, 2024. - Chris Szagola/AP

The Trump campaign has sought to drive a wedge between Biden and his birth state by hammering the president over inflation and crime.

Trump homed in on crime in his remarks Saturday, saying Philadelphia was being “ravaged by bloodshed” and highlighting the attendance of family members of slain Maryland mother Rachel Morin, whose suspected killer authorities say illegally crossed the US-Mexico border last year.

Southeast Pennsylvania has become a hotbed of activity from both presidential campaigns. Trump held a rally in Lehigh Valley in April, and in February, he released a gym shoe at SneakerCon in Philadelphia as part of his outreach to minority communities.

Biden won 92% of Black voters in Pennsylvania four years ago en route to capturing the state – key to his overall victory. But a recent poll from the The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Siena College found his support in the state among Black voters had fallen to 50%.

Ahead of Trump’s Saturday rally, the Democratic National Committee unveiled new ads it said were aimed at highlighting “Trump’s history of failing Black Americans and how he’s left the Black community behind.” The counter-messaging push comes as polls show that Black men are more open to supporting the Republican nominee in this year’s election than they have historically been.

Along with a billboard in Philadelphia, the DNC planned to deploy at the former president’s rally a mobile billboard that highlighted the higher unemployment rates for Black Americans under the Trump administration compared with the Biden administration. The committee planned “pro-Biden kiosks” around Temple University, where Trump’s rally was held, that highlighted the student loan debt relief and increase in public education funding delivered under the Biden administration.

“Donald Trump was a disaster for minority communities – particularly Black Americans. He says he’s not racist, but his record says differently. Over and over again, he has insulted cities with significant Black communities, and during his time in office, jobs disappeared, unemployment more than doubled for Black Americans during the pandemic, and his tax scam widened the racial wealth gap,” DNC spokesperson Abhi Rahman said in a statement.

Trump, meanwhile, pledged at the rally to “work to lift up Black, Hispanic and other communities in Philadelphia and all across the United States.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.

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