WILKES-BARRE TWP. — It was more of a Trump for President in 2020 event than a campaign rally for U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, but the former Hazleton mayor made good use of his four minutes on the podium Thursday night before 10,000-plus at Mohegan Sun Arena.
With President Donald Trump in town to jump-start Barletta’s campaign for the U.S. Senate, Trump was welcomed back to Luzerne County, the place where many feel the 2016 presidential election turned in his favor.
And the president was greeted by a packed house of supporters who traveled short and long distances to see and hear the man they backed two years ago when he defeated the pre-election favorite, Democrat Hillary Clinton, to earn the key to the White House.
Barletta, 62, of Hazleton, is running against two-term Democratic incumbent, Bob Casey, 58, of Scranton.
“It was a special night,” Barletta said after the rally. “It was an amazing crowd and it was broadcast live around the country. Having the president here in my home area will definitely help my campaign.”
Barletta and his wife, Mary Grace, greeted Trump at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport and rode with the president to the arena.
“We talked a lot about the issues and the campaign,” Barletta said. “We really get along good. This was the jump-start I wanted for my campaign.”
Barletta said he will now get ready to embark on his campaign bus tour — “The Red, White and Lou Tour” — with his faithful companion, his dog Reilly.
“Reilly is ready to hit the campaign trail,” Barletta said.
When Trump was announced, the crowd went wild, shouting “USA, USA, USA.” He thanked the crowd for supporting him in 2016.
“It’s great to be back in the state that gave us America’s independence,” Trump said.
The president went on to extol his accomplishments in his first year-and-a-half in office — a soaring economy, increased jobs, low unemployment, protecting the Constitution, crushing terrorists, taking care of all veterans, making the military stronger, returning our forgotten men and women home to American soil and lowering taxes.
“We are respected again,” Trump said.
He talked about “that glorious night in November 2016,” when he won the presidential election. He said he was disappointed that Pennsylvania wasn’t the state that put him over the top in electoral votes.
“We were way up in Pennsylvania,” Trump said. “I mean way up. And there was only 2 percent of the vote left to be counted. If I didn’t get another vote I still would have won the state easily. But Fake News refused to call it. Instead, they went to Wisconsin and Michigan to report I went over 270 electoral votes. But they all said I could never get to 270 — but I did get to 306.”
That drew a loud response from the crowd and a chant of “CNN sucks.”
“Next time,” he said about Pennsylvania giving him the nod. “The media were suffering that night.”
‘Worse than obstructionist’
It was one of several attacks Trump leveled at the press. In addition to most local media covering the event, the national media that travels with the president were in the house as well. Trump told several stories where he felt the media did not give him the credit he deserved for accomplishments with countries like Russia and North Korea, and in Europe.
Then, Trump got to the business at hand — endorsing Barletta for U.S. Senate.
“I’ve been in Washington a year-and-a-half and I’ve never met Bob Casey,” Trump said. “Maybe I shook his hand, but I don’t remember.”
Trump said Casey’s father, former Gov. Robert Casey, was “a good man,” but this Casey is a different person.
“Bob Casey is worse than an obstructionist,” Trump said. “He will do only what his bosses — Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Maxine Walters — tell him to do. Tonight we are here to support a man who really is a star.”
Trump called Barletta to the stage and went on to tell why he should be the next senator from Pennsylvania.
Barletta spoke for four minutes, telling all why he should win in November.
“I never thought I would ever become a mayor or a congressman,” Barletta said. “And I really never dreamed that the president of the United States would come to my home area to campaign for me for the U.S. Senate.”
Barletta then ticked off all the issues that show why he and the Republican Party are the best option for voters. He said the stock market is at record highs, unemployment is down, there are more jobs than people unemployed and “The Wall” is being built.
“Bob Casey is one of the most liberal senators in Washington,” Barletta said. “He even said no to (U.S. Supreme Court nominee) Neil Gorsuch before he even knew who was being nominated by President Trump.”
‘Lou is a legend’
Barletta said he will work to keep the economy going, to protect law enforcement and first responders, to strengthen the military, to protect our borders and to fight illegal immigration.
“And we will always take a knee to pray, but never to show disrespect for our flag,” Barletta said. “Help me help President Trump to continue to drain the swamp.”
When Barletta finished, Trump returned to the podium and praised Barletta.
“I know Lou well,” Trump said. “I wanted him to run for this position. Lou is a legend in this area, but the rest of the state didn’t know him as well. They will know him now.”
With “Make America Great Again” signs everywhere and “Women for Trump” waving at every corner of the arena, Trump spent nearly another hour talking about his agenda and how he will continue his plan in a second term.
Trump said his meeting with Russia President Vladimir Putin went well. He scoffed at reports that said he was “soft.”
“I had a great meeting with Putin,” he said. “We got along well and that’s a really good thing. Some people wanted me to get into a boxing match. Whatever happened to fair and honest reporting and whatever happened to diplomacy?”
Trump called Casey “Sleeping Bob,” and said the Democrat wants to do away with ICE — Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He said the country has to keep bad people from entering the country.
“We intend to take some very tough actions,” Trump said. “We need border security.”
Trump told the crowd, “We need Republicans in Congress. We need Lou Barletta in the Senate. He’s tough.”
Trump said Casey won’t debate Barletta, but if that ever happens, the president will sit in the front row and watch Barletta destroy Casey.
“I want to watch that debate,” he said.
As far as 2020, Trump said he has no idea who the Democrats will nominate to run against him.
“I’m not another politician,” he said. “I didn’t need this job. I had a pretty nice life before this. But I love it.”
Trump again urged the crowd to vote Republican and to elect Barletta.
“We will keep on fighting and we will keep on winning,” he said. “We will never give up; we will never give in. And we will never back down and we will never stop fighting for this great land we love. Our hearts bleed red, white and blue.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.