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Trump to visit blue Virginia — but advisers say he’s eyeing North Carolina

President Trump gives a thumbs up after speaking at a campaign rally on Sept. 21 in Swanton, Ohio. Trump is to appear in Virginia at the end of the week. (Tony Dejak/AP)
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RICHMOND — President Trump, who lavished time and money on Virginians as he sought the White House four years ago, will make his first 2020 campaign appearance in the state Friday night — largely to court North Carolinians.

Trump’s rally in Newport News is intended to reach voters in the swing state next door, according to a Trump campaign official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss strategy.

The rally — first reported by Politico — will take place at 9 p.m. in a part of Virginia that shares a media market with North Carolina’s northernmost corner.

But John Fredericks, a conservative Virginia radio host who led the state’s delegation to the 2020 Republican National Convention, said it made no logistical sense for the president to visit the traffic-choked Hampton Roads area if he is not serious about Virginia.

“Newport News is two tunnels, a bridge and an hour from North Carolina,” he said. “He’s coming to Virginia because, as we have said, our numbers show that the race has tightened, we’re in play, we’re in striking distance. I expect him to be in Virginia several times between now and November 3rd.”

Polls put Trump in a tight race with former vice president Joe Biden in North Carolina, but the president lags by double-digits in Virginia, according to an average of presidential polling by FiveThirtyEight.

In 2016, Trump and running mate Mike Pence headlined a combined 21 campaign events in Virginia and blanketed broadcast TV with ads. But their efforts were not rewarded: Virginia was the only Southern state that went blue, giving Democrat Hillary Clinton a five-point win.

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Few political analysts expect the top of the Republican ticket to fare better this time in Virginia, where a backlash to Trump’s election has helped Democrats retain the Executive Mansion, pick up three seats in Congress and flip the state House and Senate.

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Neither Trump nor Pence has held a rally in Virginia. The vice president addressed Virginia Military Institute cadets last month, but that event was closed to the public and was not an official one.

Friday’s rally will take place at a hangar at Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport, according to Fredericks, who will emcee the event.

Under statewide restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic, Virginia limits public and private gatherings — even those held outdoors — to 250 people.

“Today, the 200,000th American succumbed to the covid-19 pandemic, but instead of finally creating a plan to ensure the health and safety of Virginians, President Trump is announcing a superspreader rally where he will put Virginians in danger,” Hannah Muldavin, press secretary for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said Tuesday in response to Trump’s plans.

The Trump campaign did not respond to questions about the number of people it plans to allow into the rally, but it released a written statement saying certain health precautions would be observed.

“Every attendee will get a temperature check prior to admission, be provided a mask they’re encouraged to wear, and have access to plenty of hand sanitizer,” the statement said.

In addition to Trump, two Republicans running for Congress are to speak at the rally: Scott Taylor, the former congressman seeking to reclaim the seat he lost to Rep. Elaine Luria (D) in Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District; and state Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper), who is challenging Abigail Spanberger (D) in Virginia’s 7th District.

Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), who have limited campaign travel because of the pandemic, have not stumped in Virginia, either. But Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, is to appear in the state Thursday to promote early voting, which began Friday.

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