By Nathan Layne and Gram Slattery

PHILADELPHIA, – Donald Trump called on religious supporters to go the polls in a speech to conservative Christian activists on Saturday, but mentioned only briefly the politically sensitive issue of abortion, a topic of central importance to the group.

Speaking at an event organized by the Faith & Freedom Coalition in Washington, the former president reiterated his position that abortion restrictions should be decided by voters on a state-by-state basis.

That stance contradicts the view of most conservative Christians, and Trump’s reticence to push for or even discuss additional federal regulations speaks to how sensitive the issue has become for Republicans.

Trump has repeatedly said Republicans risk electoral defeat if they take too stringent a line on abortion rights. The party’s underwhelming performance in the 2022 congressional midterm elections has been widely attributed to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling that year, which removed most constitutional protections for the procedure.

“We’ve gotten abortion out of the federal government and back to the states. The people will decide, and that’s the way it should be,” Trump said.

“Like Ronald Reagan, I believe in exceptions for the life of the mother – rape and incest … You have to go with your heart. You have to also remember you have to get elected,” Trump said.

Trump’s comments on abortion appeared to receive a lukewarm reception. Some in the crowd broke out in chants of “No dead babies!” as he discussed the topic.

But there was no indication the heavily pro-Trump audience would support another candidate as the Nov. 5 general election rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden approaches.

Trump received heavy applause when he discussed several other proposals, including eliminating the Department of Education, a measure favored by many conservative Christians who accuse the federal government of attacking faith-based teaching methods.

At multiple points during his speech, Trump called on Christians to show up to the polls in November, prompting chants of “Vote!” from the crowd.

Trump has claimed credit for appointing three conservative justices to the Supreme Court who helped overturn the Roe v. Wade decision two years ago this Monday, eliminating a nationwide right to abortion in a moment of triumph for conservatives.

Trump has repeatedly said he would not support a federal ban on abortion, however, preferring to leave the issue to individual states.

Ralph Reed, the founder and chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition and a key Trump ally, has previously said his group would continue to work towards restrictions at both the state and federal levels.

Later on Saturday, Trump will hold a campaign rally at Temple University in a historically Black area of Philadelphia, long a stronghold for Democrats. Trump won just 5% of the vote in precincts within a half-mile radius of Temple’s main campus, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Trump campaign has made courting Black and Hispanic voters, who make up more than half of Philadelphia’s population, a priority this cycle, encouraged by some opinion polls that indicate he may be gaining ground with these voters.

Trump has little chance of winning the city, as President Joe Biden, a Democrat, won 81.4% of the votes in Philadelphia County in 2020. But Trump could boost his chances by narrowing the margin in Philadelphia and surrounding counties so critical to the overall tally in Pennsylvania, a battleground state that is hotly contested because it can swing either to Republicans or Democrats.

Trump’s campaign said he will use his Philadelphia speech to talk about Biden’s handling of inflation, the southern border and crime, all key tenets of the Republican’s campaign for a second term.

William Rosenberg, a political science professor at Drexel University, said he believed Trump’s main goal was projecting his outreach to Black voters nationally, similar to the rally he held in the Bronx borough of New York City last month.

“It’s a play to get on national TV to say you are in Philadelphia, to make the case that this is a Black community,” Rosenberg said. “Then perhaps you convince some swing voters that Donald Trump is not so bad.”

Democrats have set up posters, billboards and kiosks in Philadelphia and on the Temple campus to promote Biden’s policies, including his efforts to forgive student debt, as well as to criticize Trump’s record with the Black community.

State lawmaker Malcolm Kenyatta, a Democrat, said Black voters remember Trump’s history promoting the bigoted conspiracy theory that questioned whether Barack Obama, the country’s first African American president, was born in the United States, and policies that he pursued that hurt the Black working class.

“Donald Trump is in a Black place, but Donald Trump does not give a damn about Black people,” Kenyatta said at a press event at a Biden campaign office in Philadelphia, adding that Trump would “get the type of welcome he deserves” from the city.

This article was generated from an automated news agency feed without modifications to text.

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