MONESSEN (KDKA/AP) – Donald Trump used a recycling plant in Monessen as a backdrop Tuesday to give a policy speech about free trade.

The Republican presidential candidate says it is time for the United States to declare its economic freedom.

Trump visited Alumisource, which is a company that makes shredded and blended scrap metal for the aluminum industry. The building once employed hundreds as a steel mill. Now about 35 people work there, preparing aluminum for recycling.

“And I know you’ve been through some very, very tough times but we’re going to make it better, and we’re going to make it better fast, okay? Just watch,” Trump said.

He spoke to a small, invited audience of about 200 people.

Donald Trump told Mon vVlley workers that he, and not Hillary Clinton, could negotiate and enforce stronger trade deals that would restore hard hit towns like Monessen.

“Our politicians have aggressively pursued a policy of globalization, moving our jobs, our wealth and our factories to Mexico and overseas,” he said.

Trump outlined a seven-point plan to restore America’s trade position and blamed the Clintons for NAFTA and other bad trade deals.

“She has it completely backwards,” he said. “Hillary Clinton unleashed a trade war against the American worker when she supported one terrible deal after another. From NAFTA to China to South Korea, it doesn’t matter, no matter where she went, the American worker was hurt.”

Trump pledged to stand up for American workers and the American steel industry.

“It will be American steel that sends our skyscrapers soaring, soaring into the sky,” he said.

If Trump is to carry Pennsylvania, Monessen is the kind of Democratic town he must win in November.

In fact, he was invited to town by Democratic Mayor Louis Mavrakis, who is upset with President Barack Obama.

Monessen was once a town with a population of about 20,000 people. However, that number has dwindled to 7,700 residents due in large part to the Wheeling-Pittsburgh mill closure.

 

There were more than 100 people gathered outside the Alumisource building, and they were about evenly split. Many supporters were there because they simply couldn’t get inside, but the protesters say they were there to send a message.

“When I say dump, you say Trump!” a protester chanted.

The protesters were diverse — young, old, black, white, male, female. But their mission was the same: say no to Donald Trump.

“Everyone here, they’re just from communities in the area, and we just have one common belief, that Donald Trump is bad for the Mon Valley,” Christian Sesak of Brownsville said.

On the surface, it was just another stop on the campaign trail. But people who live in Monessen, especially those against Trump, questioned why a Democratic mayor would invite the Republican candidate.

“We’re here because we want people to know it’s not the Democratic Party,” said Lorraine Peytosky of Monessen.

The two sides faced off against each other for a little more than an hour, for the most part never crossing the center line that divided them. One Trump supporter ventured into enemy territory. The police quickly got him back to the other side.

At the end of the day, those outside the Trump event were peaceful, simply looking for a place to be heard.

“I feel he’s not going to do for us,” said Nick Bell of Monessen. “He’s going to make the richer rich.”

Although there have been some tense stand-offs in other cities, that was not the case in Monessen. As soon as Trump left the area, both sides cleared out quickly.

The speech comes as Trump, facing sliding poll numbers and a far larger Clinton operation, is working to re-tool his message for the general election. In addition to a slew of new hires, Trump has been delivering a series of prepared speeches aimed at calming the nerves of GOP donors and others concerned about his often combative style.

Clinton’s positon on trade has been a frequent attack line for Trump. Clinton announced her opposition to the Pacific trade deal last October, saying it failed to meet her test of providing good jobs, rising wages and protecting national security. She raised specific concerns about a potential for currency manipulation by China and provisions that she said would benefit pharmaceutical companies at the expense of patients.

That marked a striking reversal for the former secretary of state, who promoted the deal in dozens of appearances during Obama’s first term. During a 2012 trip to Australia, she called it the “gold standard in trade agreements.” Video clips of Clinton talking about the trade deal are stored on YouTube, giving her opponents footage that could be used in television ads to highlight her shifting positions.

Following his speech, Trump will head St. Clairsville, Ohio for a rally at the eastern campus of Ohio University. It will be Trump’s first visit to the crucial battleground state since he secured enough delegates to become his party’s presumptive nominee.

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Trump will also stop in Wheeling, West Virginia for an invitation-only fundraiser with coal magnate Robert Murray. Trump has promised to revive the coal industry, while Clinton has emphasized cleaner fuel sources.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)