President Trump Campaigns For Midterm Candidates

Oct 18, 2018
Originally published on October 18, 2018 10:03 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump is on the road again tonight. He holds a rally for the Republican Senate candidate in Montana, the first in a three-day western swing. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith has been analyzing Trump's travel, and she finds he is going to largely friendly territory.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: As President Trump came to the big finish at a recent rally, his supporters crowded into the Kansas Expocentre shouted along.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And we will make America great again.

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: Thank you, Kansas. Thank you.

KEITH: Like most of his campaign stops this year, the rally was in a state Trump won in 2016. The two candidates he brought up on stage are in races rated as tossups by The Cook Political Report.

BILL STEPIEN: He doesn't go to places that are sure wins. And he doesn't go to places that are sure losses.

KEITH: Bill Stepien is the White House political director.

STEPIEN: This is the point in time in the campaign where there isn't any time for waste or to send the president to a place that - in which the outcome's already decided. So he's in places that are competitive, that are up for grabs and in which he can make a real difference.

STEPIEN: Trump's ability to help is limited, though. Control of the House could be decided in suburban swing districts outside of major Democratic strongholds. But an NPR analysis finds Trump is largely avoiding those areas. Jesse Ferguson is a Democratic strategist.

JESSE FERGUSON: If he were to come to a suburban swing district, most vulnerable Republicans would likely be busy washing their hair.

KEITH: Trump is concentrating his efforts in areas where in 2016 he outperformed previous Republican candidates, places like Erie, Pa., where he campaigned last week, areas, Stepien says...

STEPIEN: That are, you know, bastions of Trumpism, that candidly are more Trump than Republican.

KEITH: Trump is campaigning for a mix of House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates who, as Stepien puts it, are echoing the president's message on policy triumphs most boldly and proudly. Boisterous rallies are a big part of the Trump experience, but the people who attend these rallies aren't necessarily Republicans or regular midterm voters, which is why you hear Trump saying that while he isn't on the ballot, his policies are.

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TRUMP: But to continue our incredible momentum, you have to get your friends. Get your family. Get your neighbors. Get your co-workers. And get out, and vote or early voting.

KEITH: Stepien says as many as 30 percent of those in attendance at these rallies either voted for their first time in 2016 or typically only vote in presidential years.

STEPIEN: So these are real opportunities in front of big crowds for the president to introduce his coalition members or better acquaint his coalition members, those in attendance, with their Republican nominee.

KEITH: Republican pollster Robert Blizzard, who worked on a congressional special election in Ohio where Trump held a rally on the eve of voting, says he saw the president boost enthusiasm among base Republicans. And in the places Trump is going, he doesn't see much risk of it backfiring since...

ROBERT BLIZZARD: I mean, Democratic voters on a 1-to-10 scale are already at, like, a 13.

KEITH: Which is to say Democratic enthusiasm is through the roof. And complacency among Republicans is a bigger concern.

BLIZZARD: At this point in time, Republicans will get all of the negatives that are associated with the president. We sure as heck might - you know, might want to go after the positives as well.

KEITH: The Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson isn't so sure about that.

FERGUSON: When he goes to a district, he is a reminder that Republicans in Congress have become his yes men. And voters want a check and a balance, not a servant.

KEITH: Does the president help more than he hurts? It's a debate waged every midterm. Trump said this week, though, if Republicans lose the House, he doesn't bear responsibility because he's been campaigning so hard for them. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.