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What Trump’s final rally schedule says about the midterms

Posted at 9:17 AM, Nov 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-01 11:21:50-04

President Trump is hitting the campaign trail at a breakneck pace ahead of Tuesday. But as Republicans fight to keep the House, the president’s rallies appear to be focused on the Senate map, gubernatorial races, and districts that aren’t particularly competitive.

The president is holding 11 rallies in eight states in the final week leading up to the election — in Montana, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida — all states he won in 2016. In other words, he’s generally staying in his comfort zone.

Trump in Montana

“First of all I think that this is a strategically smart use of Trump’s time because he is going where he is popular,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, adding, “he is looking for that 2016 Trump voter in some places that were very good to him.”

Every state Mr. Trump is visiting is home to a competitive Senate race. The president is making not one but two stops in Indiana — first in Indianapolis, then in Fort Wayne. Indiana House races aren’t expected to be particularly competitive. But the Senate race, between Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, and Republican Mike Braun, is. The latest CBS News poll has Braun barely leading Donnelly, 46 percent to 43 percent.

The president is also making two stops in Florida, where there’s both a competitive Senate and competitive gubernatorial race. The president kicked off his pre-midterms rally spree in Trump country in Fort Meyers, Florida, Wednesday night. The latest CBS News polling shows Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson neck and neck with Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the Senate race, both polling at 46 percent.

He’s also holding two rallies in Missouri — one in Columbia, and one in Cape Girardeau — where he’s stumping for Republican Senate candidate Josh Hawley, who is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Mr. Trump’s first Missouri rally takes place in Columbia Thursday night.

Trump midterm rallies
The president is holding 11 rallies in eight states in the week leading up to the midterms. / CBS NEWS’ MARK KNOLLER

Of course, in some close races, the president could be viewed as a liability, and some Republicans have distanced themselves from the president in hopes of winning over more moderate voters.

The president’s campaign rally shows he’s playing to his strengths, and looking to turn out the base, O’Connell suggested. The president’s incessant messaging on immigration is a clear indicator of that, he said.

“Look, there is certainly an outside shot that Republicans hold the House by a sliver, but the more likely outcome is that Democrats are going to pick up 30 seats,” O’Connell said, noting that in a midterm election, the party in control of the White House can be expected to lose at least two dozen seats.

In public, the president has projected optimism about Republicans’ chances to keep the House, but at the same time, he has couched that optimism by pointing out how many seats are in play in the House.

“It seems that the campaign is doing very well,” Mr. Trump told reporters on the White House South Lawn Wednesday. “Looks like we’re doing very very well in the Senate. A lot of seats that were not really being thought of in terms of victories a year ago now look like they could very well be victories. The House is a lot of people, I mean there are a lot of people, and I think we’re going to do well in the house also. But I know we’re doing well in the Senate but we’re doing OK in the House, we’re going to have to see. There are just so many people.”

Whatever happens, this election is very much about the president, said GOP strategist Alex Conant.

“Of course it’s a referendum on the president,” Conant told CBSN Wednesday night. “I think he himself has acknowledged he’s pretty much on the ballot even if his name’s not on the ballot. I think if you ask voters what’s the most important issue they’ll tell you the economy or health care or immigration but at the end of the day, Trump is what’s driving it. They’re either turning out because they want to empower Trump, keep the Republicans in charge, or they’re turning out because they want to put a check on Trump. That’s the overriding message in this election.”

The president himself is focused on his own election success this midterm cycle. In Florida Wednesday night, even as he campaigned for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and other Republicans, the president said 2016 was still the most important election. Mr. Trump’s final rally schedule also “absolutely” suggests he has an eye on 2020, O’Connell said.

“A lot of these line up with presidential battleground states,” he said.