Trump embraces rallying base ahead of midterms

President Donald Trump has taken on the role of rallying his base ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. CNN's Jeff Zeleny takes a closer look.

Posted: Oct 23, 2018 10:07 AM
Updated: Oct 23, 2018 10:14 AM

President Donald Trump knows the November election is all about him. He worries his supporters do not.

"Pretend I'm on the ballot," he says at most every rally, trying to awaken his supporters to the urgency of the fight for control of Congress.

Two weeks before Election Day, a new air of uncertainty hangs over the 2018 campaign that revolves almost entirely around the Trump factor.

A month ago, the President seemed all but resigned that Republicans would lose the House, two people who speak to him frequently tell CNN. But his outlook has brightened in recent days, increasingly insisting he can awaken his coalition to stop -- or slow -- a Democratic wave, they say.

"If anyone can save the House, he thinks he can," a Republican congressman close to the President said. "He's the only one who believes it's really possible."

While most presidents distance themselves from midterm elections to avoid nationalizing the races, Trump is doing the opposite. He's all in, firing up loyal supporters and fierce critics alike.

"This will be the election of the caravan, Kavanaugh, law and order, tax cuts and common sense," the President said to booming applause inside Houston's Toyota Center on Monday, boiling down his closing argument for Republicans in one crisp sentence.

Here in Houston, the rally on Monday night is his 29th of the year. It follows a familiar pattern of much of his 2018 campaign travel: visiting red states filled with Trump admirers, hoping to minimize political harm by energizing his detractors.

But even in Texas, several Republican strategists expressed a palpable level of anxiety at what the President might say during his unscripted rally. Trump's sharp rhetoric on immigration, two officials said, could awaken Hispanic voters or independents in key congressional races in the state.

"We were hoping he would go to West Texas for this rally," a Republican strategist said, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid being seen criticizing the President or the White House.

An analysis of Trump's travel shows where he is -- and isn't -- welcome. In deep-red Montana, for example, he's staged three rallies to try to defeat Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in a race even most Republicans see as no easy task.

Yet he's all but steering clear of Florida -- holding no big rallies so far this fall, despite campaigning there just months ago during the GOP primary. Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who's locked in a tight race to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, has asked Trump to stay away, a GOP official said.

But as in many states, Trump remains a central theme of the race, as illustrated in dueling TV ads from Nelson and Scott.

"When President Trump asks for something that's good for him and bad for Florida, I know what I'll do. I'll say no," Nelson said in a recent ad. "And we all know what Rick Scott will do. He'll say yes."

Scott responded: "I'll work with President Trump when he's doing things that are good for Florida and America. And when I disagree, I have the courage to say so."

So far, the President has agreed not to campaign in Florida, but he did visit the Gulf Coast this month to survey hurricane damage. A Republican official said Trump keeps asking about the race, saying he wants to do a rally in the final week for either the Senate or governor's race.

The last time Trump spent so much time hopscotching from one roaring arena to another, he was on a victory tour, thanking voters who helped turn states from blue to red in his triumph over Hillary Clinton. But statewide GOP candidates are trailing in most of those new Trump states, including Pennsylvania and Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.

While the near-nightly Trump show is back, this time his rallies are no longer regularly seen live on cable television. Even his beloved Fox News had taken a pass for weeks -- until Monday night, when the Houston rally aired from start to finish.

His devoted fans are still filling every arena to the brim, but White House aides said he has repeatedly expressed frustration that his speeches are not being televised.

That's not to say, of course, that Trump isn't still the central character of the midterm election campaign.

The President appears in nearly 20% of all political ads this year, according to an analysis of data from Kantar Media/CMAG, based on the top 100 most competitive House and Senate races.

So far this year, at least $55 million has been spent on pro-Trump ads, the analysis found, with $61 million on anti-Trump ads.

The White House is increasingly confident about keeping control of the Senate, largely cause of the blessing of geography, with the majority of competitive seats in red states. To most places, Trump's message lingers far longer than he does because Republicans turn his rallies into 30-second commercials blasting the Democratic candidate.

"Phil whatever the hell his name is, this guy will 100% vote against us every single time," Trump says in an ad, attacking Phil Bredesen, the former Democratic governor running for the open Senate seat in Tennessee against Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn.

While Trump has said he will accept no blame if Republicans lose control of the House, he will have to deal with the consequences of a Democrat-controlled House investigating the White House.

Such talk has been all but suspended for now in the West Wing, two aides said, with the President not interested in discussing what happens beyond Election Day. He has previously told allies that Democrat-led impeachment or investigations could strengthen his hand going into 2020.

Whatever the outcome on November 6, the midterm election campaign has solidified Trump as the indisputable leader of the Republican Party. Even old rivals like Cruz now depend on Trump's coalition for their own survival.

"I think it energizes people," Cruz told CNN on the eve of Trump's visit to Houston. "I think it's going to help drive turnout. And this election is a turnout election."

Asked whether Trump was the biggest factor, Cruz replied: "The President is certainly a factor in the election, but I think the biggest factor in Texas is the economic boom we're seeing."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 450762

Reported Deaths: 6079
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin935111486
Ramsey40220742
Dakota33243348
Anoka31118366
Washington20282231
Stearns17957188
St. Louis13777244
Scott1203597
Wright11688106
Olmsted1062075
Sherburne823966
Carver698338
Clay654681
Rice613969
Kandiyohi555772
Blue Earth544833
Crow Wing486877
Otter Tail459367
Chisago455036
Benton421587
Winona391948
Douglas376666
Nobles372446
Mower369429
Goodhue351259
Polk330059
McLeod326546
Beltrami313248
Morrison312945
Lyon303338
Becker286939
Itasca285943
Isanti283241
Carlton282243
Steele275810
Pine267814
Freeborn249523
Todd232530
Nicollet226437
Brown215834
Mille Lacs214745
Le Sueur211716
Cass208424
Meeker200633
Waseca190716
Wabasha17293
Martin171326
Roseau166117
Hubbard149938
Redwood140627
Houston139014
Renville137840
Dodge13624
Chippewa131732
Cottonwood127818
Fillmore12535
Wadena120417
Rock110612
Sibley10897
Aitkin108533
Faribault107416
Watonwan10678
Pennington100315
Kanabec98018
Pipestone95523
Yellow Medicine93916
Murray8995
Jackson86310
Swift83818
Pope7425
Marshall70315
Stevens7038
Clearwater68614
Lac qui Parle65716
Lake65615
Wilkin6299
Koochiching59910
Lincoln4892
Big Stone4663
Unassigned43968
Grant4298
Norman4248
Mahnomen4137
Kittson37220
Red Lake3184
Traverse2553
Lake of the Woods1951
Cook1150

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 308737

Reported Deaths: 4391
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk46313460
Linn17916278
Scott15694167
Black Hawk13964242
Woodbury13064179
Johnson1220051
Dubuque11504157
Pottawattamie9086114
Dallas901872
Story875536
Webster470677
Cerro Gordo469972
Sioux458757
Clinton455065
Warren452039
Marshall429262
Buena Vista395230
Muscatine393078
Des Moines389243
Plymouth352269
Wapello347598
Jasper328559
Lee321132
Marion307252
Jones272949
Henry265831
Carroll257434
Bremer248048
Crawford233124
Washington221333
Boone221017
Benton210950
Mahaska196337
Jackson193931
Tama189559
Dickinson188129
Kossuth177744
Delaware174736
Clay170721
Wright166024
Fayette164123
Buchanan161023
Hamilton161030
Winneshiek159120
Harrison157362
Hardin156130
Cedar154419
Clayton153049
Butler149824
Page145415
Floyd140536
Cherokee139527
Mills138016
Lyon137033
Poweshiek134124
Hancock130824
Allamakee130029
Iowa126722
Calhoun12309
Grundy121927
Jefferson121625
Madison12169
Winnebago120829
Mitchell116436
Louisa115530
Cass114743
Chickasaw113312
Appanoose111540
Emmet111232
Sac111215
Union110223
Humboldt105819
Shelby104027
Guthrie103624
Franklin103118
Unassigned10000
Palo Alto91411
Montgomery87224
Keokuk85826
Howard84819
Monroe81419
Clarke8017
Pocahontas77811
Ida75430
Davis69721
Greene6977
Adair69320
Lucas6619
Monona65017
Osceola64510
Worth6154
Taylor5969
Fremont5206
Van Buren49914
Decatur4944
Ringgold44611
Audubon4188
Wayne41721
Adams2983
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