Trump Hits Campaign Trail as Prospect of Midterm Defeat Looms
(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump takes his fight to keep his party in control of Congress to the Great Plains this week, where the White House thinks he still retains enough popularity to help Republicans unseat incumbent Senate Democrats.
Trump’s first stop is Billings, Montana, where he’ll stump for State Auditor Matt Rosendale, who is challenging two-term Senator Jon Tester. He’ll go to North Dakota the next day to help out one of his son Donald Trump Jr.’s favorite candidates, Kevin Cramer, who’s challenging Senator Heidi Heitkamp.
The president has said he thinks his accomplishments will fuel a “red wave” of Republican victories in November’s midterm elections. But polls suggest a Democratic takeover of at least the House of Representatives. And in Illinois on Friday, Barack Obama will begin his own campaign on behalf of Democratic candidates with a major speech -- the first time in recent memory that a former president has played such an active role in national elections just two years after leaving office.
Trump’s trip is the first overnight swing of what aides have described as an aggressive schedule of at least 40 days of campaign travel between the beginning of August and November. That would outpace both Obama and George W. Bush’s efforts in off-year elections during their presidencies.
Trump believes he can play a pivotal role rallying the base in red states like Montana, where he defeated Hillary Clinton by more than 20 percentage points, and North Dakota, where he won by almost 36 points in 2016.
Trump also will make his first presidential visit to South Dakota to headline a fundraiser for Republican gubernatorial candidate Kristi Noem.
To keep control of the House of Representatives, Republicans need to keep Democrats from gaining 23 or more seats in November. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s strategists have worked with Trump’s political team on plans that include where, specifically, the president should and should not visit during the two months before the vote, according to a person familiar with that work.
Last week, Trump visited Indiana and North Carolina and announced plans to go to Texas for GOP Senator Ted Cruz, who’s trying to fend off Democratic Representative Beto O’Rourke. He’s also likely to visit Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee -- all states with competitive Senate races -- in the near future, according to individuals familiar with the president’s election plans who requested anonymity to describe them.
The strategy also underscores the challenges faced by Republican candidates where Trump’s low approval ratings are a factor.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released earlier this week showed Democrats with a 52 percent to 38 percent lead among registered voters in a generic congressional ballot, with a higher percentage of self-identifying Democrats also saying they were absolutely certain to vote. The advantage is larger than the 11.5 percentage point lead Democrats held in generic congressional polls on the eve of the party’s 2006 takeover of both the House and Senate , according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls.
The Washington Post-ABC News poll showed just 36 percent of voters approving of the way Trump was handling his job, with six in 10 voters disapproving.
Bad headlines have besieged the White House recently, some stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. On Aug. 21, Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was convicted of bank fraud, and later that day, the president’s former personal lawyer pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, saying Trump directed him to pay hush money to women who claimed they had affairs with Trump.
This week, excerpts of a new book by Watergate reporter Bob Woodward detailed chaos and infighting within the West Wing, and claims in detail that senior staff and Cabinet members have questioned the president’s competence. Trump has called the book a “work of fiction.”