Trump Plans 40 Days on Campaign Trail for Midterms

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump is disregarding concerns he may be a liability to Republican candidates this fall and will travel the country to campaign on their behalf -- a decision likely to ensure the 2018 elections are a referendum on his presidency.

Trump intends to spend more than 40 days on the campaign trail between the beginning of August and the November midterm elections, according to a White House official who discussed the plans on the condition of anonymity. That would outpace both Barack Obama and George W. Bush’s efforts in off-year elections during their presidencies.

The president will hold eight rallies and 15 fundraisers across 16 states in the coming weeks, according to a person familiar with the president’s thinking who discussed the plans with reporters on a conference call on condition of anonymity.

Likely stops include North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Montana, Kentucky and Tennessee, all states with competitive Senate races.

The schedule indicates that Trump’s strategy isn’t determined just by where he can help but also where he might do harm. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s strategists are working with Trump’s political team on plans that include where, specifically, the president should not visit during the two months before the vote, according to a person familiar with that work.

Added Hurdles

Republicans will lose control of the House of Representatives if Democrats gain 23 or more seats in November. Party leaders don’t want vulnerable Republicans in competitive races to face added hurdles, and are concerned that Democrats will seize upon Trump as a foil, even though his name is not on the ballot.

There are districts “where mobilizing the Trump base with the president being involved could be more than offset by mobilizing the Democratic base,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, New York.

But the person familiar with the president’s plans disputed the notion that Trump was steering clear of races in swing states and districts where he might not be personally popular. The White House may send Trump to competitive House districts as his advisers gather data about how candidates are performing, the person said.

Trump also plans to devote significant time to fundraising. The Republican National Committee has raised more than $200 million for the cycle already, and the president personally has raked in $75 million over 16 fundraising events this year.

The president’s political party historically loses seats in the midterm elections, with the lone exception in recent history being Republican gains in 2002, a year after the Sept. 11 attacks. Whether Trump will prove an asset or a liability remains unclear. The president’s popularity is low among Americans overall -- only 42 percent of voters said they approved of his performance in a Gallup poll last week -- but Trump retains strong support among Republicans.

Retaining Majorities

The president is aware of those trends and has defined success as retaining the Republican majority in the House, gaining seats in the Senate, and fighting a challenging gubernatorial map, according to the person familiar with his thinking.

“It’s entirely consistent with all the presidents of the past 20 years -- focusing the resources of the president to where they can be most effective,” said Charlie Spies, who served as chief financial officer and counsel for Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign, as well as co-founder and counsel to the pro-Romney Restore our Future SuperPAC in 2012.

Trump has already made at least a dozen trips across the country this year to campaign for Republican candidates for the Senate, House, and various governorships. The travel has largely concentrated on states he won in 2016, though he ventured into his home state of New York earlier this month in support of Representatives Claudia Tenney and Elise Stefanik and to Minnesota in June to boost Pete Stauber’s bid to replace retiring Democratic Representative Rick Nolan.

Much of Trump’s travel appears to target vulnerable Senate Democrats running for re-election in states Trump carried handily. He’s repeatedly visited Missouri and appeared alongside state Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is seeking to unseat Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. He also campaigned with Representative Kevin Cramer of North Dakota as the congressman looks to defeat Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp.

The president has also sought to fortify Republican candidates seeking to maintain party control of the House in special elections. That included trips to Pennsylvania on behalf of Rick Saccone and Ohio for Troy Balderson.

Saccone ultimately lost his race in a district that voted heavily for Trump to Democratic Representative Conor Lamb. Balderson appears likely to win his special election last week, but only by a few hundred votes in what has been a reliably Republican district.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.