Over the past month, President Donald Trump has been on a campaign binge – holding rallies for Republican candidates in North Dakota, Montana, Indiana and lots (and lots) of other places. But in the final week of the 2018 campaign, he’s kicking it into an even higher gear, barnstorming the country in hopes of doing everything he can to rally the GOP base and stave off what, historically speaking, should be a very tough election for Republicans.
There’s nothing more valuable in American politics than a president’s time, so where Trump goes in the final sprint is a telling indicator of both where congressional Republicans see a chance to win (or need to stave off a loss) and where Trump’s team wants him to be in order to help his own 2020 prospects.
Axios’ Jonathan Swan got hold of Trump’s schedule for the final six days of the campaign, so I thought I would annotate each stop – explaining why Trump is going where he is going and what it all means.
The broadest takeaway? Trump is focused heavily on keeping the Senate in GOP hands, perhaps a tacit acknowledgment that the Republican House majority is already gone.
Fort Myers, Florida: Trump cares deeply about the Florida Senate race – and not just because it’s a chance for a Republican challenger (Gov. Rick Scott) to knock off a Democratic incumbent in the form of Sen. Bill Nelson. Scott, a wealthy health care executive who is wrapping up his second term as governor, was one of Trump’s earliest and most loyal supporters in the 2016 campaign – and Trump himself aggressively sought to convince Scott to challenge Nelson.
Why Fort Myers? It’s in Lee County – a solidly Republican area that gave Trump 58% in 2016 and Sen. Marco Rubio 63%. It’s also one of the largest-population counties in the state; Trump took 191,000 votes – and an almost 70,000-vote margin – out of Lee County in 2016.
And don’t forget: Florida also has a hugely important governor’s race, between GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally of the first order, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Given the size of the state, its 2020 implications and the role the governor will play in redistricting in 2021, the Florida governor’s race may well be the most important in the country.
Columbia, Missouri: It’s not at all surprising that Trump is going to campaign for state Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican who is taking on Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Polling shows the race extremely close, and Republicans are very optimistic that Hawley is trending in the right direction.
What’s slightly surprising, at least at first glance, is that Trump is going to campaign for Hawley in Columbia – right in the heart of Boone County. Boone was one of only three counties in Missouri that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 – albeit just by 49% to 43%. (The University of Missouri – and its massive student body – is in Columbia.) So, why? My theory: Republicans are trying to limit McCaskill’s margin in the county; she won it by 27 points in her runaway 2012 victory but by just 9 in her very tight 2006 race. If Hawley can keep Boone within single digits, the math for him in the rest of the state looks much easier.
Huntington, West Virginia, and an undisclosed location in Indiana: Stopping by Huntington – on the far reaches of West Virginia’s westernmost boundary – allows for Trump to hit two Senate races in a single day. The stop in Huntington also allows him to visit a area that he won with 60% of the vote in 2016 and is the sort of industrial city where he has put considerable focus over his first two years in office. State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has to be thrilled that he made the cut for this final week of campaigning, given that most Senate strategists believe Sen. Joe Manchin (D) is a clear favorite.
As for Indiana, this, like Florida, is a bit of a passion project for Trump. Republican Senate nominee Mike Braun is a self-made businessman who Trump clearly feels some level of kinship with. And Indiana is one of five states where a Democratic incumbent is seeking re-election where Trump won by double digits in 2016. Polling of late suggests Braun is in a statistical dead heat with Sen. Joe Donnelly (D).
Bozeman, Montana, and an undisclosed location in Florida: For Florida, see above. It’s the perfect combo of a race Trump is deeply and personally engaged in and where he has clear 2020 interests. In Montana, Trump – and his son Donald Trump Jr. – have been in the “Last Best Place” a bunch to help State Auditor Matt Rosendale, who is still an underdog to Sen. Jon Tester (D). Trump’s motivation in the race has much to do with Tester’s role – as a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee – in taking down White House physician Ronny Jackson, who was Trump’s pick to head the VA.
Why Bozeman? It’s in Gallatin County, one of the swingiest counties in the state. Clinton beat Trump by less than a point there in 2016. And while Tester won it by almost 9 points in 2012, he lost it – by less than 200 votes – in his extremely narrow 2006 win over then-Sen. Conrad Burns.
Macon, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee: Unlike most of Trump’s trips, this one is for a governor’s race. The contest between Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Democratic state Rep. Stacey Abrams is not only close but also hugely important on the national stage. (If Abrams wins, she will be the first black female governor in the country.) Why Macon? It’s the third-largest media market in the state and covers all or part of 23 counties in the not-Atlanta part of the Peach State. And while Macon (and Bibb County more generally) went strongly for Clinton, the blue-collar counties to the south and east of the city – Peach, Twiggs and Wilkinson – were all swing areas that Trump carried narrowly and Kemp will also need.
The Tennessee trip is all about boosting Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s Senate campaign in an area where she is almost certainly underperforming. Chattanooga is a Republican area –Trump won Hamilton County, where it’s located, by 15 points in 2016 – but it’s much more of an establishment, Chamber of Commerce Republican area than Trump Republican territory. Retiring Sen. Bob Corker, who hasn’t been all that warm in his embrace of Blackburn, is from Chattanooga and fits what the city wants out of a Republican much more than the Memphis-suburban Blackburn. This is a space where former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, needs to run well in order to have a fighting chance against Blackburn.
Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Cape Girardeau, Missouri: Again, the Indiana and Missouri Senate races. Fort Wayne is a Republican area – Allen County went for Trump by 13 points – but is a place that is more competitive in the era of Trump than you might think. It’s also an area where Braun, who is from Jasper, in the state’s western reaches, doesn’t have any sort of natural base.
Cape Girardeau, in the far eastern corner of Missouri, is all about base turnout. Trump won 70+% in Cape Girardeau County and neighboring Scott County. If Hawley wants to beat McCaskill, he needs to run up the numbers in this part of the Show Me State.