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 11:05 AM
Updated: Oct 23, 2018 11:14 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."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 730969

Reported Deaths: 13434
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1000031743
Lake53771970
Allen40668678
St. Joseph35733552
Hamilton35629408
Elkhart28577442
Tippecanoe22402219
Vanderburgh22310397
Porter18776308
Johnson17970379
Hendricks17244315
Clark12985191
Madison12673339
Vigo12449247
LaPorte11928211
Monroe11893170
Delaware10696186
Howard9924216
Kosciusko9410117
Hancock8284141
Bartholomew8070156
Warrick7784155
Floyd7669178
Grant7060174
Wayne7051199
Boone6700101
Morgan6576139
Dubois6156117
Marshall6050111
Dearborn581378
Cass5808105
Henry5720103
Noble561384
Jackson501773
Shelby491996
Lawrence4546120
Harrison435872
Gibson435492
DeKalb428485
Clinton427453
Montgomery424189
Whitley396139
Huntington391980
Steuben387857
Miami381866
Knox371990
Jasper366047
Putnam360760
Wabash354179
Adams341354
Ripley339770
Jefferson330981
White314354
Daviess297399
Wells291581
Decatur285492
Fayette280762
Greene278985
Posey271533
LaGrange266770
Scott266354
Clay260247
Randolph240781
Washington240732
Spencer232131
Jennings230149
Starke216654
Fountain212346
Sullivan211942
Owen200256
Fulton195440
Jay195130
Carroll189320
Orange183654
Perry183037
Rush173425
Vermillion169143
Franklin168135
Tipton162845
Parke146316
Blackford134932
Pike134334
Pulaski116845
Newton107834
Brown102141
Crawford99814
Benton98614
Martin89115
Warren82115
Switzerland7918
Union71010
Ohio56811
Unassigned0416

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1085733

Reported Deaths: 19441
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1261201400
Cuyahoga1124072120
Hamilton801491206
Montgomery515591014
Summit47292946
Lucas42275788
Butler38396584
Stark32412907
Lorain25046481
Warren24313300
Mahoning21629588
Lake20725369
Clermont19803238
Delaware18537133
Licking16436212
Fairfield16230200
Trumbull16082468
Medina15309264
Greene15099244
Clark14017299
Wood13113189
Portage12890203
Allen11675232
Richland11382199
Miami10686217
Wayne8843211
Columbiana8816229
Muskingum8815133
Pickaway8582121
Marion8539135
Tuscarawas8487244
Erie7917154
Hancock6929127
Ross6858155
Ashtabula6830170
Geauga6697148
Scioto6417101
Belmont5920167
Union571048
Lawrence5560102
Jefferson5544151
Huron5439119
Darke5364123
Sandusky5359121
Seneca5290121
Athens520058
Washington5160109
Auglaize491984
Mercer480885
Shelby470093
Knox4495110
Madison436661
Putnam4287100
Fulton423969
Ashland423189
Defiance421097
Crawford3978107
Brown395057
Logan382376
Preble379898
Clinton372963
Ottawa367479
Highland355662
Williams340275
Champaign333458
Guernsey316253
Jackson312652
Perry295350
Morrow285639
Fayette282250
Hardin271464
Henry269366
Coshocton265357
Holmes2611101
Van Wert243763
Adams238552
Pike237734
Gallia235949
Wyandot231555
Hocking215462
Carroll191647
Paulding173340
Meigs144940
Noble133337
Monroe132342
Harrison108537
Morgan108523
Vinton83515
Unassigned02
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