US President Donald Trump is in full campaign mode five months before pivotal mid-term elections, employing a mix of anti-immigration rhetoric, Democrat-bashing and off-script improvisation in a bid to help Republicans hold their congressional majority.
Democrats, riding a swell of grass-roots activism and buoyed by Trump’s poor approval numbers and an ongoing investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump’s campaign, are seeking to flip the US House and Senate.
Trump is pushing back, hitting the road — including at a fiery Tuesday night rally in Tennessee — as he seeks to energize his base to come out and vote in November for Republican Senate candidates in states where he can have a major impact.
But the strategy apparently seeks to minimize his exposure in states where Republicans in close House races might feel the divisive president’s presence would be more of a hindrance, motivating Democrats and independents instead of helping moderate GOP candidates.
Despite the risks of an unrestrained Trump addressing large crowds at campaign-style events, it is a strategy aimed at firing up his loyal supporters in red states where vulnerable Senate Democrats are running for re-election, or challenging for open seats.
Such was the case Tuesday when Trump rallied in Nashville in support of congresswoman Marsha Blackburn’s bid to succeed retiring Senator Bob Corker.
“We need more Republicans,” Trump boomed.
“If you want your country to be safe, then you must go out and get the Democrats the hell out of office.”
A sitting president’s party often loses seats during mid-term elections.
While analysts say Democrats have a decent shot at flipping the 24 seats needed to reclaim the House, the opposition party is up against an extraordinarily tough Senate election map.
Of the 35 Senate races, Democrats are defending a whopping 26 seats — 10 of them in states that Trump won in 2016.
And Democrats are seeing their overall mid-term advantage shrink.
In December, according to a RealClearPolitics polling average, Democrats enjoyed a 13-point advantage among voters who were asked which party they would support in the 2018 congressional election.
That figure this week stood at just four points.
– Trump ‘coming after’ vulnerable Democrats –
The president has grown increasingly annoyed at his party’s 51-49 Senate majority as he seeks to push through his policy agenda, including a dramatic curtailing of illegal and legal immigration.
Highlighting his rigid stance during his Nashville rally, he recalled the term he used recently to describe undocumented immigrants, including members of transnational gang MS-13, targeted for deportation.
“What was the name?” Trump goaded the crowd. “Animals!” they shouted.
Trump also savaged the Democratic candidate, former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen, insisting he would be in the pocket of the Senate and House Democratic leaders.
“He’s an absolute total tool of Chuck Schumer and of course the MS-13 lover, Nancy Pelosi,” Trump said.
Over the past month Trump has held campaign-style rallies or speeches in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee — all states he carried in 2016, and where Republicans are facing tough Senate races. On Thursday he heads to Texas.
Trump is also expected to travel in the coming weeks to North Dakota, Montana, Missouri, and West Virginia, the New York Times reported, citing White House officials familiar with the president’s summer strategy.
They are states that Trump won easily, and where Senate Democrats face tough re-elections.
Several other states may be added to the itinerary later, including Florida, where outgoing Governor Rick Scott is spending millions of dollars of his own personal fortune in a bid to oust a Senate Democratic incumbent.
Trump on Tuesday night “had a message for 2018 red state Dems – he’s coming after them too,” said Katie Martin, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the party’s Senate campaign arm.
He relished his opportunity before the cheering crowd to tout his economic successes including major tax cuts that he signed into law.
But Trump also eagerly returned to one of the tropes of his 2016 campaign, by declaring that Mexico would pay for a wall that he intends to build on the southern US border.
“They’re going to pay for the wall and they’re going to enjoy it,” Trump said.