Politics

Big Sky Trip Highlights Trump’s Focus on Senate Races

President also involved in gubernatorial races, Pence takes House contests

President Donald Trump at the White House in July. He will spend part of Thursday and Friday in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota campaigning and raising funds for GOP Senate and gubernatorial candidates. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Donald Trump will return to Montana on Thursday night for another political rally aimed at ousting incumbent Democrat Jon Tester, part of the president’s midterm focus on keeping the Senate under Republican control.

White House and Trump campaign officials have signaled Trump will hit as many as eight states this month alone before picking up the pace in October as the midterm campaign enters its final sprint. Trump will continue to publicly stump for Republican Senate and gubernatorial incumbents and candidates, while Vice President Mike Pence primarily focuses on competitive House races.

White House political advisers recently pointed to seven states Trump will hit this month alone: Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada, Tennessee, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. His campaign organization also added Indiana, where he campaigned sharply against vulnerable Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, calling him the “worst” and least effective senator, citing a Center for Effective Lawmaking study.

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Trump will visit the three Big Sky Country states on that list Thursday and Friday, a trip that illustrates GOP leaders’ plans on how to deploy the president in the fight for control of the House and possibly the Senate. A recent ABC News-Washington Post poll put Trump’s approval rating at 36 percent — but he remains extremely popular among Republicans. Still, the low approval rating creates problems sending him to suburban House districts.

The president will hold a public rally Thursday night in Billings for Montana GOP Senate nominee Matt Rosendale, his second since July 5. On Friday, Trump’s first stop will be headlining a “VIP reception and fundraiser” for Montana GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer’s campaign; he is in a tight race to unseat Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. The president will then jet across the border to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for a private fundraiser for Republican gubernatorial hopeful Kristi Noem.

Trump aides have resisted the notion that the party has determined the president’s coattails are not that long in competitive House districts, especially ones in largely suburban areas.

“I know he is going to places that are House-driven,” one senior administration official said last month. But that same official later noted “we are fighting history” because all sitting first-term presidents have lost seats in midterms except in 1934 (Franklin D. Roosevelt) and 2002 (George W. Bush).

“A successful year would be defying that history,” the official said, more precisely defining Team Trump’s definition of success as “retaining the majority in House and picking up seats in the Senate, and fighting a challenging gubernatorial map.”

Expect Trump to hit many of the same themes about Tester he did in July.

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“I see Jon Tester saying nice things about me, but I say, ‘But he never votes for me,’” the president said of Tester’s votes against most of the Republicans’ top agenda items. “Tester doesn’t share your values.Jon Tester says one thing when he’s in Montana. But I’m telling you … he does the exact opposite.”

Trump made clear at the July rally in Great Falls he still holds a grudge against Tester over the failed nomination of Ronny Jackson, a Navy rear admiral and the president’s former military physician, to become Veterans Affairs secretary.

Tester brought to public light whistleblower allegations against Jackson about questionable management and conduct that led to his decision to step aside. In an April tweet after the nomination was scuttled, Trump called for Tester’s resignation.

But even before Trump lands there, Tester’s campaign is fighting back against the president’s contention that the incumbent talks like a Republican at home and votes like a Democrat in Washington. In a recent email blast, it announced the formation of “Republicans for Tester,” a group led by elected and appointed GOP officials, as well as “conservative Montanans who want to see things get done in Washington.”

“When it comes to fighting for Montana,” Columbia Falls City Councilman Mike Shepard said in that statement, “Jon Tester doesn’t care what party you belong to — he’s right there fighting alongside Montanans for our way of life.”

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