Politics

Why Trump Spent His Friday Night in Deep-Red Southwest Ohio

Rep. Steve Chabot won re-election by 18 points in 2016. Now he faces a closer race

President Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a rally at the Erie Insurance Arena in Erie, Pa., on Wednesday night. Two days later, he took his campaign road show to Ohio. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump took his campaign road show to Ohio on Friday, a state that is a microcosm of the fight his Republican Party faces in next month’s midterm elections.

On the one hand, a recent Suffolk University-Cincinnati Enquirer poll showed a boost in Republican support and enthusiasm for Trump — and, he hopes, GOP candidates by extension. But on the other, those same surveys suggest the overall electorate in the Buckeye State is more likely to vote for Democratic candidates than Republican ones.

Trump, who carried the perennial battleground state by 7 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016, wasted little time trying to fire up his supporters on Friday evening in Lebanon.

The president earlier this week said he sees the midterms, in large part, as a referendum on his presidency. So it’s not surprising that he hailed what he described as his own achievements since taking office.

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He pointed to the unemployment rate and said, without sharing supporting data, “manufacturing confidence” has “reached an all-time high.” Noting the state of the economy, he credited “Republican leadership” as he sought to fire up his base there and drive up turnout on Nov. 6. When he said manufacturing jobs are returning to the United States, the crowd loudly chanted, “U-S-A, U-S-A.”

Trump said the country’s steel industry is on the rebound and vowed to continue that, something that would bring new jobs to Ohio residents (read: voters). “We’re finally rebuilding our nation, which is what we want,” he declared as another “U-S-A” chant broke out.

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Recent polls also showed Trump’s numbers in Ohio have climbed as the saga around newly installed Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s contentious confirmation process played out. So it was not a shock that the president just 15 minutes into the Friday rally blamed “an angry Democratic mob” for being out to “destroy” Kavanaugh, drawing boos and other jeers from the crowd. 

The city of 20,000 residents sits in deep-red southwest Ohio, a place even a political novice might question Trump visiting just three weeks until Election Day. But, like many other Republican strongholds, an incumbent GOP House member is in big trouble amid experts’ predictions of a “blue wave” that could again make Nancy Pelosi the speaker come January.

Trump plunged himself into the tight race for the 1st District between Republican incumbent Steve Chabot and Democratic challenger Aftab Pureval, the Hamilton County clerk of courts. Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzales rates the race Leans Republican.

A recent New York Times Upshot/Siena College poll gave Chabot a 9-point lead. But that’s about half the margin of his 2016 re-election, when he won by 18 points.

Losing Chabot’s seat would be devastating for Trump as it would not only signal Democratic control of the House but the end of his domestic agenda as he envisions it. It also would mean a slew of investigations into his presidency — and possibly even impeachment proceedings.

“Early voting starts now,” Trump said, urging the crowd to “get out there.”

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“If Nancy Pelosi and Democrats take control, they will try to raise your taxes, impose socialism in this country, take away your health care, and take away your jobs,” he said as more boos erupted. “The Democrats are the party of crime.

“Republicans are the party of jobs, jobs, jobs,” he said to cheers.

Trump also is trying to boost GOP Rep. James B. Renacci’s uphill Senate bid against Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown. Inside Elections rates the race Likely Democratic, with multiple polls showing Brown ahead by double digits. (He won re-election in 2012 by 6 points.)

While Chabot’s race appears more winnable, Trump talked up Renacci as a partner and called him onstage first. As most GOP candidates have done at such events, Renacci praised Trump for everything from a new North American trade pact to tax cuts to conservative federal judges to putting the Islamic State “on the run.”

“Mr. President, we are not tired of winning here in Ohio,” Renacci said. Whenever he mentioned Brown, the crowd jeered. “You asked for help, and that’s why I jumped in this race seven months ago,” he told the president.

Brown’s latest fundraising totals suggest strong enthusiasm among Democrats just a few weeks before Election Day. He’s raised $27.1 million, an Ohio record, the Dayton Daily News reported Thursday. That total eclipses Sen. Rob Portman’s $25.8 million haul in 2016. (Renacci, has not yet released his third-quarter fundraising totals as yet.)

The GOP candidates hope Trump has coattails again this cycle — and that his visit will drive up turnout there. Around 350 or so supporters enthusiastically greeted Air Force One as it landed in Cincinnati on Friday, according to a dispatch from pool reporters traveling with the president.

Notably, among them was Chabot, whom Trump dubbed “a tremendous Ohio Republican” who has helped enact parts of his agenda.

“God bless President Trump,” a gleeful-sounding Chabot said onstage, before adding, “I never thought I'd say this, but God bless Kanye West.”

(He was referring to the controversial rapper who met with Trump at the White House on Thursday.)

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