White House

Trump urges reelection of ‘pain in the ass’ Kentucky governor as a 2020 ‘message’

McConnell touts his judicial nominees strategy at Lexington rally: ‘Leave no vacancy behind’

President Donald Trump attends a rally in Minneapolis on Oct. 10. He was back on the campaign trail Monday evening for an election eve rally in Lexington, Ky. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images file photo)

President Donald Trump on Monday unveiled a new attack on Democrats one year ahead of the 2020 election, saying at a rally in Kentucky that the party wants to enact an “authoritarian agenda.”

Trump also vowed to return to the state “many times” to campaign for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who faces what some political experts call a serious Democratic challenge from Amy McGrath. Trump also urged Kentucky voters to reelect their “pain in the ass” incumbent Republican governor, Matt Bevin, to “send a message” about Trump’s own coattails.

“They are crazy,” he said of Democrats during a campaign rally in Lexington, where he was stumping for Bevin on the eve of Election Day. “[The] radical Democrats are going totally insane.”

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Trump described Republicans as “totally unified” just seven days after he chided congressional GOP members for pushing back on the House Democrats’ impeachment probe for the process being employed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff, rather than the substance of his July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s leader.

The president accused House Democrats of trying to “nullify” the 2016 election. All but two of the 233 House Democrats backed guidelines for the public phase of the impeachment inquiry.  

Many of Trump’s supporters on a riser behind his lectern at Lexington’s storied Rupp Arena, home of the NCAA men’s basketball powerhouse Kentucky Wildcats, were wearing white T-shirts with “READ THE TRANSCRIPT!” printed in red letters. That was a reference to a White House-prepared summary of Trump’s call with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy that the U.S. president contends clears him of wrongdoing. The document aligns with an intelligence officer’s account of the call in a written complaint submitted to the top intelligence community inspector general.

Trump also referenced his green-lighting of a U.S. military operation that led to the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, saying the mission he approved sent the terrorist leader “straight to hell.”

The Kentucky rally came the same day a New York Times Upshot-Siena College poll showed Trump with slim leads over Democratic Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in six battleground states he won in 2016. In those six states — Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — the president trails former Vice President Joe Biden, but by no more than five percentage points.

Bevin ranks among the country’s most unpopular governors. He won his primary in May with just 52 percent of the vote. He had a bitter fight with public school teachers, a powerful voting bloc, and a public feud with his own lieutenant governor, who was dropped from the ticket.

Those factors have made the race unexpectedly close. A Mason-Dixon poll released earlier this month had Bevin and Democratic rival Andy Beshear tied at 46 percent.

The president told his supporters Monday they have a chance to “send the radical Democrats a message” by handing Bevin a second term. “This guy, Beshear, is a major lefty. … Do we even need an election tomorrow?”

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He accused Beshear of intending to “bring sanctuary cities to Kentucky,” drawing boos from the crowd. “Bad news came out of sanctuary cities.”

Bevin again attached himself to what he hopes are the president’s coattails. He implored voters to show the country “that Kentucky is leading the way” by “supporting the president, Donald J. Trump.” Trump won the state by nearly 30 points in 2016. 

While many conservative voters tell pollsters they think Washington collects too much in taxes and spends too much of their money, they cheered loudly when Trump told them Bevin often calls him seeking “money” and other federal help. “He’s a pain in the ass. … But isn’t that what you want in a governor?” he said to cheers.

The race for the governor’s mansion could provide a preview of what awaits McConnell, who was present at Monday’s rally, in his own reelection bid next year. It could also give an early glimpse of coattails the president might be able to offer down-ballot Republican candidates next year. 

Bevin has attempted to overcome his negatives by playing up his close relationship with Trump. If the strategy works for him, Republicans say, it would bode well for McConnell next year, when the race will be even more nationalized.

Trump name-checked McConnell on Monday, saying he “works smarter” than others in Washington and ticking off a list of things the majority leader has done since Trump took office.

When it was his time behind the mic, McConnell touted the Supreme Court and federal judicial nominees the Senate has confirmed under his leadership. “My motto is ‘leave no vacancy behind,’” he said to cheers.

Trump called McGrath, McConnell’s potential 2020 Democratic opponent, an “extreme liberal” who is “anti-gun.”

“She supports the impeachment hoax,” he said. “She wants to get rid of me.”

The crowd booed.

Stephanie Akin contributed to this report.Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.