At a rally on friendly turf in Kentucky Monday night, President Trump urged what he called an “angry majority” of voters to send a powerful “signal” to Democrats and the world by handing the GOP a big victory not only in Tuesday’s gubernatorial race there, but also in the pivotal upcoming statewide elections in Virginia, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
The result of the showdown in Kentucky — as well as Tuesday’s gubernatorial race in Mississippi and state legislature races in Virginia — could serve as a barometer this week on whether Trump still has the proven ability to rally Republicans at the voting booth amid Democrats’ ongoing impeachment inquiry. Top Democrats have acknowledged that Trump’s influence helped the GOP sweep key House special elections in North Carolina in September.
Amid chants of “USA,” Trump repeatedly sought to leverage his accomplishments in office to boost Gov. Matt Bevin. At one point in Monday’s rally, Trump reminded the audience that American special forces had just provided “the world’s number-one terrorist a one-way ticket to hell,” in a colorful reference to former ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“The dog will be coming very shortly to the White House,” Trump remarked, referring to the special forces canine that helped take Baghdadi down.
The president stood in front of throngs of attendees wearing “Read the transcript!” shirts — a reference to the White House’s readout of Trump’s July call with Ukraine’s leader, which has prompted Democrats to begin an impeachment inquiry even as Republicans insist the conversation was benign.
“The Democrats are trying to tear our country apart,” Trump said, noting that partisans had pushed the “Russia hoax” and the “Mueller scam. … And then, Mr. Mueller testified. That was a wonderful day — for me,” referencing testimony from the former special counsel.
Calling The Washington Post “disgusting,” Trump noted that the paper had reported that impeachment was coming — just 19 minutes after he took office. (“At the moment the new commander in chief was sworn in, a campaign to build public support for his impeachment went live,” the Post’s piece read.)
Trump asserted that Democrats were “crazy” and obsessed with Russian conspiracy theories, noting that Hillary Clinton claimed presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, also a Democrat, was being “groomed” to be a “Russian asset.”
To sustained applause, the president also introduced Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as a hero who “refused to cave to the left-wing mob” during the confirmation hearings of now-Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
McConnell is up for re-election in 2020 against Amy McGrath, whom Trump dismissed as an “extreme liberal” who inartfully compared the president’s 2016 win to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“Thank you, Mr. President, for making America great again,” McConnell said when he took the microphone. “We’re changing the federal courts forever.”
Later at the rally, Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul called on the Ukraine whistleblower to testify, saying he was biased and that Democrats are trying to hide his identity from view.
“I say to the media: Do your job and print his name,” Paul said, referring to the whistleblower.
Paul also slammed Hunter Biden for obtaining lucrative roles with companies despite having no relevant expertise while his father, as senator and vice president, pushed legislation affecting those companies.
“We’re changing the federal courts forever.”
— Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Thousands of supporters lined up outside the Rupp Arena in Lexington several hours in advance of the rally to boost Bevin, who has been locked in a dead heat with state Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat. Country music star Lee Greenwood kicked off the festivities with a live rendition of Trump’s preferred walk-out song, “God Bless the USA.”
Trump carried Kentucky by 30 points when he won the presidency in 2016, and has remained popular there. However, Bevin has alienated some supporters by pushing to cut state pension programs and hammering public school teachers for striking — including his suggestion that the striking teachers indirectly bore responsibility for the shooting of a 7-year-old girl who remained at home because of school closures.
“The greatest threat to our nation is that we are so blessed,” Bevin told attendees as Trump made his way to the arena. “We have it so good that we literally have the luxury of being able to afford to not care. Don’t let this happen on our watch. We’ve got to go to the polls tomorrow and let our voices be heard.”
Daniel Cameron, the GOP nominee for Kentucky attorney general, tied the election to Democrats’ ongoing impeachment inquiry against the president — and told voters they should send a specific message to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“This is our president, and we’ll never let you take him away from this country,” Cameron said.
While Trump supporters predominated outside the venue, approximately 50 vaping advocates wore “We vape, we vote” shirts and hoisted “Lock him up” signs, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported. The president has supported a ban on flavored vaping products.
“This crowd really smells like flavored vape,” remarked the Courier-Journal’s Joe Sonka.
Other protesters unfurled a giant “Baby Trump” balloon. Similar balloons have been seen at a variety of Trump events worldwide.
Bevin has long touted his connections with the president as beneficial to Kentucky. Trump headlined a Louisville fundraiser for Bevin this past summer.
Beshear has focused on state issues and Bevin’s feud with education groups in his bid to win in Kentucky.
Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence campaigned earlier Monday in Mississippi for the Republican nominee for governor.
“Mississippi and America need Tate Reeves to be the next governor of the great state of Mississippi,” Pence told hundreds of people at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Coliseum. “Tate Reeves is Mississippi. He’s a strong conservative.”
At times, the Reeves event in Biloxi sounded like a rally for Trump. People leaped to their feet and shouted, “four more years” when Pence relayed greetings from Trump.
The president campaigned for Reeves on Friday in Tupelo.
Reeves has been in his second term as lieutenant governor. The Democrat seeking the governor’s office, Jim Hood, is in his fourth as attorney general; Hood has received more funding than any other Democrat in such a Mississippi race in nearly a generation.
They’re on the ballot Tuesday along with two lesser-known candidates. The winner would succeed Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who is limited by state law to two terms.
Mississippi has been locked in its most competitive governor’s race since 2003, when a Republican unseated the state’s last Democrat to hold the governor’s office. Reeves and Hood have been spending millions of dollars, with backing from national governors’ groups of both parties.
This year’s race has marked a dramatic change from four years ago, when the Democrat was a long-haul truck driver who didn’t vote for himself in the primary, raised little money and lost the general election by a wide margin.
Republicans have held the governorship in Mississippi for 24 of the past 28 years.
Separately, the president was blasting Louisiana’s incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who was forced into a Nov. 16 runoff against Republican businessman Eddie Rispone in last month’s non-partisan primary election after coming close but ultimately failing to win a majority.
Trump is headed to the state on Wednesday to hold a rally for the Republican challenger, who also has been locked in a tight race in the deep-red state.
Leah Askarinam, a reporter and analyst with the non-partisan newsletter Inside Elections, noted that even in these increasingly partisan times, voters might be “willing to cross party lines when it comes to governance of their specific states.”
“Gubernatorial candidates can campaign on issues that are state-specific like the state’s budget and education funding — and they can cross party lines without facing the same kind of political pressure as Senate candidates who have to work with a national legislature,” Askarinam said. “We’ve seen candidates like John Bel Edwards support state policies that limit abortion access, for example, which is a much more difficult stance to take as a Democrat in the Senate.”
Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser and The Associated Press contributed to this report.