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Trump embraces rallying base ahead of midterms

President Donald Trump has taken on the role of rallying his base ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. CNN's Jeff Zeleny takes a closer look.

Posted: Oct 23, 2018 9:50 AM
Updated: Oct 23, 2018 10:14 AM

President Donald Trump knows the November election is all about him. He worries his supporters do not.

"Pretend I'm on the ballot," he says at most every rally, trying to awaken his supporters to the urgency of the fight for control of Congress.

Two weeks before Election Day, a new air of uncertainty hangs over the 2018 campaign that revolves almost entirely around the Trump factor.

A month ago, the President seemed all but resigned that Republicans would lose the House, two people who speak to him frequently tell CNN. But his outlook has brightened in recent days, increasingly insisting he can awaken his coalition to stop -- or slow -- a Democratic wave, they say.

"If anyone can save the House, he thinks he can," a Republican congressman close to the President said. "He's the only one who believes it's really possible."

While most presidents distance themselves from midterm elections to avoid nationalizing the races, Trump is doing the opposite. He's all in, firing up loyal supporters and fierce critics alike.

"This will be the election of the caravan, Kavanaugh, law and order, tax cuts and common sense," the President said to booming applause inside Houston's Toyota Center on Monday, boiling down his closing argument for Republicans in one crisp sentence.

Here in Houston, the rally on Monday night is his 29th of the year. It follows a familiar pattern of much of his 2018 campaign travel: visiting red states filled with Trump admirers, hoping to minimize political harm by energizing his detractors.

But even in Texas, several Republican strategists expressed a palpable level of anxiety at what the President might say during his unscripted rally. Trump's sharp rhetoric on immigration, two officials said, could awaken Hispanic voters or independents in key congressional races in the state.

"We were hoping he would go to West Texas for this rally," a Republican strategist said, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid being seen criticizing the President or the White House.

An analysis of Trump's travel shows where he is -- and isn't -- welcome. In deep-red Montana, for example, he's staged three rallies to try to defeat Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in a race even most Republicans see as no easy task.

Yet he's all but steering clear of Florida -- holding no big rallies so far this fall, despite campaigning there just months ago during the GOP primary. Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who's locked in a tight race to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, has asked Trump to stay away, a GOP official said.

But as in many states, Trump remains a central theme of the race, as illustrated in dueling TV ads from Nelson and Scott.

"When President Trump asks for something that's good for him and bad for Florida, I know what I'll do. I'll say no," Nelson said in a recent ad. "And we all know what Rick Scott will do. He'll say yes."

Scott responded: "I'll work with President Trump when he's doing things that are good for Florida and America. And when I disagree, I have the courage to say so."

So far, the President has agreed not to campaign in Florida, but he did visit the Gulf Coast this month to survey hurricane damage. A Republican official said Trump keeps asking about the race, saying he wants to do a rally in the final week for either the Senate or governor's race.

The last time Trump spent so much time hopscotching from one roaring arena to another, he was on a victory tour, thanking voters who helped turn states from blue to red in his triumph over Hillary Clinton. But statewide GOP candidates are trailing in most of those new Trump states, including Pennsylvania and Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.

While the near-nightly Trump show is back, this time his rallies are no longer regularly seen live on cable television. Even his beloved Fox News had taken a pass for weeks -- until Monday night, when the Houston rally aired from start to finish.

His devoted fans are still filling every arena to the brim, but White House aides said he has repeatedly expressed frustration that his speeches are not being televised.

That's not to say, of course, that Trump isn't still the central character of the midterm election campaign.

The President appears in nearly 20% of all political ads this year, according to an analysis of data from Kantar Media/CMAG, based on the top 100 most competitive House and Senate races.

So far this year, at least $55 million has been spent on pro-Trump ads, the analysis found, with $61 million on anti-Trump ads.

The White House is increasingly confident about keeping control of the Senate, largely cause of the blessing of geography, with the majority of competitive seats in red states. To most places, Trump's message lingers far longer than he does because Republicans turn his rallies into 30-second commercials blasting the Democratic candidate.

"Phil whatever the hell his name is, this guy will 100% vote against us every single time," Trump says in an ad, attacking Phil Bredesen, the former Democratic governor running for the open Senate seat in Tennessee against Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn.

While Trump has said he will accept no blame if Republicans lose control of the House, he will have to deal with the consequences of a Democrat-controlled House investigating the White House.

Such talk has been all but suspended for now in the West Wing, two aides said, with the President not interested in discussing what happens beyond Election Day. He has previously told allies that Democrat-led impeachment or investigations could strengthen his hand going into 2020.

Whatever the outcome on November 6, the midterm election campaign has solidified Trump as the indisputable leader of the Republican Party. Even old rivals like Cruz now depend on Trump's coalition for their own survival.

"I think it energizes people," Cruz told CNN on the eve of Trump's visit to Houston. "I think it's going to help drive turnout. And this election is a turnout election."

Asked whether Trump was the biggest factor, Cruz replied: "The President is certainly a factor in the election, but I think the biggest factor in Texas is the economic boom we're seeing."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 69374

Reported Deaths: 1989
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5768121
DeSoto375331
Harrison265136
Madison248972
Jackson239145
Rankin232238
Jones194762
Forrest185857
Washington172244
Lee156342
Lauderdale143993
Neshoba130694
Lamar124115
Bolivar115636
Warren113735
Oktibbeha113639
Lowndes110240
Panola109117
Sunflower107127
Lafayette101820
Scott101720
Copiah97128
Leflore95968
Pike95137
Holmes92349
Yazoo87013
Pontotoc8579
Grenada85626
Lincoln84643
Monroe83155
Simpson82131
Leake79927
Coahoma78913
Wayne78921
Tate74630
Marshall7299
Union70017
Marion68921
Adams64226
Covington63715
Winston63516
George6038
Pearl River56740
Newton55511
Tallahatchie54711
Attala53325
Walthall51121
Chickasaw48819
Noxubee46312
Tishomingo4449
Prentiss44110
Alcorn4395
Calhoun4269
Smith41213
Claiborne40914
Hancock40915
Jasper4089
Clay40414
Itawamba39510
Tippah38814
Tunica3657
Montgomery3456
Clarke34328
Lawrence3298
Yalobusha31810
Humphreys29912
Quitman2751
Carroll26211
Greene26213
Perry2488
Webster24813
Amite2406
Jefferson Davis2406
Kemper24014
Stone2245
Wilkinson22013
Sharkey2065
Jefferson1967
Benton1541
Choctaw1384
Franklin1352
Issaquena272
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 100801

Reported Deaths: 1814
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson13463261
Mobile10671216
Montgomery6955153
Madison551035
Tuscaloosa432780
Unassigned398568
Baldwin371029
Shelby336137
Marshall319938
Lee272447
Morgan242520
Etowah219034
DeKalb185214
Calhoun182819
Elmore176739
Walker154865
Houston145013
Russell13912
Limestone137813
St. Clair137520
Dallas134725
Franklin130822
Cullman123812
Colbert122518
Lauderdale120320
Autauga118822
Escambia109417
Jackson10724
Talladega106914
Tallapoosa87679
Dale85029
Chambers84838
Chilton8279
Blount8255
Clarke82110
Coffee7796
Butler77336
Covington74621
Pike7167
Marion58726
Barbour5816
Lowndes57524
Marengo56817
Bullock49211
Hale48826
Winston45711
Bibb4535
Washington44913
Perry4464
Wilcox43610
Monroe4246
Pickens41110
Randolph40311
Conecuh39410
Sumter36618
Lawrence3563
Macon34114
Crenshaw3318
Choctaw28912
Cherokee2798
Clay2775
Geneva2652
Henry2643
Greene25311
Lamar2302
Fayette2235
Cleburne1291
Coosa1053
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