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Trump hosts rally to push for GOP candidate in NC election

HAVELOCK, N.C. (AP) — Trying to prove his political clout by pushing a Republican to victory in a special election, President Donald Trump used a North Carolina rally to paint a bleak picture of a nation he claimed would be overrun with crime, poverty and immigrants if Democrats seize power in Washington.

Trump, appearing Monday at his first campaign rally in nearly a month, went on the offensive in an effort to change a series of late-summer negative headlines over his slipping poll numbers, warning signs of an economic slowdown and a running battle over hurricane forecasts. He urged the Fayetteville crowd to vote for Republican Dan Bishop on Tuesday, brandishing his usual incendiary rhetoric to declare from the stage that “tomorrow is a chance to send a clear message to the America-hating left.”

Should Bishop defeat Democrat Dan McCready, it could give Trump room to assert that he pulled Bishop over the top. If McCready prevails or Bishop wins by a whisker, it will suggest GOP erosion and raise questions about Trump’s and his party’s viability for 2020.

Shortly after Trump’s rally, McCready launched a late fund-raising appeal, saying Trump and his allies “scheduled this rally to rile up support for my opponent and increase Republican turnout….The GOP is terrified of losing this race.”

While the stakes for the House are high, Trump’s trademark rallies inevitably become more about him than the local candidate, as he uses the stage to settle political scores, sharpen attacks and take on perceived foes. With an eye to his own reelection next fall, he touted his administration’s accomplishments but also urged voters to give him more time.

“That’s why we need four more years,” Trump said at the nearly 90-minute rally. “It’s got to seed — it’s a plant. It has to grow. It has to grow those roots. That’s why 2020 is just as important. Because they will try to take it away.”

Trump’s appearance Monday emerged as a test of the Republican president’s pull with voters. The special election could offer clues about the mindset of Republicans in the suburbs, whose flight from the party fueled the GOP’s 2018 House election losses.

The president enjoys wide popularity within his own party, but a GOP defeat in a red-leaning state could portend trouble for his reelection campaign. But before leaving Washington, Trump dismissed questions of whether a poor result for the Republican candidate would serve as a warning sign in next year’s elections.

“No, I don’t see it as a bellwether,” Trump said.

After a light rally schedule of late, the president had plenty of new material to work with.

Chief among them was the White House’s worries about the impact an economic downturn could have on a president who has made a strong economy his central argument for a second term. Trump advisers worry that moderate Republican and independent voters who have been willing to give him a pass on some of his incendiary policies and rhetoric would blame him — and, in particular, his trade war with China — for slowing down the economy.

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