ELKHART, Ind. (AP) — Embracing the role of party leader, President Donald Trump issued a stern warning Thursday that Democrats would disrupt the economic progress of his administration as he implored fellow Republicans to mobilize behind a slate of Indiana candidates.
Trump used one of his signature rallies in northern Indiana to paint a rosy picture of his presidency, pointing to low unemployment, “booming” job growth and optimism under his watch. Two days after Indiana wrapped up a divisive Republican Senate primary, Trump praised a ticket of House and Senate candidates by name and predicted Democrats would dismantle his agenda if Nancy Pelosi, the current House minority leader, became House speaker.
“You have to work every day between now and November to elect more Republicans so that we can continue to make America great again,” Trump said, referencing his 2016 campaign slogan.
Chief among his targets: Indiana’s Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, who faces Republican businessman Mike Braun in one of the most competitive Senate campaigns. Trump branded Donnelly as “Sleepin’ Joe,” assailing him for opposing the president’s signature tax cuts and the president’s efforts to end the Affordable Care Act.
Trump said Donnelly would “do whatever Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi tell him to do.” Donnelly, Trump said, will “say one thing in Elkhart” and then support the “radical, liberal agenda. It never, ever fails.”
The rally marks Trump’s return to the campaign trail. He’s planning a series of big-stage events targeting vulnerable Senate Democrats and mobilizing his most fervent supporters on behalf of Republicans after primaries this week that saw GOP congressmen lose in key races.
Trump took the stage in Elkhart, Indiana two days after Republicans nominated Braun to challenge Donnelly. Trump’s political advisers view the event as a way to project party unity following a bruising primary. Vice President Mike Pence, the state’s former governor, introduced Trump at the rally.
The president has told advisers he is eager to ramp up his campaign travel on behalf of Republicans.
Trump, who helped raise $132 million for the Republican National Committee in 2016, won 10 states where Democratic senators are on the ballot this year. He’s expected to campaign heavily to help Republicans maintain Senate and House majorities and elect GOP governors.
Trump’s bold strokes on the foreign stage come while he is dogged by the special counsel’s ongoing investigation into Russian election meddling and developments about his personal attorney’s payments to a porn actress, allowing him to frame the campaign debate, specifically Donnelly’s “no” vote on last year’s tax overhaul.
Trump’s political advisers chose to hold the rally in the heart of Donnelly’s political base. Before his 2012 election, the senator represented a House district that included Elkhart.
The city, home to manufacturing jobs and the recreational vehicle industry, was also paid a visit by President Barack Obama in 2009 when the region was suffering from unemployment rates surpassing 19 percent. Obama returned to Elkhart in 2016 to point to economic progress, but Trump carried the county and much of the region overwhelmingly that year.
The rally comes on the heels of bruising defeats this week for Republican incumbents: Two Indiana congressmen making a bid for a U.S. Senate seat lost to Braun, a North Carolina congressman lost to a pastor and a third incumbent lost in a contested Senate primary in West Virginia.
Ahead of the rally, Donnelly’s campaign said the senator had voted with Trump 62 percent of the time “because he works for Hoosiers, not any politician or political party.”
The Indiana rally is Trump’s fourth political-style event in the past two weeks. Trump skipped the White House Correspondents’ Dinner late last month to rally supporters in Macomb County, Michigan.
His speech last week to the National Rifle Association in Dallas put him before thousands of gun-rights activists who actively backed his campaign. And last Saturday, Trump was in Ohio, long the key electoral piece for any GOP presidential hopeful.
A key to Trump’s message will be energizing low-propensity Republican voters in 2018, many of whom turned out for the first time in years to vote for him.
As he travels the country, Trump will face the question of whether his appeal is transferable to down-ballot candidates, much in the way that Obama struggled to rally core Democrats when he wasn’t running himself.
Obama suffered broad losses in Congress and in statehouses during the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, an outcome Trump hopes to avoid.
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.
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