President Donald Trump rushed around the country on Monday in a final bid to drive his voters to the polls and blunt any late Democratic momentum in the battle for control of the Senate.
The president kicked off the final day of the campaign with a rally in Cleveland, where he told supporters midterm elections were “boring” before he took office. Imploring them to vote as if he were on the ballot Tuesday, he echoed the messages he’s been delivering down the homestretch: that putting Democrats in charge of Congress would put the robust economy in jeopardy and risk opening the borders to undocumented immigrants.
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Trump conclude his campaign sprint with back-to-back rallies in Missouri and Indiana, two states he won overwhelmingly in 2016 that are critical to Republican hopes to maintain or grow their Senate majority.
“It’s all fragile. We have to go out and we have to vote,” Trump said on a conference call with supporters Monday ahead of his three-rally day. “Even though I’m not on a ballot, in a certain way I’m on the ballot.”
“We have an energy over the last couple weeks that people have not seen in the Republican Party and it feels very much like ‘16 because they love what we’ve done and they want to keep it going,” he added.
But appearing in Cape Girardeau, Mo., on Monday night to make his very last pitch to voters ahead of Election Day, the president took nearly 30 minutes before first mentioning Republican Senate candidate Josh Hawley. He instead focused on his own political ascent in 2016 and his various successes in office.
Hawley is challenging incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, one of the several endangered red-state Democrats the president has prioritized toppling over the past week.
As Trump barnstormed the country to turn out his supporters, a final batch of polls provided signs of late momentum for Democrats in the battle for the Senate, with surveys showing their candidates leading in two battleground races and significantly ahead in New Jersey.
In Florida, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson led Republican Gov. Rick Scott in two surveys out Monday, a sign that the critical battleground race is breaking their way in the final days. And in Missouri, an NBC News poll showed Democratic McCaskill slightly ahead of Hawley despite Republican optimism in recent weeks that the race had shifted in their favor.
Democrats would need both those polls to be correct — especially in Missouri, where Hawley led by a similar margin in several other recent public polls — and to have similar momentum in a handful of other tossup races, to have any shot at winning the Senate majority Tuesday night.
It’s a long shot, but not impossible.
Given the GOP’s dim odds of keeping the House majority, the president has bet on his ability to gin up last-minute enthusiasm among his voters in red states to protect or even grow his party‘s Senate majority. Trump’s Indiana and Missouri rallies will be his second visit to each state in recent days. He also held rallies in Montana, Tennessee and Florida over the weekend to give a last-minute boost to Republican Senate candidates.
The president’s closing schedule underlines the uncertainty of the Senate map, with a handful of tossup races in which neither party has a clear advantage. Republicans are confident they can flip North Dakota and protect Tennessee, and Democrats are bullish on holding West Virginia and flipping Nevada. But at least five races — in Arizona, Florida, Montana, Indiana and Missouri — remain tight.
Trump’s ability to mobilize his voters in these states could determine whether Republicans are able to protect or make slight gains on their 51-49 Senate majority.
“I think we’re going to do well in the House,” Trump said Sunday. “But, as you know, my primary focus has been on the Senate, and I think we’re doing really well in the Senate.”
But Democrats have not given up hope of winning the chamber. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Sunday that Democrats have a “narrow” path to capturing the chamber. He also pointed how the terrain has shifted in Democrats’ favor over the course of the election cycle, despite a map that tilts heavily towards Republicans. Democrats remain clear favorites in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all states Trump won two years ago.
“I don’t want to define a good night, because what we see right now is a situation that is a whole lot better than anyone would have predicted 18 months ago, when Republicans were saying that they might win another eight seats and have a filibuster-proof majority in the United States Senate,” Van Hollen said Sunday on “Meet the Press.“ “No one’s talking about that right now.”
Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) rallied for Republican Matt Rosendale in Montana, linking Democratic incumbent Sen. Jon Testerto Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and former President Obama. Pence called a vote for Tester a “vote for the liberal agenda, a vote for more resistance.”
Graham, who has visited nearly every battleground Senate race in recent weeks to energize conservative voters around the Supreme Court, pitched the election as a referendum on Tester’s opposition to the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“You want justice for Brett Kavanaugh, Jon Tester needs to lose,” Graham said.
In Florida, a Quinnipiac University poll out Monday showed Nelson ahead of Gov. Rick Scott by 7 percentage points; an NBC News poll showed Nelson with a narrower, 4-point edge over the Republican governor.
Scott rejected both surveys, saying Monday morning that he believes the momentum is on his side.
“We have big rallies, lots of energy on our side, so we’re going to have a big win,” Scott said on Fox News. “There’s no blue wave. If anything there’s a red wave.”
In Missouri, McCaskill led Hawley by 3 points in an NBC poll, 47 to 44 percent, with several other candidates receiving nominal support. Hawley led McCaskill by a similar margin in two other surveys released Monday. Missouri has no early voting and both parties are working feverishly to boost turnout on Election Day. Trump’s rally there Monday night in the most conservative corner of the state is scheduled just nine hours before polls open.
Democrats also look poised to avoid a debacle in New Jersey, where Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez led Republican Bob Hugin by 15 points in a final Quinnipiac University poll. Democrats invested millions down the stretch to boost Menendez’s flagging campaign.
Nationally, polls diverged over whether the environment had shifted for Democrats or Republicans in the final days of the campaign. A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll Monday showed Democrats with only a slight lead in the generic ballot, 43 to 40 percent. But a CNN poll showed a 13-point edge for Democrats.
Quint Forgey contributed to this report.