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Trump hits road to ignite stalled campaign

President TrumpDonald TrumpIran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries Pardon-seekers have paid Trump allies tens of thousands to lobby president: NYT MORE will travel to Georgia on Wednesday, his 10th trip to a 2020 battleground state since May as he tries to reinvigorate a reelection campaign that has stalled out with the coronavirus crisis. 

Trump is trailing presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenFear of insider attack prompts additional FBI screening of National Guard troops: AP Iran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries MORE in national and swing-state polls, and his rhetoric has seemed out of step with voters on both COVID-19 and protests over systemic racism. 

His falling poll numbers have alarmed Republicans, who worry the party could end up losing the Senate majority. The White House has sought to get Trump out on the road more often in the last several weeks, something past presidents have used to rejuvenate themselves. 

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Trump likes being in front of a crowd, and his rallies, brimming with enthusiastic supporters, propelled him to victory in 2016.

However, his first return to a rally since March in Tulsa, Okla., earned mostly negative headlines after outdoor speeches were canceled amid low attendance. Most people in the audience didn’t wear masks at that event or his subsequent appearances, leading to criticism that the events would help spread COVID-19. 

Positive cases among campaign officials added to the bad news, as did escalating case numbers in states such as Florida, Texas and Arizona that Trump has sought to minimize. The Trump campaign and the White House still think they can turn things around, and they see getting Trump on the road for official and campaign business as a key part of that, despite the difficulties of the coronavirus.

“President Trump is still very popular with his base, so overall his visits are a win for candidates,” said Dan Eberhart, a GOP fundraiser.

Historically, trips have offered Trump and other presidents the benefit of positive local news coverage and the chance to connect with supporters on the ground. Trump himself is not a creature of Washington and delights in getting out on the campaign trail to connect with his base of supporters. 

Republicans also think Trump can continue to help down-ballot Republicans too, though that does depend on the state and district.

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“He may not help more moderate candidates in swing states — like [Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerOvernight Defense: Joint Chiefs denounce Capitol attack | Contractors halt donations after siege | 'QAnon Shaman' at Capitol is Navy vet Lobbying world Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (R-Colo.)] — but for a lot of Republicans who are depending on their core base to turn out, Trump is a positive,” Eberhart said. “The president is best when he has an audience, too, so these events energize him and keep him focused.”

One of the states where the president has focused energy is Arizona, where he has traveled twice since early May, first to visit a Honeywell facility producing masks and later to tour a section of the border wall in Yuma before delivering a campaign-style speech to young supporters.

Arizona is a must-win state for Trump that hasn’t gone to a Democratic candidate since 1996, but polls show a tight race, and some have had Biden with a lead.

Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyCindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' Arizona state GOP moves to censure Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed MORE (R-Ariz.) is also facing a tough Senate race against retired astronaut Mark Kelly (D), who has raised significant sums of money and holds a 9-point lead over McSally, according to a new poll from the Phoenix-based firm OH Predictive Insights.

Stan Barnes, a GOP strategist in Phoenix, argued Trump’s message opposing riots and movements to redirect funds from police departments would help him among suburban voters in the state and that the attention he has paid to Arizona would have a meaningful effect.

“It will pay off for him in Arizona, to the extent we are close at all, I believe it will have a meaningful difference for winning Arizona once again,” he said of the visits.

But Chuck Coughlin, another Phoenix Republican strategist, said that Trump’s handling of the coronavirus is hurting him by both taking away his best argument — the economy — and impeding his massive rallies. To defeat Biden, Coughlin said, Trump will need to more successfully tie the former vice president to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. 

“He won the race fairly narrowly last time over arguably a less attractive opponent,” Coughlin said. “The challenge to his campaign is more difficult this time.” 

Trump has also visited Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maine, Texas and Wisconsin and will travel to Georgia on Wednesday to highlight an initiative meant to speed up infrastructure projects. The state is the site of a special Senate election involving two GOP candidates, Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerNikki Haley unveils PAC ahead of possible 2024 White House bid McConnell has said he thinks Trump committed impeachable offenses: report Top Republican congressional aide resigns, rips GOP lawmakers who objected to Biden win MORE and Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsDrudge congratulates Warnock, says Ann Coulter should have been GOP candidate Warnock defeats Loeffler in Georgia Senate runoff Warnock says he needs to win 'by comfortable margin' because 'funny things go on' MORE. Sen. David Perdue (R) is also defending his seat against a challenge from Jon Ossoff (D). 

Both Loeffler and Collins are attempting to associate themselves as closely with Trump as possible, an indication that his presence in certain states is still seen as an asset. Loeffler will travel with Trump aboard Air Force One to Atlanta, and Collins will meet with the president upon arrival. According to the current RealClearPolitics average of polls, Trump leads Biden by 3 percentage points in Georgia. 

Trump is hoping to hold more rallies going forward and last month identified Texas, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina as states where he would like to stage the events. But all four have seen surges in coronavirus cases in the time period since. 

Trump was scheduled to hold an outdoor rally in New Hampshire last Friday, but the campaign canceled it a day in advance, citing a tropical storm that was expected to hit the region. Officials close to the campaign acknowledged a secondary concern was turnout, saying there was uncertainty whether supporters would travel to Portsmouth from around the state amid worries about the virus.

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The New Hampshire postponement reflects the new reality Trump will have to adapt to in the closing months of the 2020 campaign. 

Campaign officials say Trump relishes the large crowds, which give him an outlet to riff on whatever is on his mind and connect with his most dedicated supporters. Officials have argued that recent large protests against police brutality and racism give Trump an opening to continue rallies. 

In the closing days of the 2016 campaign and the 2018 midterm elections, Trump regularly held multiple campaign rallies in a single day. But a similar strategy might be difficult to replicate as the United States struggles to contain new outbreaks of the coronavirus and as some voters appear to tire of Trump’s rhetoric.

“I equate him to a pitcher with one pitch,” said Coughlin, the Republican strategist in Phoenix. “His one pitch is this fast ball, which is the rally.” 

“The pandemic has taken away that tool from him,” Coughlin continued. “That enthusiasm which he could show to people — you cannot do that now, which I think creates an enormous problem for him.”