The president so far has announced no plans to hold one of his signature "Make America Great Again" rallies in Washington, despite competitive House races in three GOP-held districts that will help determine which party controls the chamber next year.
President Donald Trump has vowed an aggressive political travel schedule over the next two months, hoping to boost Republicans’ chances of hanging on to majorities in the House and Senate.
Trump made a westward swing last week, holding a rally Thursday in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Friday in Springfield, Missouri. The Associated Press reported last month that Trump intends to spend more than 40 days on the campaign trail before the Nov. 6 election.
Washington’s Republican congressional candidates, however, are not exactly clamoring for a Pacific Northwest appearance from Trump, who received 38 percent of the statewide vote in the 2016 presidential election — and just 22 percent in King County.
The president so far has announced no plans to hold one of his signature “Make America Great Again” rallies in Washington, despite competitive House races in three GOP-held districts that will help determine which party controls the chamber next year.
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Gov. Jay Inslee has mockingly begged Trump to visit, telling the president in a tweet last month that Washington Republicans “need your help! Please come and campaign for them in WA this fall!” In a subsequent TV interview, Inslee, who is chair of the Democratic Governors Association this year, said he’d even throw a parade for the president.
But Republican candidates say they’ll be just fine without a Trump bump.
“I am very self-sufficient. I really don’t need a lot of help … I have got a brand of my own,” said Dino Rossi, the former Republican state senator and real-estate investor running for the 8th Congressional District seat of retiring Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, when asked Monday whether a Trump visit would benefit him in his race against Democrat Kim Schrier, an Issaquah pediatrician.
Similar word came from Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Vancouver, who is facing a challenge from Democrat Carolyn Long, a Vancouver political science professor, in a race that has drawn increased attention after the Republican incumbent’s relatively weak showing in the August primary.
“We haven’t heard anything about a visit, and we’ve never focused on getting big names from outside Southwest Washington to come campaign for us. This year’s no different,” said Angeline Riesterer, a spokeswoman for Herrera Beutler, in an email.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, has not requested a Trump visit, but wouldn’t object to one. Asked whether she’d like Trump to campaign for her, a McMorris Rodgers spokesman pointed to an MSNBC interview earlier this year. “I know a lot of people would love to see him come. I would always welcome the president to come to my district,” McMorris Rodgers said in the interview.
McMorris Rodgers has not been shy about calling in Trump administration heavyweights.
Vice President Mike Pence is tentatively scheduled to visit Spokane for a fundraiser Oct. 2, the Spokesman-Review newspaper reported Friday.
Trump’s White House counselor, Kellyanne Conway, appeared at a fundraiser for McMorris Rodgers last month in Spokane.
The fourth-ranking Republican in the U.S. House, McMorris Rodgers is up against her strongest challenger since being elected to Congress in 2004, facing Lisa Brown, the former state Senate Democratic leader and former chancellor of Washington State University’s Spokane campus.
Susan Hutchison, the former state Republican Party chair challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell this fall, said she hasn’t requested a Trump visit and hasn’t had time to analyze whether one would benefit her in a statewide race. She said while Trump may be divisive personally, “his policies are very popular.”
As state party chair, Hutchison defended Trump and made national news when she confronted Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at the 2016 Republican National Convention, calling him a “traitor to the party” for failing to endorse Trump in his convention speech.
A national political analyst said the impact of a Trump visit would depend on which congressional district is at play.
“At the very least, Dino Rossi is going to want to keep Trump at arm’s length. I can’t imagine Trump’s approval rating is positive in that district, and a Trump appearance might fire up Democrats even more,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan political analysis and handicapping newsletter published by the University of Virginia. In the 8th District, Hillary Clinton beat Trump by 3 percentage points.
“McMorris Rodgers is a more interesting case: Trump won her district by double digits. But it may be a moot point, as my guess is that Trump’s time may be better spent highlighting races at the statewide level. There’s nothing going on statewide in Washington that is competitive,” Kondik wrote.
Veteran Seattle-based pollster Stuart Elway said given Trump’s low popularity in the state, “I think it’d be a gamble” for any Republicans facing tough races to appear on a stage with the president, but especially for Rossi in the politically moderate 8th District. “He may have to have urgent business in Arizona … or a family emergency in Winnipeg on the day Trump is here.”
An Elway poll in April found a Democratic enthusiasm advantage in the state, with 92 percent of Democrats polled saying they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes Trump, compared with 78 percent of Republicans who were more likely to vote for a Trump ally.
Best known for three unsuccessful runs for statewide office, Rossi was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland two years ago, backing Trump as the party’s presidential nominee, although he said the former reality TV star had been his least-favorite choice in the GOP field.
In this year’s race, Rossi has tried to steer the debate toward issues such as tax cuts and away from Trump, saying he’d treat him like any other president if elected to Congress.
A frequent purpose for a presidential campaign visit is to load up candidates’ campaign coffers. But Rossi, who has raised more than $3 million, said “we’re fine there … I don’t need help.”
Trump last visited Washington state in August 2016, when he held a campaign rally and fundraiser in Everett. None of the state’s four Republican members of Congress joined him at the event.
At Trump’s rally Thursday in Las Vegas, he stood on stage with top GOP candidates, including Sen. Dean Heller, who is locked in a tight re-election race with Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen. Trump smiled as the crowd reprised chants of “lock her up” at the mention of 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and attacked Democrats for opposing his administration’s policies.
“They’re lousy politicians and their policies are terrible … but we are going to be victorious,” he said.
Kyle Fischer, a spokesman for the Washington state Republican Party, said he was unaware of any plans for Trump or top surrogates to travel here. He said state Republican Party chairman Caleb Heimlich would not comment on whether a visit would help or harm GOP candidates.
Washington Republicans are no strangers to maneuvering in a state where Republican presidents and presidential candidates have been unpopular, said Chris Vance, who chaired the state Republican Party during the presidency of George W. Bush. (Vance left the party last year due to its continued allegiance to Trump and now identifies as an independent.)
“When I was state party chair the Bush campaign and the political office at the White House would ask ‘Do you want the president?’ ” said Vance. “If I were Caleb right now, I would be like ‘Don’t you dare send him here.’ “