Familiar 2016 figures deployed as midterms hit last 2 weeks
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is battling Democrats for control of Congress. But you might think it’s 2016 all over again.
As the 2018 midterms shifted to the final two weeks of campaigning, Trump staged a large Monday night rally in Houston, Ted Cruz’s hometown, to help the Texas senator and his 2016 presidential rival fend off a tough challenge from Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
During the 2016 primaries, Trump mocked Cruz as “Lyin’ Ted,” insulted his wife’s appearance and suggested Cruz’s father played a role in the Kennedy assassination. Cruz assailed Trump as a “sniveling coward” and told Trump to leave his wife alone. But campaigns have a way of letting bygones be bygones.
Democrats dispatched former President Barack Obama to Las Vegas to help Nevada Democrats while former Vice President Joe Biden was barnstorming Florida. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who tried to wrestle the 2016 Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton, was in Wisconsin, one of the states that propelled Trump to his stunning upset.
And California Sen. Kamala Harris, a potential 2020 presidential candidate, kicked off a two-day trip to Iowa, her first to the home of the nation’s first presidential caucus.
Democrats are trying to flip nearly two dozen House seats to regain control of that chamber. Republicans are trying to maintain a slim Senate majority and defend several governors’ mansions.
A look at midterm campaign activities Monday:
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi says if the election were held today, her party would “handily” win back control of the House. But she’s raising the possibility of an unpredictable finish to the midterms, adding, “I can only speak in the present tense because you never know.”
Democrats have been wary about potential foreign interference in next month’s elections, concerned that Russia might again try to sow discord in the political system. House Democrats are expected to reopen the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election if they win the majority.
Pelosi told CNN’s Dana Bash at CITIZEN by CNN political forum that Democrats will “own the ground” to produce a large voter turnout, promising lower prescription drug costs and infrastructure spending if Democrats win back the House.
Asked if she believes House Democrats will elect her speaker again if they regain the majority, Pelosi says, “It’s up to them to make that decision, but I feel pretty comfortable where I am on it.”
SANDERS IN WISCONSIN
Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders told college students and other young supporters in Wisconsin that they could “transform” the nation if they show up and vote in the upcoming fall elections.
Sanders headlined an early voting rally at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee aimed at defeating Republican Gov. Scott Walker and re-electing Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. Organizers said more than 1,100 people were at the rally.
“Let’s tell Trump and his friends — let’s tell Trump and Walker and all of these guys — that we want a government and an economy based on justice, we want a government and an economy that represents all of us and not the 1 percent,” Sanders said alongside Baldwin.
Wisconsin is one of the campaign’s epicenters. Trump is returning to the state Wednesday for a rally with Walker and Leah Vukmir, Baldwin’s Republican opponent. Obama is coming to Milwaukee Friday for an early voting event.
Polls show Walker’s race against state education chief Tony Evers to be a toss-up, while Baldwin has consistently led Vukmir.
Trump blasted Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke as “highly overrated” as he departed the White House for a Houston rally in support of Cruz.
Trump told reporters that he initially thought the Democratic congressman, who has mounted a strong challenge against Cruz in GOP-friendly Texas, “must be something a little special. He’s not.”
The president said he now gets along “very well” with Cruz after their 2016 primary feud. Trump offered more complimentary nicknames for Cruz — “I call him Texas Ted” — and told reporters he has replaced his “Lyin’ Ted” putdown with “Beautiful Ted.”
RESETTING THE ‘MORAL COMPASS’
Biden called the midterms a fight for “the soul of America” during a swing through Florida, saying the nation had a chance to reset “the moral compass of this country.”
Biden said Monday at the University of South Florida in Tampa that Trump’s actions at home and abroad didn’t reflect basic American values of decency.
He called Florida’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, former Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Trump acolyte. He praised Andrew Gillum, the Democrats’ candidate for governor, as one of the nation’s most exciting young leaders.
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a potential 2020 presidential contender, said Trump’s assertion that he would begin “cutting off, or substantially reducing” aid to Central American nations over a migrant caravan headed to the U.S. border would yield no political advantage to Republicans.
Speaking to reporters after her first public event in Iowa, Harris said there was “absolutely not” a benefit for Republicans from the administration’s rhetoric.
“What our country wants, and what the people of our country want, is they want leaders who are focused on the challenges that they face every day, like can they put food on the table and pay the bills by the end of the month, consistently every month of the year,” Harris said amid a day of campaign stops promoting Iowa Democrats. “That’s what people want us to be talking about and thinking about and the priorities they want us to have, not vilifying some group for the sake of fearmongering and politics.”
OBAMA IN VEGAS
Obama said he wants Las Vegas and Nevada to be the “capital of voting” as he sought to energize Democrats ahead of the November midterm elections.
The former president referenced Trump’s policies as he warned against apathy, telling Democrats at a Las Vegas rally that all they needed to do was “look at what the Republicans have done the past two years.”
Obama said by the time he had left office, wages were rising and poverty was falling “and that’s what I handed off to the next guy. So when you hear all this talk about ‘economic miracles’ right now — remember who started it.”
The former president said he believed in a “fact-based reality and a fact-based politics. I don’t believe in just making stuff up.” Obama was rallying Democrats for Senate candidate Jacky Rosen, a freshman congresswoman from the Las Vegas-area, and gubernatorial candidate Steve Sisolak.
TRUMP IN TEXAS
Trump said nobody helped him more to cut taxes and regulation than Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
At a political rally in Houston, Trump said Cruz has “become a really good friend of mine.” Cruz is running for re-election in the midterms against Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
Speaking before Trump took the stage, Cruz also made clear that the conflict was behind them and that the two were working together. His biggest applause came when he predicted that “in 2020, Donald Trump will be overwhelming re-elected.”
Associated Press writer Scott Bauer in Milwaukee, Mike Schneider in Tampa, Zeke Miller in Washington and Thomas Beaumont in Ankeny, Iowa, contributed to this report.