Ahead of President Donald Trump’s visit to Columbia Regional Airport on Thursday, where he will stage a rally in support of Attorney General Josh Hawley’s bid for U.S. Senate, experts and strategists say the event could benefit Missouri Republican candidates up and down the ticket.
Peverill Squire, a professor of political science at MU whose focus is on state government and elections, believes Trump is coming with the hope of mobilizing Republicans and that his visit will probably help other GOP candidates on the ballot.
“The risk for the president, of course, is that it will mobilize Democrats, as well,” Squire said.
“Any president mobilizing just before an election will have an impact on the president’s party supporters,” he said. “There is also the likelihood that it will mobilize voters on the other side, if a president is particularly divisive.”
Squire added that “it’s unusual for a president to be so active in campaigning during the midterms, but President Trump has basically devoted himself to canvassing for Republican votes around the country, and he’s probably done it to a greater extent than any of his predecessors.”
David Barklage, a Republican political consultant and Senior Partner at Barklage & Knodell — a political consulting, campaign management and issue advocacy firm — said that while Trump is coming to Missouri for Hawley, his arrival will influence voter enthusiasm.
Barklage said his firm has been tracking voter intensity in Missouri, or the likelihood that Missouri residents will vote, and found that in September, Democrats were at 67 percent while Republicans were at 49 percent.
Barklage said his firm just got polling back last week, which showed Republican enthusiasm at 67 percent and Democrat enthusiasm at about 63 percent.
He also expects that given the president’s polarizing nature, intensity among Democrats is unlikely to drop.
“My sense is that it is more about energizing Republican base voters, and, in that regard, the president coming in will energize for Hawley and up and down the ticket,” he said.
Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report — an independent, nonpartisan online newsletter analyzing elections and campaigns — said Trump’s visit should benefit Hawley and that it is also bound to generate support for other GOP candidates.
Duffy said the Cook Political Report, which is nationally focused, has found trends that differ from Barklage & Knodell’s findings, adding that if GOP support is surging in Missouri, “it is the only state in the nation that it’s happening.”
“We are seeing exactly the opposite,” Duffy said.
Barklage said that he thinks Trump is starting to energize his base in suburban areas and is also gaining more support from blue-collar workers given his focus on immigration, trade and nationalization issues.
Duffy said that in the past, Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill has won “by getting as much votes as she could out of St. Louis, in the suburbs, Kansas City and its suburbs and then hoping to lock down in rural parts of the state.”
“I think she’s got a problem in rural areas this time, voting against Kavanaugh, voting against Gorsuch, voting against tax cuts. I think that’s all a problem,” Duffy said. “So, the more Trump fires up that rural base, the better off Hawley is.”
But Duffy said recent news, including the pipe bomb mailings and the synagogue shooting, are hurting the president’s standing. She believes that is why Trump is pushing so hard on immigration as a campaign issue.
She still views the Missouri Senate race as the Republican Party’s second-best opportunity to add a Senate seat, after North Dakota.
Dan Allen, a nationally recognized communications strategist who served on the senior staff at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Trump’s visit will drive home the importance of the upcoming election for the Republican base.
“The fact that the president is coming in shows what we all know, that it’s a close race, and him coming into the state gives Republican candidates up and down the ballot an edge,” Allen said.
Allen said that while it is clear Democrats have been energized for quite a while, he doesn’t believe Trump’s visit will have an effect on Democratic voter turnout.
Duffy said, given the fallout from, for example, the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation, “I don’t think you can ramp up Democrats any more.”
Allen added that current events could have an effect on voter turnout and on how they decide to vote, but “when it comes right down to it, they’re going to go and make a decision based on the candidates that are on the ballot.”
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit.