Kasich, an ex-congressman from the same district, blessed Balderson with a last-minute endorsement, and pivotal Delaware County, a former Kasich stronghold, buoyed Balderson on Election Day. Delaware County had robust turnout, whereas Trump country—rural counties—had flat turnout. But Trump’s interpretation, via a tweet, was that Balderson would’ve won bigger if Kasich hadn’t screwed things up: “The very unpopular Governor of Ohio … hurt Troy Balderson’s recent win by tamping down enthusiasm for an otherwise great candidate … Credit to Troy on the BIG WIN!”
The big problem with Trump’s tweet is that it contradicts a crucial fact: Kasich is not “very unpopular” in Ohio. According to a Cincinnati Enquirer-Quinnipiac poll from earlier this summer, it’s quite the opposite. Kasich is viewed unfavorably by only 35 percent of the district’s citizenry; Trump, on the other hand, is viewed unfavorably by 59 percent. As Kasich told ABC News, “Suburban women in particular here are the ones that are really turned off.”
Kasich then twisted the knife. He said he’d asked Balderson if the candidate had requested that Trump join him on the stump. According to Kasich, Balderson replied, “No, I didn’t.” Ohio reporters duly requested comment from the Balderson camp, and word came back that Balderson was “honored” that Trump pitched in.
It’s worth noting that the conditions in Ohio were more favorable for Trump than elsewhere in the country. The seat’s demographics are far less daunting than the 23 Republican-held districts where Hillary Clinton beat Trump in 2016, or the roughly 70 Republican districts that are statistically more competitive than Ohio’s 12th. The candidates in those races would surely prefer that Trump confine himself to the reddest turf possible—as Bush did in 2006, when he spent the final days in the safest regions of Georgia and Texas.
A state like Kansas should be safe Trump turf, at least on paper, but even there his magic touch is questionable. He waded into the August gubernatorial primary, endorsing Kris Kobach—the polarizing Kansas secretary of state who helmed Trump’s now-defunct (and debunked) voter-fraud commission—over the sitting governor, Jeff Colyer. The result: It took a full week of ballot counting for Kobach to notch a slim victory. Meanwhile, two House seats in Kansas are now rated as toss-up opportunities for the Democrats, who last won a Kansas seat a decade ago. There’s no evidence yet that Republican candidates in those districts have pleaded for Trump to stump.
One solution for campaigns is to send Vice President Mike Pence all over the map (he’s doing two events this week in Ohio, and his rally rhetoric is anodyne), or to send family surrogates like Donald Trump Jr. (unless his Russia probe exposure gets worse). As for the president, the best solution, Mackowiak told me, is to keep him in “red states and midwestern districts” where turnout from his small-town and rural base will likely trump the opposition’s. The president “is probably less helpful in districts that are disproportionately diverse and/or disproportionately high in college education,” he said. “Suburban districts pose the most significant challenges.”
There’s only one problem: As Kasich suggested, it seems Trump alone will decide where he deems his presence most helpful.
Terry Holt, a Republican party operative, recently praised Bush for heeding staff advice and steering clear of midterm races in which his unpopularity would hurt the mission. In Holt’s words, “There was really no ego involved in his decision making.” But this year, ego may be the prime factor that drives the presidential itinerary.
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