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Politics Trump tries to banish the specter of impeachment with red-state campaign tour

21:30  01 november  2019
21:30  01 november  2019 Source:   washingtonpost.com

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President Trump’s rescue mission Friday for a struggling Mississippi gubernatorial candidate may offer a clue to whether the impeachment inquiry against him will serve as a boost or drag for Republicans in red states who are seeking to rally supporters behind their criticism of Democrats’ effort to remove the president from office.

Sonya Beck of Teoc, Miss., right, and her twin sister Lennie Bailey of Grenada, left, show off their © Associated Press Sonya Beck of Teoc, Miss., right, and her twin sister Lennie Bailey of Grenada, left, show off their "Trump" outfits as they wait outside the BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo, Miss., Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, while waiting to enter a Keep America Great Rally. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Trump won Mississippi with about 58 percent of the vote in 2016, and the state is considered far from in play for 2020. But as in Kentucky, where Trump will campaign in another off-year election Monday, a GOP loss at the state level would be seen as a hairline crack in the president’s popularity among Republicans.

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Trump will also hold a rally in Louisiana on Wednesday, ahead of a runoff election there on Nov. 16 that will determine who will be the state’s next governor.

Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves remains in a tight contest with Democrat Jim Hood, according to the latest Mason-Dixon poll released Oct. 23, despite spending more than twice as much as the longtime attorney general.

His narrow three-point advantage, within the poll’s margin of error, is a reason that Trump’s rally Friday night in Tupelo will be followed Monday by a campaign visit from Vice President Pence. Donald Trump Jr., a frequent political surrogate for his father, appeared with Reeves earlier this month and promised a crowd that the candidate “will fight for the MAGA agenda.”

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The smattering of off-year elections Tuesday come as Trump faces the likelihood of a vote in the Democratic-majority House to impeach him for alleged abuse of his office.. Impeachment would be a political stain, despite the likelihood that a Republican majority in the Senate would prevent Trump’s removal from office. But Republicans are also hoping it will rally the president’s supporters behind him in red states.

Trump complained of the “Greatest Witch Hunt In American History” on Thursday, moments after a deeply divided House passed a resolution largely along party lines that marks parameters for the next phase of the impeachment inquiry.

Trump lost no Republican votes in Thursday’s procedural exercise, despite the discomfort of some GOP lawmakers about the president’s conduct and his attacks on government employees who have testified against him.

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Trump’s overall approval rating among Republicans remains high — between 85 and 90 percent in most polls — and preserving that standing is key to his firewall of congressional Republican support.

A new AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll contained mixed news for Trump. Despite an 85-percent approval rating among Republicans, 33 percent of Republicans said Trump doesn’t make them feel “proud,” and 41 percent of Republicans said Trump doesn’t make them feel “excited.”

The poll released Thursday found that 61 percent of Americans, including 26 percent of Republicans, say Trump has little to no respect for the country’s democratic institutions and traditions. That is an issue at the heart of the impeachment inquiry into whether Trump improperly pressured the leader of Ukraine for political favors.

Impeachment aside, Trump has good reasons for campaigning for Republicans in Louisiana, Kentucky and Mississippi this year, said GOP strategist John Feehery.

“What the president is trying to do is remake the party in his own image,” and build loyalty deep into state party operations, Feehery said. “If you can help somebody out who is in a little bit of trouble and they win, then they owe you.”

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Feehery said problems specific to the candidates and races this year are chiefly to blame for Republican struggles, and he sees little direct connection to Trump’s future. Still, Trump can help himself by putting points on the board in far-flung races, according to Feehery.

“Plus, he gets lots of energy from going to these rallies, and there is no better home team kind of advantage than going to Mississippi and Kentucky,” he said.

In Kentucky, like each of the states holding gubernatorial elections this month, Republicans have latched their campaigns to the president. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin is trying to use the issue as a rallying cry for rural, mostly white support.

Days after the impeachment inquiry began, Bevin held a news conference outside the governor’s mansion, demanding that challenger Andy Beshear, the state’s attorney general, answer the “yes or no question” of whether he’d support removing Trump from office.

In campaign stops and debates since then, Beshear has punted on the question, dismissing it as a distraction from an unpopular incumbent.

“Listen, I’m the state’s top prosecutor,” Beshear told reporters after one debate. “I could only support impeachment if I saw evidence, [but] all I’ve done is read stories. What I can say is that any proceeding moving forward has to be fair, it has to be impartial and it can’t be about scoring political points.”

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In Louisiana, which votes nine days after Kentucky and Mississippi, Republican Eddie Rispone has pitched himself as a local version of Trump — a businessman and donor who’s never held office before. On Wednesday, in his sole debate against Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, Rispone began his very first statement with a defense of the president.

“We have a Democratic Party that’s going after impeachment,” Rispone said.

Edwards, who’s evaded the impeachment saga and emphasized his ability to work with Trump, was ready for that.

“You’re always looking to Washington, D.C.,” Edwards said. “There’s not much inspiration to be had there.”

In Mississippi, Reeves has invoked impeachment as he campaigns to succeed Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who is term-limited.

Jim Hood, Tate Reeves sitting at a table: WCBI anchor Aundrea Self introduces the second televised gubernatorial debate between Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood (D), left, and Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R), in Columbus, Miss., on Oct. 14.© Rogelio V. Solis/AP WCBI anchor Aundrea Self introduces the second televised gubernatorial debate between Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood (D), left, and Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R), in Columbus, Miss., on Oct. 14.

At a political gathering in Oxford, Miss., last week, Reeves compared Hood’s investigations as attorney general to the ones that have bedeviled Trump.

“Jim Hood has done things that would embarrass even Jim Comey and Hillary Clinton,” Reeves said.

And in a new ad running throughout the state, Reeves has linked Hood to the impeachment effort by reminding voters that he frequently refused to join lawsuits against the Obama administration.

“Liberals are impeaching Trump,” the ad’s narrators warns. “Do you stand with our president and Tate Reeves or with the liberals and Jim Hood? Mississippi, it’s time to choose.”

Democrats have never been weaker in the state, reduced to a super-minority in the legislature and losing power in rural counties with every election this century. Hood campaigned as an easygoing moderate who loves a good dove hunt, and mostly shrugged off Reeves’s efforts to paint him as a radical.

“He’s a liberal Democrat, he has been for 16 years, he continues to be, and that’s okay,” Reeves told The Washington Post in September. “There are some people in Mississippi that are looking for a liberal Democrat to represent them in the governor’s office. But if you are a conservative, I think that you only have one option.”

At the time, Hood joked that Reeves was limping so badly that “I don’t know if the pope could help him.”

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