WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama traded blow after blow as they crossed the country in the final weekend of campaigning before Tuesday’s midterm elections.
In Georgia and Tennessee on Sunday, Trump touted a humming economy, and in a message designed to drive the Republican base to the polls, stoked fear of what a Democratic takeover of Congress would mean on cultural issues like immigration.
In Indiana and Illinois, Obama lambasted Republicans for “blatantly, repeatedly, baldly, shamelessly lying” about their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s protections for those with preexisting conditions. He accused Trump of fear-mongering over a group of migrants headed toward the US-Mexico border. And he cast Trump and the GOP congressional majorities as corrupt.
“America is at a crossroads,” Obama said in Indiana. “The character of our country is on the ballot.”
Democrats are expected to make major gains in the House — potentially taking majority control of the chamber — and to win back governors’ offices and state legislatures that the GOP used to draw districts and pass voting laws that locked in their congressional majority during Obama’s tenure in office.
The current and former presidents crossed paths over the weekend in Florida and Georgia, with Obama visiting Miami and Atlanta on Saturday and Trump visiting Pensacola on Saturday and Macon on Sunday. The two states each have crucial governor’s races with progressive, African American Democrats — Georgia’s Stacey Abrams and Florida’s Andrew Gillum — running against two staunch Trump allies, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and former Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis. In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott is also challenging Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
Trump rallies the GOP base
Beyond the Southern battlegrounds, Trump’s schedule was focused on turning out Republican voters in states he won in 2016 where the GOP hopes to knock off incumbent Democratic senators. He visited Montana on Saturday and Tennessee on Sunday; on Monday, he’ll stop in Ohio, Indiana and Missouri.
He largely stayed away from swing states and districts where the President is unpopular enough that a last-minute visit would have backfired and galvanized Democratic voters. But in Tennessee, he couldn’t help but shout out the Republican Senate candidate in Arizona, Rep. Martha McSally, who faces Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema.
“Arizona — McSally! McSally!” he said. “She’s great. She’s great! McSally, Arizona!”
Headed into elections that will largely be a referendum on the first two years of his own presidency, Trump cast doubt on the prospect of a “blue wave” that would wipe out GOP congressional majorities.
“But you better get out and vote,” he said. “Otherwise I’m going to look very bad with this statement.”
Trump remained focused on a fear-mongering cultural message — repeating his claims about a group of migrants hundreds of miles from the US-Mexico border posing a threat to the United States.
“You saw that barbed wire going up. That barbed wire — yes sir, we have barbed wire going up. Because you know what? We’re not letting these people invade our country,” he said in Georgia.
Trump also falsely claimed Democrats are urging “caravan after caravan” to head to the border and vaguely referenced conspiracy theories about the migrant group, saying, “Ask yourself, how do you think they formed?”
Obama courts minority voters
Obama, meanwhile, sought to turn out black voters in Gary, Indiana — a city next door to Chicago where Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly needs strong turnout Tuesday — and in his hometown of Chicago, where Democrats hope to oust a Republican governor and several House members.
He responded forcefully to Trump’s rhetoric about the group of migrants, comparing it to Republicans stoking fears about Ebola prior to the 2014 midterm elections.
Obama told supporters in Gary, “Don’t be hoodwinked. Don’t be bamboozled. Don’t let them run the okey-doke on you.”
“Because while they are trying to distract you with all this stuff, they are robbing you blind,” Obama said. “They’ll be like: ‘Look, look, look! Caravan, caravan!’ Then they’re giving tax cuts to their billionaire friends. ‘Look, look, look! Whatever is the thing scary.’ And then they’re sabotaging your health care. You can’t fall for it.”
Obama cast the Trump administration and Republicans who have held control of all of Washington’s levers of power for the last two years as corrupt.
“They promised they were gonna take on corruption in Washington. Instead they’ve racked up enough indictments to field a football team,” Obama said.
The Democrats make their case
Trump’s potential 2020 Democratic rivals were on the campaign trail Sunday as well.
California Sen. Kamala Harris was rallying support for House candidates in California. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker was at home trying to help Sen. Bob Menendez past a corruption scandal and over the finish line. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was campaigning in her home state for her own re-election.
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigned in Pennsylvania, where Democrats hope to win several House seats while keeping a Senate seat and the governor’s office.
He pointed to the recent synagogue shooting, as well as mailed bombs, and a grocery store shooting that targeted African Americans. “We are in a battle for America’s soul,” Biden said in Harrisburg.
In Florida, Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee in another marquee governor’s race, responded to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue calling the race “cotton-pickin’ important” at a campaign event Saturday for Gillum’s Republican rival, Rep. Ron DeSantis.
“He should go back to Georgia, we’ll take care of Florida,” Gillum said, adding that he is seeking to end the race “on a high note” and give voters something “they can vote for and not just against.”
“And it seems that Mr. DeSantis and his supporters can’t get my name out of their mouth enough, long enough, to talk about what they want to do proactively and affirmatively for the people in the state of Florida,” Gillum said.
Gillum, accompanied by singer Jimmy Buffett, campaigned in West Palm Beach alongside Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who faces Republican Gov. Rick Scott in a marquee Senate race.