ERIE, Pa. (AP) — As Hurricane Michael pounded the Southeast on Wednesday, President Donald Trump took shelter at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania, where he sought to boost Republicans before the midterms.
Trump acknowledged the hurricane at the top of his rally in Erie, offering his "thoughts and prayers" to those in the storm's path and promising to "spare no effort" in the response. He promised to travel to Florida "very shortly."
He added: "We will always pull through. ... We will always be successful at what we do."
But then Trump turned back to politics. His Pennsylvania rally was the latest stop on an all-out midterms blitz. With weeks to go before the November elections, Trump and his fellow Republicans have been invigorated by the successful nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and are seeking to use the contentious moment to unify Republicans and stave off Democratic energy at the polls.
That Trump kept his appointment Erie underscored the importance of this effort to Republicans. Earlier in the day, Trump received a hurricane briefing at the White House, hearing about the severity of the storm. But he told reporters he faced a "quagmire" over the Pennsylvania rally because "thousands of people" were already lined up for the event.
Trump, who won Pennsylvania in 2016, touted Republican Reps. Mike Kelly and Lou Barletta. Kelly is facing a challenge from Democrat Ron DiNicola, while Barletta is mounting an uphill campaign to unseat two-term Democratic Sen. Bob Casey. The president, who attended a fundraiser before the rally, also praised GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner.
After his comments about the hurricane, Trump quickly pivoted to the midterms, celebrating Kavanaugh's appointment despite Democratic opposition and sexual misconduct allegations against him. Trump called it a "historic week" and said, "What the radical Democrats did to Brett Kavanaugh and his beautiful family is a national disgrace."
For weeks Trump has been escalating his attacks on Democrats. He continued that effort, claiming that Democrats want to "impose socialism and take over and destroy American health care." He added: "Democrats want to abolish America's borders and allow drugs and gangs to pour into our country."
Trump also returned to one of his favorite themes — reliving his stunning 2016 victory.
"Was that the most exciting evening?" he said to cheers.
Trump published an op-ed in USA Today on Wednesday that attacked Democrats over "Medicare for All" health care proposals. In his op-ed, Trump said Democrats have moved away from centrism, claiming the "new Democrats are radical socialists who want to model America's economy after Venezuela."
He added: "Government-run health care is just the beginning. Democrats are also pushing massive government control of education, private-sector businesses and other major sectors of the U.S. economy."
Trump's attack on Medicare for All omits any mention of improved benefits for seniors that Democrats promise.
Medicare for All means different things to different Democrats. The plan pushed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who challenged Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, would expand Medicare to cover almost everyone in the country, and current Medicare recipients would get improved benefits. Other Democratic plans would allow people to buy into a new government system modeled on Medicare, moving toward the goal of coverage for all while leaving private insurance in place.
Democrats, who think health care is a winning issue going into the midterms, also sought to focus voter attention Wednesday. In the Senate, Democrats unsuccessfully sought to scuttle Trump's push for short-term health insurance plans, which are less expensive but provide skimpier coverage. While the vote failed, Democrats think the move will help them in November.