WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump heads into his first campaign rally of the election year flush with cash, chafing at impeachment and hoping to capitalize on his order to take out Iran's top general.
Trump will be in northern Ohio for Thursday night's rally, taking to the campaign trail a day after pulling back from the brink of war with Iran.
The campaign event in Toledo offers Trump an opportunity to spotlight before a friendly crowd his decision to order the fatal drone strike against Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, while keeping the U.S. -- at least for the moment -- out of a wider military conflict.
The president's reelection campaign has already used Facebook ads to highlight Trump’s decision to strike Soleimani, regarded as Iran’s second most powerful official.
"We caught a total monster, and we took him out, and that should have happened a long time ago,” Trump said before departing Washington.
Last week’s killing of Soleimani brought long, simmering tensions between the U.S. and Iran to a boil. Iran, in retaliation, fired a barrage of missiles this week at two military bases in neighboring Iraq that house hundreds of U.S. troops. But with no casualties to U.S. or Iraqi troops, Trump said he had no plans to take further military action against Iran and would instead enact more sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
The Iran crisis, which momentarily overshadowed Trump’s looming impeachment trial, has also opened a new front in the 2020 presidential campaign for Trump, who in 2016 campaigned on a promise to end American involvement in “endless wars.”
Trump enters the election year flush with more than $100 million in campaign cash, a low unemployment rate, and an unsettled Democratic presidential field. Yet, polling shows he remains vulnerable.
In December, an AP-NORC poll showed Trump’s approval rating at 40%. There have not been more recent polls to gauge support for the president in the wake of the targeted killing of Soleimani, though opinions of Trump have changed little over the course of his presidency.
Trump has never fallen into historic lows for a president’s approval ratings, but Gallup polling shows his December rating registers lower than that of most recent presidents at the same point in their first terms. Notably, approval of Trump and former President Barack Obama in the December before their reelection bid is roughly the same.
But Obama’s approval rating never fell below 40% in Gallup polling, and he recovered slightly in the months leading up to his reelection to finish his first term with an average rating just below 50%. Trump's approval rating has never been higher than 46% in Gallup polling.
For Trump to win reelection, securing Ohio's 18 electoral votes will be critical. He won Ohio by 8 points in 2016, after Obama held the state in 2008 and 2012. The visit to Toledo marks Trump's 15th appearance in Ohio as president.
Trump has anchored his reelection messaging around a solid national economy with a half-century low unemployment rate of 3.5%. But parts of the industrial Midwest have been left behind, especially as the manufacturing sector has struggled over the past year in response to slower worldwide economic growth and trade tensions with China.
Labor Department figures show construction and factory jobs slumping in Ohio. In nearby Michigan, manufacturers are shedding workers as well, but so are that state’s employers in the health care, education and social assistance sectors.
But the Toledo area points at an even more alarming trend in an otherwise healthy economy. The Glass City has lost more than 6% of its white-collar jobs in the professional and business services sector over the past year, causing the total number of jobs to slump slightly from a year ago.
Still, Kaidon Woodbury, a Perrysburg resident who will turn 18 before the November election and plans to cast his first vote for Trump, was optimistic about the president’s chances.
Woodbury, among the supporters outside Toledo’s Huntington Center hours before the president’s arrival, said the president already has racked up ample successes to win a second term.
“He makes promises and follows through,” Woodbury said.
As an incumbent, Trump has been able to use his position to build a massive campaign cash reserve at a time when Democrats are raising and spending theirs in a competitive primary. Although many Democratic White House hopefuls, most notably Sen. Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, have pulled in massive sums, there is no clear front-runner. And many in the party are girding for a protracted contest that could further bleed the eventual nominee of resources.
Trump, meanwhile, raised $46 million in the final quarter of 2019 and had more than $102 million cash on hand at the end of the year. The Republican National Committee, which doesn’t face as strict of contribution limits as the candidate, has raised even more. It won’t have to release its December fundraising numbers until the end of the month.
Asked how much he is willing to spend on his reelection, Trump said, “I literally haven't even thought about it.” He added: “I will say this, because of the impeachment hoax, we're taking in numbers that nobody ever expected. You saw the kind of numbers we're reporting. We're blowing everybody away.”
Associated Press writers Hannah Fingerhut, Brian Slodysko and Joshua Boak in Washington and Mike Householder in Toledo, Ohio, contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that the Toledo arena is called Huntington Center, not Huntington Arena.
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