RICHMOND, Ky. — President Trump’s quest to help Republican midterm candidates has taken him this month to an airplane hangar in a far-flung Nevada county that he won with 73 percent of votes, a fairgrounds building in rural Ohio that could only hold 3,000 and an 8,000-capacity college arena in Kentucky — located about 25 miles south of Lexington, where Air Force One landed and where larger venues are located.
As the president campaigns, he has mostly avoided the suburban areas that strategists say will be key to deciding the midterms — and where he is often less popular and runs the risk of energizing Democrats or hurting Republican candidates who have tried to distance themselves from him. Over the past few weeks, he has focused heavily on more rural areas where he is especially popular and where his presence can encourage the base voters Republican candidates need.
Of the 27 midterm rallies Trump has held this year, more than three-quarters were held in counties that he won in 2016 by an average of 59.5 percent. The few times that he has ventured to counties that Democrat Hillary Clinton won, those places are nearly always surrounded on all sides by counties that he won. And more than a third of the rallies were in or near the Appalachian Mountains, where his popularity remains high.
Those areas, and the snug event spaces he finds there, have become Trump’s comfort zone, and also a sign of how convinced he remains that his most loyal supporters can drive a victory in 2018 as they did in 2016. (A rare departure will occur Monday night, when Trump will attempt to fill his largest venue in nearly two years: The Toyota Center in the heart of Houston can hold 19,000 and is located in a county that Clinton won in 2016.)
“Most people assumed he would go to Lexington, to a big venue like Rupp Arena — and, no doubt, President Trump would fill up 24,000 in Rupp,” Rep. Garland “Andy” Barr (R-Ky.) told the rally crowd gathered Oct. 13 at Eastern Kentucky University. “But when I thought about where the president would want to go, I thought . . . of the people of Madison County, who nearly two years ago delivered a huge victory for Donald Trump, who carried this county by a whopping 32 percentage points.”
Trump’s decision to visit Richmond — which he said was a trip he “normally” wouldn’t make — delighted those who live in the area. As his motorcade snarled traffic, two women stopped into a local craft store to wait out the backup, and one exclaimed to the other: “That’s the coolest traffic I’ve ever been in!”
“He understands that America really is in the places that are not the most heavily populated, that are the most working-class — that’s pretty much what he goes for, and that’s why he got elected,” said Aaron Pramuk, 33, an engineer who lives in Richmond and came to the rally with his roommate. The two didn’t get inside but watched Trump’s remarks on a video screen outside with hundreds of others, as a rogue vendor circulated through the crowd selling $10 MAGA…