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At Pennsylvania rally, Trump endorses himself

President Donald Trump called NBC host Chuck Todd a “son of a bitch.” | Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

The president visited western Pennsylvania to boost a struggling Republican congressional candidate—but made clear to voters that it’s all about him.

Updated

MOON TOWNSHIP, PA — President Donald Trump got business out of the way quickly Saturday night – urging voters to elect Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone, who’s locked in an unexpectedly tough special election battle in Pennsylvania – before turning to the main subject of the night: himself.

Returning to top campaign form, Trump made fun of Washington and congratulated himself for maintaining his iconoclastic style in office, despite critics who have called for him to take his job more seriously—including in a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal called out by Trump. “I’m very presidential,” he said at one point, lowering his voice and standing artificially straight as he mocked usual political addresses.

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“Don’t forget, this got us elected,” he went on, relaxing into his conversational, riffy style. “If I came like a stiff, you guys wouldn’t come here tonight.”

The crowd, in an airplane hangar, cheered. One person shouted: “You’re one of us!”

Trump touted his tax reform plan, his new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and his newly announced plan to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, while slamming the news media – including calling NBC host Chuck Todd a “son of a bitch.” The president also talked about his desire to impose capital punishment on drug dealers, describing a discussion with Singapore’s president about that country’s hardline approach.

He also talked about the size of the crowd, thanking the fire marshal—a vintage campaign line—and recounted how Pennsylvania sealed his 2016 victory. He also unveiled his own new slogan for the 2020 campaign: “Keep America Great!”

“Is there anything more fun than a Trump rally?” he asked at one point.

Trump wrapped up by delivering an appeal to vote for Saccone on behalf of the Trump agenda, saying: “We need Republicans in office.”

“Go out on Tuesday and vote like crazy,” he added. He claimed he’d won the district “by, like, 22 points”—though in reality it was only 20.

“The whole world, remember that, they’re all watching,” Trump concluded. “This is a very important race.”

National and local Republicans hope Trump’s visit will help stoke enthusiasm here in the final days ahead of Tuesday’s special election. The race has drawn millions in outside spending as the GOP tries to avoid a disaster in a race that should have been an easy win—and in which a loss would be widely read as a referendum on the president.

The visit was Trump’s second, after a January appearance with Saccone by his side. Vice President Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway and Ivanka Trump have all made stops in southwestern Pennsylvania in the last month. Donald Trump Jr. is expected to headline a rally on Monday.

On Saturday, the president openly acknowledged that Saccone has had a “tough race,” adding, “look, it’s a crazy time out there.”

Trump attacked Saccone’s opponent, Democrat Conor Lamb, “Lamb the sham,” for “trying to act like a Republican,” but “as soon as he gets in, he’s not going to vote for us.”

“The president’s support is key to attaining victory on March 13,” Saccone said in a speech before the president’s arrival. “There’s no one I’d rather have in my corner than President Trump.”

Democrats in the district said they see Trump’s visit as proof that this race “is a referendum” on him, because Trump is “well aware with how well he did in this district,” said Richard Grubb, a 75-year-old Lamb volunteer.

Lamb, campaigning Saturday, said he “doesn’t take anything” from Trump’s visit. “They can’t get between me and the voters,” Lamb said on Saturday afternoon at a canvass launch in Carnegie, Pa.

Saccone, who’s called himself “Trump before Trump was Trump,” has lagged in fundraising behind Lamb, a former federal prosecutor and Marine veteran.

The pair are running to replace Rep. Tim Murphy, a Republican, anti-abortion rights congressman who resigned amid allegations that he urged his lover to have an abortion.

Donald Trump is pictured. | Getty Images

National Republicans have complained that Saccone’s lackluster fundraising has put the blue-collar district at risk.

“Candidates and campaigns matter, and when one campaign outraises the other by 6-to-1 that creates a number of challenges for outside groups trying to win a race,” said Corry Bliss, executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund, the flagship super PAC.

Republican outside groups have poured in more than $ 10 million into the district, all in an effort to damage Lamb by tagging him as part of “Pelosi’s liberal flock,” one TV ad says. The Congressional Leadership Fund spent 2.4 million on TV ads, while the National Republican Campaign Committee dropped another 3.1 million. Trump’s super PAC, America First Action, has spent nearly $ 1 million.

But the onslaught of negative ads hasn’t kept Lamb from narrowing the race. Public polling has put Lamb and Saccone within a few points of each other.

National Democrats, in contrast, have kept their distance. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee aired TV ads in early February, before going dark. And the DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan insisted that Lamb is the “strongest voice” for his own candidacy.

Lamb, who’s raised just under $ 4 million, is largely fueled by small-dollar donors, who have driven fundraising for House candidates across the country. He’s used the cash to air TV ads to remind voters that he won’t support Nancy Pelosi, if he’s elected.

“My opponent wants you to believe that the biggest issue in this campaign is Nancy Pelosi. It’s all a big lie,” Lamb says in one ad. “I’ve already said on the front page of the newspaper that I don’t support Nancy Pelosi.”

At the Trump rally, Republican voters said they hope the president’s visit will boost turnout.

“If he can come back in and stir [up] the same people, I don’t see why he wouldn’t be able to do it again,” said Joe Nagel, a 21-year-old Duquesne University student, wearing a “Rick Saccone for Congress” sticker. “[But] it feels close, because Conor Lamb’s running a really grassroots campaign that appeals to a lot of people.”

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