SOUTHAVEN, Miss. (AP) — President Donald Trump is looking to use his influence to sway the outcome of a low-profile election in Mississippi that could tip the balance of the Senate.
As Republicans fight headwinds ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm election, Trump rallied his supporters on Tuesday behind Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed to fill the seat of Republican Thad Cochran, who retired in April. She faces three candidates — Republican Chris McDaniel and Democrats Mike Espy and Tobey Bernard Bartee — in next month's special election for the remainder of the two-year term.
"She's always had my back," Trump said. "She's always had your back. And a vote for Cindy is a vote for me."
Republican officials and the White House expect Hyde-Smith's race to go to a runoff under the state's jungle election rules that force a showdown between the top two finishers if no candidate wins at least 50 percent of the vote on Election Day. With Republicans defending majorities in the House and Senate next month, officials cast Trump's visit as an attempt to get ahead of a potentially perilous situation.
Officials said Trump is seeking to boost Hyde-Smith as close as possible to the 50 percent threshold and lend momentum for a possible runoff. Depending on how Republicans perform on Nov. 6, the eyes of the nation could fall on a Nov. 27 Mississippi runoff in what could become an expensive and high-profile race to determine control of the Senate.
"Your vote in this election will decide which party controls the United States Senate," Trump said.
Trump's support for Hyde-Smith is hardly without controversy — even at one of his own rallies. A vocal minority of the crowd on Tuesday backed McDaniel, a conservative state senator, and booed Hyde-Smith when Trump introduced her. They even launched into occasional chants of "We want Chris."
Trump also attacked Espy, a former congressman and the leading Democratic contender, saying a vote for him "is a vote for the Democrat agenda."
"This is also a referendum about me and the disgusting gridlock they'll put this country through," Trump added of Democrats.
Trump devoted much of the rally to criticizing scrutiny of his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, whose confirmation has been delated over allegations that he engaged in sexual misconduct decades ago. Trump mocked the testimony of the most prominent accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying she couldn't recall key details of the alleged assault.
"These are really evil people," Trump said of Democrats.
Some Republicans and White House allies have suggested the allegations against Kavanaugh can be potent political fodder in the run-up to Nov. 6, animating GOP voters who have so far lacked the same motivation to head to the polls as their Democratic counterparts.
Before the rally, Trump held a fundraiser for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is supporting Hyde-Smith.
Earlier Tuesday, Trump told electrical contractors gathered in Philadelphia that his economic policies would translate into more jobs for their ranks as he highlighted a new trade deal among the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
"We're in the midst of a manufacturing renaissance — something which nobody thought you'd hear," Trump said in a speech to the National Electrical Contractors Association Convention a day after celebrating the new North American trade deal.
In fact, North America already is a manufacturing powerhouse. The United States ranks No. 2 in the world behind China in manufacturing output. Mexico ranks 11th and Canada 13th, according to United Nations numbers pulled together by the Brookings Institution.
Trump calls the new trade agreement USMCA, for U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. "Like YMCA or U.S. Marine Corps with an A at the end," he explained.
He said he doesn't want to use the previous name, NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he contends cost American jobs and railed against during his 2016 presidential campaign. The new trade deal still must be approved by Congress.
"We are finally rebuilding our country, and we are doing it with American aluminum, American steel and with our great electrical contractors," he said.
Trump said the strong economy "means more jobs for our great electrical contractors."
Before departing the White House, Trump tweeted: "THE ONLY REASON TO VOTE FOR A DEMOCRAT IS IF YOU'RE TIRED OF WINNING!"