WASHINGTON (AP) — Forced to play defense in states he led comfortably months ago, President Donald Trump set his sights on Ohio on Thursday in an attempt to reframe the centerpiece of his reelection pitch.
During his visit, Trump planned to promote the economic prosperity that much of the nation enjoyed before the coronavirus pandemic and try to make the case that he is best suited to rebuild a crippled economy. But his handling of the outbreak has weakened his bid for a second term, causing Trump to spend time and resources in a state he won easily in 2016 but now could be in danger of slipping away.
The president also intended to use the Ohio trip to kick off a long weekend of fundraising that comes as his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, has chipped away at Trump’s financial advantage as the race enters its final three months.
The virus upended Trump’s plan to run on the back of a strong economy, and Biden has charged that the president has pushed to reopen states too soon in hopes of jump-starting the markets and lifting his standing in the polls. But several states have had to slow down the pace of their reopening, and officials are warily watching a rise in coronavirus cases in the Midwest, including Ohio.
When Trump swept through the region in 2016, his economic populism argument was one of the factors that led him to narrowly capture Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. He handily won Ohio, which had been a swing state for decades, by eight percentage points.
But Trump now finds himself severely tested in battleground states, and campaign aides have privately all but written off Michigan. The president now has been forced to spend time in states that his campaign once thought he had locked up. The Ohio trip comes a week after he visited formerly deeply Republican Texas.
In Ohio, Trump was expected to sign an executive order requiring that the federal government purchase certain drugs from U.S. manufacturers rather than from foreign companies. The order, which Trump intended to sign at Whirlpool Corp.’s manufacturing plant in Clyde, would instruct the government to develop a list of “essential” medicines and then buy them and other medical supplies solely from U.S. manufacturers. The plant is in the district of a close Trump ally, GOP Rep. Jim Jordan.
The administration has long looked to reduce U.S. dependency on drugs made overseas, particularly in China. The new order would invoke the Defense Production Act to procure essential medicines and other equipment from the United States, but would not stipulate precisely which drugs would fall under the requirements.
Trump has said he wants to prepare for future pandemics by replenishing the national stockpile and bringing manufacturing of critical supplies and equipment back to the U.S. His critics have suggested that his administration was woefully unprepared for COVID-19, which has killed more than 157,000 Americans, and that Trump has faltered in mobilizing the nation’s resources to battle the virus.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who took a much more aggressive posture in outlining the virus’ dangers than did Trump, has received high marks in polls for his handling of the pandemic. But a recent uptick in cases has sharpened scrutiny on the Republican governor, who recently instituted a statewide mask order.
DeWine was scheduled to meet with Trump in Cleveland, where the president planned to give a speech on the economy before traveling to the Whirlpool plant and then a fundraiser. Trump plans a long weekend at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, with a high-dollar fundraiser in the Hamptons on New York’s Long Island and a second near the Jersey shore.
The fundraising spree comes a day after Trump announced that he raised $165 million for his reelection effort in the month of July, surpassing what Biden raised during the same period.
But a massive cash-on-hand advantage that once gave the Republican a significant competitive edge has largely been closed. Biden and the Democratic Party are reporting that they are just $6 million shy of the $300 million that the president and the Republican National Committee have banked.
The money puts the two on a virtually even footing that will allow both to amply advertise, fund get-out-the-vote efforts and mobilize supporters, even if it has to be done virtually in many instances due to the coronavirus.
But the Trump campaign appears to have a clear lead in one unusual campaign metric: boat parades.
In recent weeks, the president’s campaign has promoted dozens of videos of boats — many flying Trump flags — dotting America’s waterways and has attempted to make the case that the dearth of similar nautical displays for Biden reflected a lack of enthusiasm for the Democrat.
Some version of a boat parade was planned for Lake Erie during the president’s Ohio visit, according to local supporters.