WASHINGTON — Pushing for new roads to reelection, President Donald Trump will go on offense this weekend in Nevada, a state that hasn’t supported a Republican presidential candidate since 2004.
Trump will plunge head-on into a battle with local authorities in Nevada by holding public events there Saturday and Sunday after his initial plans for rallies in Reno and Las Vegas were blocked by state officials because they would have violated coronavirus health guidelines.
His campaign insisted on forging ahead with the trip — setting up a COVID-19 political fight that Trump's team relishes and underscoring the growing importance of Nevada in Trump's quest for 270 electoral votes as the race looks tight in a number of battleground states.
Trump narrowly lost Nevada in 2016 and the state has trended further toward the Democrats in the last decade. But Trump's campaign has invested heavily in the state, relying on its ground game to turn out voters. Democrats, by contrast, have largely relied on virtual campaign efforts during the pandemic, save for the casino workers’ Culinary Union, which has deployed workers door to door.
“Nevada Trump Victory has over 50 staffers in the state and has contacted over 2 million voters,” said state GOP chairman Michael McDonald. “The Democrats are scared. They know President Trump has the momentum.”
Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager, told reporters in recent days that he was encouraged by where things stood in Nevada, but there has been a scarcity of public polling in the state. Nationally, polls show Democrat Joe Biden maintaining a lead over Trump, though recent polls in many of the battleground states suggest a much tighter race.
Both candidates have spent about $4.5 million in Nevada while Trump has made $5.5 million in future reservations in the state and Biden has allocated $2.5 million, according to the ad tracking firm Kantar/CMAG.
The Trump team originally planned rallies at airport hangars in Reno and Las Vegas, but those were scuttled by state officials due to concerns the campaign would not abide by COVID-19 restrictions. State Republicans blamed Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak for trying to hurt the president’s reelection chances. Sisolak has limited in-person gatherings indoors and outdoors to 50 people since May, a recommendation based on White House reopening guidelines.
Instead, Trump is holding a new event in Minden, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) south of Reno, Saturday night. He plans to host a “Latinos for Trump” round-table Sunday morning in Las Vegas, then hold an evening rally at a manufacturing facility in neighboring Henderson.
Privately, they welcomed the fight, believing it underscored a campaign theme: Trump's insistence that the nation has turned the corner on the pandemic, while Democrats, including Biden and governors, are hurting the nation’s economy and psyche with stringent restrictions. The pandemic, which has killed more than 190,000 Americans, still claims a thousand lives a day.
“The fact that Donald Trump is even considering holding these unsafe events in the midst of a global pandemic is just the latest example of his poor judgment and complete disregard for Nevadans’ public health and safety,” said Madison Mundy of the state Democratic Party.
The tight race in a number of battleground states has led to a renewed effort to expand his electoral map.
Trump’s campaign has lavished attention on three Great Lakes states that flipped his way narrowly in 2016, even as many polls throughout the campaign had suggested Hillary Clinton held an advantage. Several polls earlier this summer suggested again that Trump may be in trouble, but a handful in both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin following the conventions show a close race.
Polling in both North Carolina and Florida also shows a competitive race, and there is increasing concern within the Trump campaign about Arizona. Once considered fairly safely in Trump’s column, Arizona has been ravaged by the coronavirus and the Trump team has grown worried about a slip in support among the state’s seniors.
A post-convention Fox News poll in Arizona showed Biden with an advantage over Trump, suggesting the possibility of an expanded map for the Democrat. Still, some polls showed competitive races or even Clinton advantages in traditionally Republican states in 2016 and they proved to be a red herring for Democrats.
On Monday, Trump returns to Arizona, which he has visited multiple times since he resumed traveling amid the pandemic.
If Arizona slips away, Trump campaign officials privately acknowledge that it would complicate his path to 270 electoral votes. If he loses Arizona, winning Wisconsin — the most likely Midwest state for Trump to retain — would not be enough even if he keeps Florida and North Carolina. It would require him to win somewhere else, which has led to a renewed focus on Minnesota, New Hampshire and the at-large congressional districts in Nebraska and Maine.
Nevada has become a particular focus, in part because Las Vegas is an appetizing location for Trump to raise money. He scheduled at least one high-dollar fundraiser there over the weekend — as well as one in Washington before he flies west — as he looks to assuage growing concerns that he could fall short of cash. Couples were asked for $150,000 for the Las Vegas fundraiser.
Trump and Republicans raised $210 million in August, a robust sum, but far behind the record $364.5 million hauled in by Biden and his party that month. Though the Trump campaign has insisted that it has more resources on hand that it did at this time in 2016, whispers about a financial disadvantage led Trump himself this week to suggest he may put some of his own fortune into the race.
Nevada’s fiscal health is dependent on the national economy doing well because it draws so much revenue from tourism. When the pandemic hit, Nevada’s casinos and all gambling shuttered for about 11 weeks, and the state is trimming about a quarter of its budget amid a sky-high local unemployment rate.
Trump, whose name is emblazoned on a golden hotel just off the Vegas Strip, lost Nevada in 2016 by just 2 percentage points to Hillary Clinton. The state, long dominated by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, has gone to the Democrats in the last three presidential elections, though President George W. Bush won it twice.