By Steve Holland
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Reuters) – Under siege in an impeachment inquiry, President Donald Trump urged voters in Kentucky on Monday to send Democrats arrayed against him in Washington a message by voting for the re-election on Tuesday of the state’s Republican governor.
Trump’s speech to thousands of supporters was an explicit attempt to make the governor’s election in Kentucky a referendum on his presidency as he tries to survive an impeachment probe in the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives.
“Tomorrow, Kentucky has a chance to send the radical Democrats a message,” Trump said.
Kentuckians need to re-elect Bevin, said Trump, or else pundits will say: “Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world. … You can’t let that happen to me.”
With hours to go before Kentuckians head to the polls, Trump’s last-minute trip was aimed at tilting the state to Bevin over his Democratic opponent, state Attorney General Andy Beshear.
Bevin is perhaps the country’s least popular governor, according to opinion polls, after damaging battles with labour unions and teachers. But he has taken a narrow lead over Beshear in recent weeks after staunchly defending Trump against the impeachment inquiry.
Invited on stage by Trump, Bevin said Kentuckians should make clear on Tuesday that Kentucky is a Republican state and that “we support the president of the United States, Donald Trump.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, was noticeably silent on the crisis around Trump. If the House votes to approve articles of impeachment, the Republican-controlled Senate would then hold a trial on whether to remove the president from office.
McConnell talked up the conservative judges confirmed by the Senate during Trump’s presidency and said: “Mr. President, thank you for making America great again.”
Trump is in the midst of a week-long blitz trying to help Republican candidates in Mississippi, Kentucky and Louisiana in elections.
Victories could help boost his political standing and his re-election prospects in 2020 as the impeachment probe intensifies. Losses could be seen as a sign of weakness for the Republican president.
Last Friday, he campaigned in Tupelo, Mississippi, for Republican Tate Reeves in that state’s governor’s race against Democrat Jim Hood. On Wednesday, he will be in Monroe, Louisiana, to rally support for Republican Eddie Rispone in his campaign to unseat Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards.
Trump’s fight against impeachment was much in evidence at his rally at a Lexington arena. Staged behind Trump were dozens of supporters wearing white T-shirts bearing the slogan: “Read the transcript.”
Trump believes the transcript of his July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy absolves him of any guilt in the impeachment probe, which is focused on his request that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic political rival.
U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky urged Republicans at the rally to battle to force Democrats to subpoena the whistleblower whose complaint about Trump’s call with Zelenskiy led to the impeachment inquiry.
Paul also urged U.S. news organizations to print the whistleblower’s name.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Peter Cooney)