WASHINGTON — Pushing for new roads to reelection, President Donald Trump is going on the offense this weekend in Nevada, which hasn’t supported a Republican presidential candidate since 2004.
Trump is defying local authorities by holding public events Saturday and Sunday after officials blocked his initial plans for rallies in Reno and Las Vegas because they would have violated coronavirus health guidelines. It’s the kind of fight that Trump’s team relishes and underscores the growing importance of Nevada in Trump’s quest for 270 electoral votes as the race against Democrat Joe Biden looks tight in a number of pivotal states.
Trump narrowly lost Nevada in 2016 to Hillary Clinton, and the state has trended further toward the Democrats in the past 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 sent workers door to door.
“The Democrats are scared. They know President Trump has the momentum,” said the state GOP chairman, Michael McDonald.
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 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, even though the Reno rally was canceled by airport officials and Las Vegas airport officials said they were never contacted by the campaign.
Sisolak has limited in-person gatherings indoors and outdoors to 50 people since May, a recommendation based on White House reopening guidelines.
Instead, Trump scheduled an event in Minden, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) south of Reno, on Saturday night. He planned to host a “Latinos for Trump” roundtable Sunday morning in Las Vegas, followed by an evening rally at a manufacturing facility in neighboring Henderson.
Privately, the Trump campaign welcomed the fight, believing it highlighted a reelection 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 1,000 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 White House announced Saturday that Trump will visit California on Monday to receive a briefing on the devastating wildfires racing through the region. He has largely been silent on the blazes, which Oregon’s emergency management director said was a possible “mass fatality event.”
Some Democrats fear a possible Trump momentum gain in Nevada, with the president showing increasing support from Latinos and noncollege educated white voters, two important constituencies in the state.
The tightening race in a number of the most contested states has led to a renewed effort for Trump to expand his electoral map.
The campaign has lavished attention on three Great Lakes states that flipped his way narrowly in 2016. Several polls earlier this summer suggested Trump may be in trouble, but a handful in both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin following the nominating conventions showed a close race.
Polling in 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 older residents.
The president on Monday planned to return to Arizona, which he has visited multiple times since he resumed traveling during 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.
The Republican National Committee said the $18 million expected to be raised over the weekend, including from a stop Saturday at his hotel in Washington, would be shared by Trump’s campaign, the committee and several state GOP committees.
Trump and Republicans raised $210 million in August, a robust sum but far behind the record $364.5 million taken in by Biden and his party that month. Though the Trump campaign has insisted that it has more resources on hand than it did at this time in 2016, whispers about a financial disadvantage led Trump himself this past week to suggest he may put some of his own fortune into the race.
Nevada’s financial health is dependent on the national economy doing well because the state 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 one-quarter of its budget at a time of sky-high unemployment.