Trump rallies in Louisiana after GOP off-year election losses

US President Donald Trump departs for travel to Louisiana from the South Lawn of the White House, on Nov 6, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - President Donald Trump hit the campaign trail a day after Republicans suffered a pair of defeats in off-year elections that signalled weakness for the party heading into 2020.

Mr Trump will hold a rally in Monroe, Louisiana on Wednesday (Nov 6) to support Republican gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone, who is looking to unseat Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards. They will face off in a Nov 16 run-off election because neither won a majority last month in the state's non-partisan primary.

The President's effort to re-elect Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin appeared to fall short, with Democrat Andy Beshear leading the vocal pro-Trump Republican after Tuesday's contest. In Virginia, Democrats took control of both houses of the state legislature from Republicans for the first time in 26 years.

Off-year elections historically have not been great predictors of presidential elections, in large part because the President is not on the ballot. But Tuesday's races were embraced by Mr Trump as tests of his political standing. The results in key swing states showed a major erosion for the Republican Party among voters living in suburbs.

"Republicans are whistling past the graveyard if they don't acknowledge the obvious in their challenges winning over suburban voters," said Mr Colin Reed, a GOP strategist.

Republicans suffered similar losses in suburban areas in the 2018 midterm elections and 2017 off-year contests. While Mr Trump has solidified the GOP's support in rural areas, this year's contests further laid bare the problems that Mr Trump and GOP members of Congress could face in 2020.

POLITICAL COATTAILS

"Donald Trump is not popular in the suburbs. We know that. The big unknown is whether Democrats put up a nominee who is equally unpopular," said Mr Reed.

Mr Trump claimed victory after Tuesday's races, pointing to Kentucky Republicans' success in down-ballot elections as well as Republican Tate Reeves' victory in the Mississippi governor's race as a sign his political coattails remain long. Mr Trump campaigned for Mr Reeves last week in Tupelo, Mississippi, before rallying supporters for Mr Bevin on Monday in Lexington, Kentucky.

The President tweeted late Tuesday that there was a "lot of winning in Kentucky", and predicted that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would win re-election next year.

Mr McConnell, whose support is crucial for Mr Trump to survive an impeachment probe, voiced confidence in own ability to win in 2020.

"I don't think Kentucky is turning blue as a result of that," he told reporters at the Capitol, referring to Mr Bevin's apparent loss. "We're looking forward to doing well in Kentucky in 2020 and I don't think anything that happened Tuesday changes that."

But Mr Trump on Monday framed Mr Bevin's race as a referendum on his popularity in a state he won by nearly 30 percentage points in 2016.

'GREATEST DEFEAT'

"If they lose they're going to say Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world. You can't let that happen to me," Mr Trump told his audience at the Kentucky rally.

Kentucky will not be a battleground state for Mr Trump in 2020. But in other competitive states, such as Pennsylvania and Virginia, the results in the suburbs alarmed Republican strategists perhaps even more than Mr Bevin's loss, which they blamed on the candidate's unpopularity.

Democrats pulled off upsets in municipal races in parts of the Philadelphia suburbs that have long been GOP strongholds. Democrats will control all five seats on the Delaware County Council for the first time since the Civil War, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. They also won a majority in the Chester Count, Delaware legislature. The Bucks County Board of Commissioners also went Democratic for the first time since 1983.

In Mississippi, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Hood won Madison County outside of Jackson. Mr Trump won the county in 2016 by more than 16 percentage points.

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