WASHINGTON (AP) — Struggling to advance his agenda in Washington, President Donald Trump looked to the Midwest on Wednesday in search of his supporters’ warm embrace and to celebrate a Republican congressional victory in an election viewed as an early referendum on his presidency.
Trump began his day by reveling in Karen Handel’s victory in a special election in a House district in suburban Atlanta. By the evening, he was set to tour a community college agriculture program in Iowa and hold a campaign-style rally.
“Democrats would do much better as a party if they got together with Republicans on Healthcare, Tax Cuts, Security,” Trump tweeted before the visit. “Obstruction doesn’t work!”
Trump, no stranger to victory laps, seemed poised to turn his visit to a battleground state he captured in November into a celebration of his resilience despite the cloud of investigations that has enveloped his administration and sent his poll numbers tumbling.
With the appearance in Cedar Rapids, he will have held five rallies in the first five months in office.
The event underscores Trump’s comfort in a campaign setting. He has said he misses barnstorming and appears far more at ease when going after Democrats than pushing through his own legislative agenda.
The White House is making a renewed push to get the president out of Washington. The capital is consumed with the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election and Trump’s firing of his FBI director.
Campaign rallies energize Trump by placing him in front of supporters who have stuck by him and are likely to dismiss the investigations as Beltway chatter.
Iowa, with its large share of independent voters, could be a proving ground for whether Trump can count on the support of voters beyond his base. Unaffiliated, or “no party” voters as they are known in Iowa, make up 36 percent of the electorate, compared with 33 percent who register Republican and 31 percent registered as Democrat.
Self-identified independents in Iowa voted for Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton by a 13-percentage-point margin last year, according to exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks. That margin helped Trump take the state by nearly 9 points after Barack Obama won it for Democrats the previous two elections.
Trump held a Des Moines rally in December as part of his transition-era “thank you” tour of states he had won, but has not been back to the state since.
The rally was expected to include a tribute to former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, picked by Trump to be ambassador to China.
Trump’s stop at Kirkwood Community College was intended to draw attention to the school’s advancements in high-tech agriculture. Scheduled to join him were Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross as part of the administration’s effort this week to highlight the importance of technology.
But much of Trump’s attention was on the suburbs of Atlanta, in the 6th Congressional District race.
Democrats had lavished attention and money on Tuesday’s special election, hoping for a victory that would underscore Republican worries about Trump and serve as a harbinger of a Democratic wave in 2018.
Instead, Handel’s victory, in a traditional Republican stronghold that rarely produces a competitive contest, was met with a sign of relief among the GOP. It was the fourth straight special election that went to the Republicans.
Trump tweeted several times during the night and capped the night off with a text message to supporters crowing:
“Congrats to Karen Handel on a HUGE win in GA! Democrats lose again (0-4). Total disarray. The MAGA Mandate is stronger than ever. BIG LEAGUE,” he said in an apparent reference to his slogan, “Make America Great Again.”