Every Republican candidate seeking statewide office in Florida attended at least one of President Donald Trump’s rallies here during the week leading into Election Day. But no candidates from Florida’s tightest Congressional races bothered to show.
The attendance habits shows the varying worth of appearing close to a president whose approval ratings remain underwater overall but who continues to inspire intense loyalty among the Republican base.
At a rally Saturday night in Pensacola, Republican Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody and Agriculture Commissioner candidate Matt Caldwell both earned acknowledgement from the podium by Trump. Neither candidate had been in attendance at a Fort Myers rally earlier in the week, but made the trip to the Panhandle to absorb the partisan love.
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis made it to both rallies and earned a “Good Luck” from the president in Pensacola.
And course, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott and gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis walked into the Pensacola rally from inside Air Force One, the shared the stage with Trump and gave speeches of their own with the president at their side.
Trump also acknowledged U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz and Neal Dunn during the Pensacola rally. But neither of those Republican congressmen face a serious threat Tuesday. Gaetz won his 2016 election in Florida’s 1st Congressional District with more than 69 percent of the vote, and Dunn won Florida’s 2nd Congressional District that year with 67 percent.
As for congressional candidates in serious fights, they universally failed to show.
No Panhandle district appears to be in play this year. But the Fort Myers rally included speeches by Greg Steube, the Republican nominee in Florida’s 17th Congressional District, and U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, the incumbent in Florida’s 19th Congressional District, who even Democrats in the district acknowledge has an edge going into Tuesday.
U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Gaetz made special trips to the Fort Myers rally, but U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Vern Buchanan, Carlos Curbelo and Brian Mast, all of whom faced less than a 90-minute drive from their home to Fort Myers—and all of whom face well-funded opponents—failed to attend either rally.
Republican candidates in tight races such as Maria Elvira Salazar, Ross Spano and Michael Waltz also found better things to do than attend a “Make America Great Again” rally in the days before an election.
Why the disparity in candidate behavior? Gallup’s Job Approval tracking shows Trump remains less popular than any president at this point in their term since the service started tracking job approval numbers.
The president holds a 40-percent job approval based on the most recent data. Meanwhile 54 percent disapprove and 6 percent hold no opinion.
Democratic President Barack Obama had a 45-percent approval in November of his second year, when Democrats suffered huge losses in the mid-terms.
Republican President George W. Bush, the only president in the modern era to see his party gain seats in his first mid-term, held an approval rating of 66 percent in November 2002.
But to dismiss Trump as unpopular only tells half the story. Among Republican voters, 89 percent approve of the job the president is doing. That compares to Trump’s a 37-percent approval rating among independents and an abysmal 6-percent approval among Democrats.
So there’s still virtue in rousing the base with a presidential embrace, so long as Republicans make up the bulk of voters a candidate must face on Tuesday.