‘Just pretend he’s one point down,’ Trump says in stump speech for Hawley

Trump stops in mid-Missouri to campaign for Josh Hawley

Supporters of President Donald Trump came out to the Columbia Regional Airport for a "Make America Great Again" rally in Columbia, Mo., Thursday. Trump campaigned for Josh Hawley, candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri.
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Supporters of President Donald Trump came out to the Columbia Regional Airport for a "Make America Great Again" rally in Columbia, Mo., Thursday. Trump campaigned for Josh Hawley, candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri.

President Donald Trump repeatedly called Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley a winner Thursday night, but he wants Republicans to act like he’s losing — for now.

“Just pretend he’s one point down, please,” Trump told a packed crowd at the Columbia Regional Airport Thursday night. “We cannot take a chance of something going awry on Tuesday. That’s why I’m coming again Monday.”

It was the president’s sixth visit to Missouri during the election cycle, a sign that Republican control of the Senate may hinge on whether Hawley succeeds. Trump will hold his final campaign event of the year in Cape Girardeau on the eve of the election.

A Fox News poll conducted Oct. 27 to 30 found that Hawley and Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, the incumbent, are deadlocked in the race, each drawing support from 43 percent of likely voters.

“This race is flat tied,” McCaskill told reporters Thursday. “And if anybody tries to work you guys over the next few days convincing you that it’s decided one way or another you should tell them to pound sand. Nobody knows how this race is going to end.”

Trump said that GOP momentum had been temporarily halted by “two maniacs,” referring to the bombing attempts against prominent Democrats and a shooting that left 11 dead at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

The rally took place one day after The Star revealed that Hawley’s political consultants began holding strategy sessions with his official staff in the state Supreme Court building during his first months in office.

McCaskill has called the behavior “inappropriate and potentially illegal.”

Traffic for Trump’s rally Thursday night backed up for miles to the designated parking area, with cars eventually being diverted on the side of the road because a steady drizzle made the area a muddy mess.

Rain-soaked Trump supporters were turned away several hours before the president was set to arrive when the flag-draped airport hangar where he was set to speak became filled to capacity. A screen was set up outside where those who wished to watch in the rain could do so.

“Did it rain out here? Very wet. Very wet,” Trump said during a brief greeting to the overflow crowd.

With Air Force One as his backdrop, Trump darted between a series of topics during the hour-long speech, but immigration and border security were his central focus.

The president blasted birthright citizenship, a principle that guarantees anyone born on U.S. soil full citizenship from birth, as a “crazy, lunatic policy.”

Trump presented a hypothetical scenario about the child of an imaginary dictator to explain his opposition to the policy, which has been has been in place since the passage of the 14th amendment in the wake of the Civil War.

“Think about it. You’re an enemy of our country. You’re a general with war on your mind, you’re a dictator, who we hate, who is against us, and that dictator has his wife have a baby on American soil. Congratulations, your son or daughter is now an American citizen,” Trump said. “Does anybody think that makes sense?”

Hawley dodged a question about birthright citizenship during a campaign stop in Riverside earlier this week, saying that he has not seen the president’s plans.

Trump also warned against a caravan of Central American migrants headed toward the U.S. border in hopes of seeking asylum. Trump has suggested that he’ll pursue a military response to the caravan.

“These are tough people. These are not angels. They’re not little angels… And we’re not letting them into our country,” he said.

The president also sought to dispel the notion that Republicans are struggling with female voters this election, contending that women will support the GOP because of the issue of border security.

“Women are smart. They’re smarter than the men, but don’t say I said that… Women want security. They want jobs. And they want homes. But they have to have security,” he said.

Hawley briefly joined Trump on stage to attack McCaskill and rehash the 2016 election.

“Claire McCaskill wanted us to call Hillary Clinton ‘Madam President,’” Hawley said. “We’re going to call Claire McCaskill ‘fired.’ Let’s go get it done. “

McCaskill has made overt appeals to Trump voters throughout the campaign, telling Fox News this week that she backs Trump 100 percent on the caravan issue.

Trump joked about how McCaskill “has been saying such nice things about me. But you know what? She’ll never vote for me. That’s the problem.”

McCaskill has voted with Trump roughly 45 percent of the time, according to an analysis by the website FiveThirtyEight.

McCaskill has centered her campaign on the issue of health care, hammering Hawley for joining a Texas-led lawsuit that would strike down the Affordable Care Act, including its protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Hawley, on the other hand, has almost exclusively focused on the Supreme Court and has blasted McCaskill’s decision to vote against Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, a theme Trump seized on during the rally.

“Justice Kavanaugh was treated as unfairly as any human being I’ve ever seen,” Trump said before predicting that this would be the election of Kavanaugh, caravans and common sense.

Hawley’s campaign has attacked McCaskill for claiming in a debate that she had made her decision to vote against Kavanaugh before the judge faced allegations that he had sexually assaulted a peer as a teenager.

Republicans have claimed that the allegations were an attempt at character assassination.

McCaskill announced her intention to vote against Kavanaugh six days after the allegations had become public, but said at the time that the allegations did not factor into her decision.