ELKO, Nev. (AP) — Campaigning on opposite sides of a pivotal Senate race, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden appealed to party loyalists in Nevada as early voting began Saturday in the state.
Wrapping up a three-day visit to Western states with midday rally in rural Elko, Trump lent support for Dean Heller, considered the most vulnerable GOP senator on the Nov. 6 ballot as Republicans hope to retain their Senate majority. The GOP-leaning region of the battleground state is crucial to Trump’s hopes of protecting or expanding Republicans’ 51-49 edge in the Senate.
“If you want to protect America’s laws borders, sovereignty and even your dignity, you need to go out today and vote,” Trump said as he asked supporters to raise their right hands in a pledge to go to the polls.
A short time earlier and 400-plus miles south, Biden headlined a Las Vegas rally at a union local to promote Heller’s challenger, Rep. Jacky Rosen, and other Democratic candidates, as he encouraged Nevada residents to get out and vote.
“This election is literally bigger than politics. It’s bigger than politics,” Biden said. “No matter how old or young you are, you have never participated in an election that is as consequential as this election national and locally.”
Trump struck much the same theme throughout the week, as he has tried to frame the choices for voters in the upcoming election. He has sought to focus on immigration as one of the defining election issues and has falsely accused Democrats of wanting “open borders” and encouraging illegal immigration.
“They’ve gone loco,” Trump said.
Trump referenced Biden’s appearance in Las Vegas, mocking the smaller crowd drawn by his potential 2020 rival, compared with the thousands he gathered on an airport tarmac in the more sparsely populated part of the state.
Trump deployed a refrain he had fine-tuned during his Western swing, declaring that “Democrats produce mobs, Republicans produce jobs.”
“That’s called hashtag,” he said to the crowd. “That’s a new hashtag. That’s a hot one.”
Trump branded Heller’s opponent “Wacky Jacky,” as he sought to cast Rosen as beholden to Democratic coastal elites, including Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.
In Las Vegas, Biden criticized Trump for his approach to Russia and President Vladimir Putin, his equivocating on white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, and his immigration policies, including the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border
American values, “are being shredded,” Biden said. “They’re being shredded by a president who is all about himself. It’s all about Donald.”
In a tweet before leaving Arizona, Trump called Heller “a man who has become a good friend” and said he needed the senator’s “Help and Talent in Washington.”
Trump praised Heller for his votes for conservative Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. The later faced allegations of decades-old sexual assault during his confirmation hearings, prompting impassioned Senate hearings and fraught votes.
“We stuck with Justice Kavanaugh, because he was the right man,” Trump said.
But Heller himself once had rocky relations with Trump and had returned a campaign donation from then-candidate Trump over Trump’s immigration rhetoric. Last year, Trump threatened Heller’s re-election chances when the senator held up GOP efforts to repeal the Obama-era health law. But Heller has since become an ally of the president, who has made two fundraising stops for him in Nevada this year already.
Heller and Rosen held their first and only debate of the campaign on Friday. Heller accused her of making a visit to see separated families at the U.S.-Mexico border in order to stage a “photo-op,” while she described Heller a “rubber-stamp” for Trump, whose tax plan she said benefits the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.
In a further sign of the state’s importance in the midterms, former President Barack Obama scheduled a stop Monday in Las Vegas.
He won Nevada in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, and Democrat Hillary Clinton carried the state by 2 percentage points over Trump in 2016. But during the last midterm elections in 2014, many Democrats stayed home and Republicans won key races across the state, which has a 29 percent Latino population.
The country’s immigration system has long vexed politicians from both parties, and Republicans themselves have torpedoed near-compromises in recent years. Yet Trump tweeted Saturday that “we could write up and agree to new immigration laws in less than one hour” if Democrats “would stop being obstructionists and come together.”
“Call me,” he told the Democratic leaders in Congress, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California. It seemed reminiscent of the time last year when Trump cracked open the door of bipartisanship with those leaders, who emerged from a White House meeting to say Trump had agreed to work toward a deal on protection young immigrants. But no agreement came to pass.
The Biden-Trump circling of one another in the same state happened recently in Kentucky, where Biden campaigned for a Democratic congressional candidate on a Friday night and Trump held a rally the next evening.
(© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)