MISSOULA, Mont. (CN) – President Donald Trump continued to pull out all the stops to retain the Republicans’ narrow control in the Senate, making his third trip to Montana on Thursday night to support two House and Senate candidates and to rally the state’s Republican base ahead of the November election.
Trump arrived at Missoula County International Airport and spoke to about 8,000 people in a private hangar just steps from Air Force One.
Missoula County is a bastion of Democrats and was one of just six of Montana’s 56 counties to back Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump’s rally in Missoula was aimed at boosting support for Matt Rosendale, the Montana state auditor challenging Democratic Sen. Jon Tester for a coveted Senate seat, and to rally support for U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont.
A two-term senator, Tester has a sizable lead over Rosendale but could be vulnerable in the election. He has an 85 percent chance of winning the election, according to pollster FiveThirtyEight. Rosendale, dubbed as an outsider from Maryland with weak Montana ties, has a one in seven chance of winning, the pollster predicts.
Montana is nearly 18 percent more Republican than the nation overall, and is the 16th most Republican state in the country. Trump won 56.5 percent of the state’s votes in 2016. But the current governor Steve Bullock is a Democrat, and so was his predecessor.
Just outside Missoula, though, things turn decidedly Republican. In neighboring counties like Ravalli, Lake and Flathead, Trump won on average about 60 percent of the vote in the 2016 election and it’s that base he rallied in a rambling one-hour speech Thursday night.
The Trump rally brought out formerly closeted conservatives like Gloria Larson. She’s a retiree who said she “was tired of sucking up” to liberals in Missoula and “having to bite my lip” for the last eight years.
“I love Trump,” Larson said. “What he’s doing for our country is absolutely wonderful.”
Trump spent much of his speech attacking Democrats, the media, Hillary Clinton and Tester, in addition to the two minutes he used to talk about his hair. The scene was the typical, choreographed “Make America Great Again” circus seen dozens of times across the nation before and after Trump’s election: each time Trump mentioned Clinton or someone on his targeted list of people to hate, a chorus of boos or “lock her up, lock her up” erupted.
“Your senator is disgraceful,” Trump said of Tester and Tester’s opposition to appointing Ronnie Jackson as head of the Veteran’s Administration. “I’ll never forget what Tester did (to Jackson),” Trump said. “He was so badly hurt.”
But Tester’s camp said Rosendale is the real danger to veterans.
“Montana veterans made too many sacrifices for this country to be shoved to the sidelines by people like Matt Rosendale,” Christie Roberts, campaign manager for Montanans for Tester, said. “Rosendale racked up one of the worst records in the Legislature when it came to Montana veterans – from opposing funding for veterans homes to voting against a home assistance program for Gold Star families and scholarships for Purple Heart veterans.”