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Trump Competes For Spotlight During Democratic Nominating Contests


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Gentlemen, start your engines.



That was President Trump serving as grand marshal of the Daytona 500 NASCAR event in Florida on Sunday. This is part of the president's reelection campaign, which also ran a big national TV ad during the race. Trump doesn't have much competition in the Republican primary, but he's been holding events in early primary states.

And NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe has been looking into the president's reelection strategy. Good morning, Ayesha.


KING: So the president has been in Iowa. He's been in New Hampshire this week. He's in Nevada before the caucus there on Saturday. And yet, there is no real Republican opposition to him. So what's going on?

RASCOE: So yes, this is not about beating Republican challengers for his (laughter) - for the Republican nomination. What's clear is that President Trump knows that Democrats running for president are getting a lot of attention and that race for the nomination is dominating headlines. This counterprogramming is meant to steal some of that spotlight and that all-important TV time away from his potential Democratic rivals. With national attention focused on these states, Trump gets media hits from these appearances. And he uses these opportunities to criticize some of the policies Democrats are discussing.

It's also a way to build up enthusiasm for his reelection campaign, the same way that Democrats are trying to boost enthusiasm through their primaries and caucuses. He did have more than 150,000 voters turn out for the Republican primary in New Hampshire. Now, that was about half of the Democratic turnout. But still, that was a high number for an incumbent. The Trump campaign also views these primaries as test runs for turning out the vote in the general election.

KING: And then the president will have two more rallies this week - right? - in Arizona and in Colorado. Why is he going those two places?

RASCOE: Well, so these - those states are - could loosely be described as battleground states. So Nevada and Colorado have been Democratic in recent elections but not overwhelmingly so. Arizona is one state that's actually been turning red to blue. But Trump won it in 2016 and would like to win it again. And Trump lost New Hampshire by fewer than 3,000 votes in 2016, so that's another potential target for him. So again, it's counterprogramming to the Democrats, but it's also laying that groundwork for November along with digital ads and all the other ways of getting their message out.

KING: But it's really interesting - right, Ayesha? - because the people at the rallies really like President Trump. They are his base. What is the campaign doing to convince people who are not decided?

RASCOE: So Trump is always focused on the base - you know, talking about promises made, promises kept. And he's going to need all of that base to show up to win in 2020. But he also is going to need more than just the base. And right now the thought is it's going to be a very close election. So he's going to need to expand at least a bit or try to limit some of his losses in some demographics, like the - like among African American voters. So that's why you're going to hear him hammering away at his economic message, talking about record low unemployment and the booming stop stock market. And these - even though Trump is really focused on the rallies, the more hands-on, the kind of so-called retail aspects of campaigning is being left to surrogates like Vice President Pence.

KING: Really quickly - how much money has his campaign raised so far?

RASCOE: So the Trump campaign joint fundraising committees and the Republican National Committee announced last week they raised $60 million in January alone and that they have $200 million cash on hand.

KING: OK, a lot of money.

NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe. Ayesha, thanks so much.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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