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President Donald Trump wrapped up the 2018 midterm election season with a final sprint across the Midwest Monday, holding massive rallies for his supporters in three states that are key to Republicans' hopes of maintaining their majority in the U.S. Senate: Ohio, Indiana and Missouri.
At each one, Trump painted a dire, and often misleading, picture of the choices facing voters on Tuesday. "The Democrat agenda is a socialist nightmare for our country," Trump said at his first rally of the day, in Cleveland. "The Republican agenda is the American dream."
Trump was joined on stage at various times by a trio of female White House aides: Senior advisor Kellyanne Conway, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, as well as Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.
It was the first time this fall that all four women had participated in a single campaign rally with Trump, and the optics seemed designed to show the president flanked by female supporters as his party struggles to overcome a deficit of support among female voters.
At his final stop of the night in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Trump also brought on stage three conservative superstars, radio host Rush Limbaugh and Fox News personalities Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro. Trump taped an exclusive interview with Hannity's show on Fox News right before he went on stage, where Limbaugh, a Missouri native, introduced the president.
Later in the rally, Trump called Hannity up on stage, where the conservative talk show host wasted no time disparaging the journalists covering the rally as "fake news" and repeating Trump's midterm campaign slogan. Pirro also came on stage, where she urged the crowd to "vote for Donald Trump" despite the fact that Trump is not on the ballot this year.
The appearance of the Fox News stars on stage was particularly unexpected given that it came only hours after Hannity issued a statement saying specifically that he would not be participating in the campaign rally, but merely broadcasting his show from the venue.
On Tuesday, Fox News publicly rebuked Hannity and Pirro for appearing with Trump. "FOX News does not condone any talent participating in campaign events," the network said in a statement to CNBC. "We have an extraordinary team of journalists helming our coverage tonight and we are extremely proud of their work. This was an unfortunate distraction and has been addressed." Fox did not say, however, what actions it had taken to address the issue with two of its biggest prime time stars.
In addition to the statement from Fox, Hannity said Tuesday that when he pointed at the pool of reporters and called them "fake news" at the rally, he did not mean the Fox News reporters who were among them.
For much of the rest of the day, Trump kept up his recent focus on immigration, an issue he reportedly decided to zero in on during the election's closing weeks, despite a consensus view among his political advisors that Trump should focus on the strong economy instead.
"Democrats are inviting caravan after caravan — isn't that nice — of illegal aliens to flood into our country and overwhelm your communities," Trump said in Cleveland, falsely accusing his opponents of aiding a group of Central American refugees and migrants who are currently traveling north through Mexico.
The president also accused Democrats of wanting to make America "a giant sanctuary city for drug dealers, predators and bloodthirsty MS-13 killers." A few hours later at a rally in Fort Wayne, Trump accused Democrats of "openly encouraging millions of illegal aliens to break our laws." He did not, at any point, offer any evidence to support his claims.
In addition to making apocalyptic predictions about the future, Trump frequently reminisced about the past, specifically about his election victory two years ago over Democrat Hillary Clinton. At each of his rallies on Monday, thousands of supporters eagerly chanted "Lock her up!" as if it were still 2016.
Trump's overwhelming tendency to focus on himself and his own political fortunes was again evident on Monday, and it threatened to overshadow his comments about the candidates who are actually on the ballot Tuesday. In Missouri, Trump spoke for nearly an hour before inviting the Republican Senate candidate there, Josh Hawley, on stage to say a few words. In Indiana, GOP Senate candidate Mike Braun waited 40 minutes, and in Ohio, Trump spoke for a half hour before calling the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Mike DeWine on stage to speak for a few minutes.
All three men used most of their time on stage to praise Trump, and to thank the president for coming to their state. Hawley even led the crowd in a chant of "Four more years!" appearing to stoke excitement not about his own campaign, but about Trump's bid for a second term.
It was unclear late Monday whether Trump's strategy of whipping up enthusiasm for himself and his agenda among his core supporters would translate into votes for other Republicans on the ballot Tuesday. According to the most recent polling, Hawley, DeWine and Braun were all locked in extremely tight races going into Election Day, and a "Trump bump" of a few points could be enough to push them over the finish line.