President Trump tried to steal the spotlight from his Democratic foes Wednesday, countering their Las Vegas debate with a campaign rally 300 miles southeast in Arizona, a state he won in 2016 but is trending blue.
Mr. Trump took the stage in Phoenix as the Democrats were being introduced to the prime-time audience. He launched straight into his grievances with the media, the “impeachment hoax” and his potential rivals, who held little back as they shot arrows at each other in Nevada.
“We are going to defeat the radical socialist Democrats. We are going to win Arizona in a landslide,” Mr. Trump told supporters at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
The showman’s display continued Mr. Trump’s tendency to dog Democrats at every turn in their increasingly bitter primary race.
He has turned up at voting time in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, defending a surging Sen. Bernard Sanders — presumably, Mr. Trump wants to run against a self-described “democratic socialist” — and tweeting schoolyard taunts at Michael R. Bloomberg in what can be viewed as an early blitz of angst over a New York billionaire with cash to spare.
“It’s real-life trolling,” said Princeton University political science professor Julian Zelizer. “I don’t know if it is effective. It conveys fear and swagger at the same time but, more important, his ongoing effort to dominate the news coverage and unwillingness to share the stage. It is easy to imagine how his appearances could just as easily energize Democrats against him as Republicans in favor of him.”
Mr. Trump plans to rally again in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Thursday and in Las Vegas on Friday, the eve of the Democratic caucuses in Nevada.
He’ll show up at Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte on March 2, the night before Super Tuesday voting in North Carolina and 13 other states.
Mr. Trump said he’ll probably go to South Carolina before its Feb. 29 primary, too, though his team is working out the details.
The president says his decision to tail Democrats across the country is invigorating his supporters, citing strong turnout on the Republican side of election nights in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“You know, look, we have a big voice and we might as well use it,” Mr. Trump told reporters as he left the Washington area for a West Coast swing of meetings and fundraisers.
Democrats say that’s OK by them, pointing to gains they made since Mr. Trump and the GOP stumbled over Obamacare and then passed a tax overhaul his rivals were able to characterize as a handout to corporations and the wealthy.
“Whenever Trump shows up in a battleground it’s just a reminder for voters about his record of broken promises,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman David Bergstein. “The clearest indication of the impact of his presence can be found from the 2018 cycle, where he campaigned across the country for Republican Senate candidates who ended up losing and, more recently, in 2019 when he held rallies for candidates in traditionally conservative states and effectively put himself on the ballot — and those Republicans ended up losing.”
Mr. Trump’s decision to rally in Arizona underscores how important it is for the Trump campaign to hold onto the states it won in 2016 while expanding the map in places such as neighboring New Mexico in case of slippage elsewhere.
Mr. Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Arizona by more than 3 percentage points, but the state is believed to be pivoting in the Democrats’ direction after Sen. Kyrsten Sinema defeated Republican Martha McSally in 2018.
Adding complexity to the November picture, Ms. McSally was appointed to Arizona’s other Senate seat after the death of Sen. John McCain but faces a well-known Democratic challenger in Mark Kelly, the former astronaut and husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat who suffered a brain injury during a mass shooting in January 2012.
“Every swing state matters. [Mr. Trump] has lost ground in a number of states, as 2018 revealed, and places like Arizona might be ripe for a Democratic pickup,” Mr. Zelizer said.
Mr. Trump hit a new high approval rating in an opinion survey Wednesday, with Emerson College Polling showing him with a 48-44 split, a net-positive 4-point rating. The poll also showed Mr. Trump beating four of the top five Democratic rivals, with only Mr. Sanders leading him, 51-49.
Other surveys haven’t been as generous, with an ABC/Washington Post poll on Wednesday showing Mr. Sanders, Mr. Bloomberg and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden besting Mr. Trump by 5 to 7 points in a hypothetical matchup and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren running slightly ahead of the president, though within the margin of error.
Mr. Trump insists that he’s doing well against everyone, citing 2016 polls that underestimated his appeal.
“Internal REAL Polls show I am beating all of the Dem candidates,” Mr. Trump tweeted Wednesday. “The Fake News Polls (here we go again, just like 2016) show losing or tied.”
He has mocked Mr. Bloomberg’s height, ridiculed the ex-mayor’s apology for stop-and-frisk crime measures that singled out young black men, and highlighted potentially damaging comments Mr. Bloomberg has made of the years.
“Is corrupt Bloomberg News going to say what a pathetic debater Mini Mike is, that he doesn’t respect our great farmers, or that he has violated campaign finance laws at the highest and most sinister level with ‘payoffs’ all over the place?” Mr. Trump tweeted Wednesday.
Mr. Bloomberg brushed it off, tweeting in reply: “Impeached president says what?”
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.