COLUMBUS — As GOP faithfuls dined on salads and chicken, President Donald Trump praised a slew of Republican politicians and candidates in Ohio while slamming their opponents in front of nearly 2,000 guests who paid upward of $250 to see Mr. Trump headline the party’s annual state dinner.
The President lavished praise on Attorney General Mike DeWine, who’s running to replace Gov. John Kasich — a no-show at the dinner — and U.S. Senate candidate Jim Renacci during his hour-long remarks at the Greater Columbus Convention Center Friday.
“Work hard. There’s not a lot of time left,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Renacci, summing up where both parties are at less than 90 days from the midterms.
In a visit that cemented Ohio’s status as a battleground state for Republicans — and raised thousands ahead of the races — Mr. Trump didn’t stray from his familiar remarks on immigration, tariffs, and the economy. He cited the $700-million iron ore plant being built in East Toledo as an example of rebounding manufacturing.
“There are more people working than at any time in the history of our country,” he said. “No president has ever had this economy.”
He also blasted Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., New York) and Mr. DeWine’s opponent, Rich Cordray, the former director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.
“While Democrats are apologizing for America, Republicans are standing up for America,” Mr. Trump said.
It’s the first time a sitting president has headlined the Republican Party’s state dinner. As the featured speaker he appeared early in the event, followed by candidates running for statewide office.
“This is the enthusiasm we need to keep Ohio red this year … 2018 is the battle for Ohio’s future,” Republican Party Chairman Jane Timken told the audience. “The strong economy, the record low unemployment, the money we’re saving, the jobs that are returning to Ohio.”
The dinner caps off a whirlwind week after Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was convicted of tax and bank fraud, and his former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and implicated the president. Mr. Trump mentioned neither of his former associates during his remarks.
“Our economy is absolutely booming, jobs are surging, factories are returning, steel is doing better,” Mr. Trump said.
Jon Stainbrook, former chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, said besides a boost ahead of the November races, the visit will keep the state thinking about Mr. Trump until the next presidential election.
“This is a battleground state. It’s a must-win state for 2020 for Trump-Pence. You have to win this state to win,” he said. “So when he comes back for an event like this in the state capital, it shows he hasn’t forgotten about voters here.”
Mr. Trump was last in Ohio earlier this month stumping for Troy Balderson in Lewis Center. The Zanesville state senator faced off in a special election against Democrat Danny O’Connor to represent the once solidly Republican 12th congressional district.
The official results, certified Friday, had Mr. Balderson winning by 1,680 votes, a razor-thin margin in a district where more 207,000 votes were cast.
At the Republican dinner, record turnout and an audience of party faithfuls wasn’t enough to draw Mr. Kasich. The term-limited governor said this week he would skip the event to spend time with one of his daughters before she leaves for college.
Mr. DeWine thanked Mr. Kasich when he addressed the crowd shortly after saying the state should adopt incentives included in the federal tax-reform legislation.
It came as no surprise to many that Mr. Kasich skipped out. The governor, who some speculate is considering another White House run, lost the Republican presidential nomination to Mr. Trump. The two have long feuded, culminating in a Twitter exchange in which Mr. Trump called Mr. Kasich the “very unpopular governor of Ohio.” Mr. Kasich responded with an image of a laughing Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.
“The elephant in the room — or more accurately stated, the elephant not in the room — is John Kasich,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said. “When’s the last time we had the sitting governor of the same party as a president not attending a dinner featuring that president because of the president?”
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