President Donald Trump arrived at a rally ready with words of praise for U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, the Southern Illinois Republican seeking re-election, and of criticism for his opponent, Democratic St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly.
Trump on Saturday flew into the Southern Illinois Airport to campaign with Bost. The president’s aim was to try to energize voters to get out to vote by Election Day.
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“I tell you what, with this crowd, Mike Bost is going to win big,” Trump said, calling the elections “perhaps the most important midterm elections ever.”
The rally came on the same day as a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, which left 11 people dead.
“We can’t let evil change our life and change our schedule,” Trump told pool reporters in Indianapolis before leaving for Illinois. “You go with a heavy heart, but you go. You don’t want to change your life. You can’t make them important. These are bad people.”
Trump called the shooting an “evil anti-Semitic attack.”
“The scourge of anti-Semitism cannot be allowed. It cannot be tolerated,” Trump said. “We must stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters.”
A spokesman for Bost estimated at least 8,000 people turned up for the rally.
“It’s an amazing thing to have the president,” Bost said. “When he shows up it’s similar to a rock concert, but it has to have a whole lot of security.”
While warming up the crowd, Bost spoke highly about the president.
“He’s a fighter, and he tells the truth and sometimes the truth hurts,” Bost said. “He’s the first president ever to take a reduction in plane size. He isn’t doing it for money. He’s doing it for we the people.”
In his speech that lasted slightly more than an hour, Trump praised his administration’s tariffs and the return of jobs to Granite City Steel, which is in the 12th District and nearly 100 miles from Murphysboro.
“Hundreds of Illinois steelworkers and steelworkers all over the county are back on the job,” Trump said. “After years of rebuilding other countries, we are finally rebuilding our country and we are doing it with American steel and American pride.”
Bost took the stage again after the president introduced him saying, “Mike Bost protects Illinois farmers, Illinois miners and Illinois steelworkers.” The congressman thanked the president for his visit and urged voters to make it out to the polls.
A close election
Trump mentioned Kelly, Bost’s challenger, by name and attacked him as a liberal insider who would vote for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House.
“Brendan Kelly is a vote for Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters and their job killing agenda,” Trump said. Waters is a Democratic congresswoman from California.
Kelly has said he opposes Pelosi for House Speaker.
Kelly’s campaign released a statement after the speech.
“I hope President Trump got outside the hanger to see all the folks in Southern Illinois who are hurting. I hope Mike Bost and Bruce Rauner got a chance to see the damage they caused to so many lives in Southern Illinois. Bost has been in office for years — years in which life in Southern Illinois has only gotten harder,” Kelly said. “Paychecks aren’t growing, the cost of everything from beer to gas to healthcare is rising, and the powerful few on the coasts and career politicians in Washington D.C. get more power while Southern Illinois suffers. I will work with anyone from any party to make life better for people all over Southern Illinois because after 35 years in office, Mike Bost clearly hasn’t.”
The party of the sitting president historically has lost ground in the House in midterm elections. Early voter turnout has been higher than previous midterm elections, according to county clerks in St. Clair and Madison County.
The race had previously been listed as a toss-up as several polls had Bost leading by 1 percentage point. A recent poll by the New York Times had Bost leading by 9 points. The Times did not include Green Party candidate Randy Auxier in the poll.
“(The) response we’re getting has been very good on the street, but we’re going to run like we’re 10 points behind,” Bost said in an interview on Wednesday, a day after the latest New York Times poll was released. “The Green Party has to have some kind of effect on that. You see the polls, but it still doesn’t stop the fact, I’ve been through a lot of these, and it’s a long 14 days.”
Campaigns for both Kelly and Bost, as well as groups supporting the candidates, have flooded television channels with advertisements during the general election season.
Voices of attendees
Many hours before President Donald Trump was scheduled to arrive at Southern Illinois Airport outside of Murphysboro, people were lined up for a rally ahead of the Nov. 6 election wearing their “Make America Great Again” hats, Trump T-shirts and “Bost for Congress” shirts.
There were chants of “Build the Wall,” “Lock her up,” and “USA” as people waited ahead of the president’s speech.
Jim Zimmer, 65, of Murphysboro, who owns an aviation insurance company, was first in line for the rally. He spent the night in his office at the airport to be near the front of the line to get in.
“I think this is very important. I don’t care if you are a Democrat, Republican or Independent. It is about Trump, but it is about the office of the president and being respectful,” Zimmer said. “I think it’s a great time for Southern Illinois. I’m sure Donald Trump has never heard of Murphysboro until today.”
Dena Warren, of Springfield, who worked for AT&T customer service representative before getting laid off after more than 22 years, came to demonstrate ahead of the rally. She is part of Good Jobs Nation, a workers’ rights advocacy organization.
“My message is to bring jobs back to the United States,” Warren said. “We’re not here to protest. We’re here to get a message to him to quit giving money to these big CEOs and big corporations … Quit giving them all these discounts, all these tax credits, because they’re just building their pockets and taking the jobs away.”
Linda King, 68, of Ava, is an accountant at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. She said she came because she supports the president.
“I’m pro-life, he stands behind pro-life, I’m pro-gun and he’s behind that,” King said. “He wants us to be able to have our religion that we want and he wants to secure the borders. I am for all those.”
“I think it’s very great he would come to this small area in support of Mr. Bost … He is someone he respects, therefore he’s here to support Mike,” King added.
Before Trump took the stage, he addressed the overflow crowd who could not get into the hangar and had to watch on a large screen outside.
“I will be speaking and I will be thinking about you people,” Trump said, according to pool reports.
Other political attendees
Among those attending the rally was Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who is running for re-election and trails double digits in the polls to Democratic nominee J.B. Pritzker. Rauner has to work to gain support from the social conservatives in his party draw closer in the polls.
Earlier in the week Rauner said he hoped to speak to the president about several issues.
“I work with the president. It’s part of the job, work with President Trump. (I) worked with President Obama. I’m going to thank the president. He has helped us tremendously get Medicaid improved and mental health services. His administration is very helpful,” Rauner said.
“And Elaine Chao, the secretary of transportation, is a good friend of mine, but she’s come through with some major grants, money to upgrade our transportation infrastructure. I’m going thank him for that. I’m going to talk about how we can ... work to improve trade agreements and we’re also going to talk about immigration.”
Pritzker called Rauner’s presence at the rally “a last-ditch photo op.”
“When Donald Trump tried to strip healthcare from a million Illinoisans, Bruce Rauner said nothing. As Donald Trump’s tariffs have hurt farmers across Illinois, Bruce Rauner has said nearly nothing. And as Donald Trump incites hatred and division across our country, Bruce Rauner says nothing far too often,” Pritzker said in a prepared statement.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, a Republican from Taylorville, made an unannounced visit and praised Trump’s efforts to improve unemployment and bring cancer research money to Illinois, as well as signing an opioid treatment bill.
“We are on the front lines to make sure (Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi never gets the speaker’s gavel again,” Davis told rally attendees.
Davis will also face a Democratic challenger, Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, in a tight congressional race Nov. 6 for the Illinois 13th District.
Londrigan criticized Davis for making the surprise visit following the shooting in Pittsburgh.
“For someone who talks a lot about civility in politics, I’m appalled that Congressman Davis chose to make a surprise appearance at a campaign rally nearly 100 miles outside our district, just hours after one of the deadliest attacks on the Jewish community in US history,” Londrigan said in a written statement. “Our nation is reeling from a tragedy, but instead of using this day to reflect and honor those we lost, my opponent chose to campaign with other career politicians and repeat his tired partisan attacks.”
Davis late on Saturday night responded to Londrigan’s comments.
“I know firsthand the smells, the sounds, and the anger the survivors of this shooting will remember for the rest of their lives,” Davis said. “If my opponent thinks the mass shooting that I experienced and what too many others in this country have experienced isn’t on my mind every second of every day, she is sorely mistaken. Many people from the 13th District made the trip see the President today. We stood together as Americans to condemn the act of hate and violence we saw. It’s unthinkable that my opponent would put out a statement politicizing this tragic shooting.”
Libertarian candidate for governor Kash Jackson also planned to be in attendance on Saturday.
“I don’t support the president based on my political preferences,” Jackson said. “I do it based on the fact that it requires a relationship on a state and federal level to address the issues. You can’t put your head in the sand and say, ‘I don’t like this person so I’m not going to work with him at all.’ That’s an ineffective way of leading. Leadership requires setting aside any personal opinions that I have about the president and simply working alongside to find good common sense solutions not only for our state but for our country as well.”
The visit to Murphysboro marks Trump’s second visit to the Illinois 12th District. Trump visited Granite City in July to celebrate the how U.S. Steel brought back 800 jobs to the local steel mill after tariffs on foreign steel went in place.
Bost has been loyal to President Trump since he became the GOP party’s nominee in 2016. To hold onto the seat, Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Paul Ryan have each headlined fundraisers in the district for Bost. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue also visited the district for a town hall with farmers last Wednesday.