CASA GRANDE, Ariz. (AP) — While President Donald Trump plays defense on impeachment in Washington, Republicans are taking the fight to Democrats in the states.
Dozens of shouting and flag-waving Trump supporters gathered Tuesday at the Casa Grande field office of Democratic Rep. Tom O'Halleran, who has signaled support for an impeachment inquiry, to protest Democratic efforts to remove the president from office.
"Nancy Pelosi is pursuing a hyperpartisan witch hunt," Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward said, shouting over the chants and whistles of a handful of Democrats launching a counterprotest. Democrats can't win at the ballot box so they're fixated on beating Trump through impeachment, she said.
Behind her, Democrats chanted, "Dump Trump! Dump Trump!" as Republicans shouted back, "USA! USA!"
The Arizona desert town of 55,000 is the latest front in the political war over the effort to try to remove the president from office. As Democrats' subpoenas fly, the Republican effort to exact political pain on those pushing the impeachment probe is just getting started.
"We are making hurt from Maine to California for these Democrats that want to impeach the president," said Rick Gorka, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign.
The national party has drawn up a list of more than 60 target races for the House, Senate and governor where Democrats are running in districts or states carried by Trump, aiming to make impeachment a central theme in those races. The effort highlights how impeachment, while perilous to the president, can be a political boon to the GOP, whose voters remain largely steadfast in support of Trump.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi initially resisted efforts to begin impeachment proceedings because of middling public support for trying to remove Trump and a belief it could put moderate Democrats in a tough spot. Republicans contend that despite some movement in national surveys toward support for impeachment, there are dozens of Democrats who have been made more vulnerable by the impeachment inquiry.
Already, the RNC has devoted more than $2 million to an ad buy accusing moderate House Democrats of voting "with the radicals for endless investigations of President Trump," and it's promising millions more will follow. Phase one of the counter-impeachment campaign, Gorka said, has been focused on the two-week congressional recess, with a more sustained effort coming to "make sure that pressure stays on them in D.C. and when they're home on weekends."
"Until they end this impeachment madness, they are going to be hearing and feeling the pressure from us," he added.
That's where the local press conferences come in. The retail-style events are designed to energize the president's core of supporters and draw attention to lawmakers' stances on impeachment. Similar rallies are being scheduled across the country.
"Stop the impeachment!" more than a dozen Trump supporters chanted Tuesday outside Jared Golden's district office in Lewiston, Maine. And hundreds of Trump backers demonstrated against Pelosi on Friday as she attended a fundraising event in Greenville, South Carolina.
The local events are planned by the RNC, state parties and the GOP's House and Senate arms, while the White House and the Trump campaign train most of their fire on Trump's would-be Democratic opponents.
"Democrats know they can't beat President Trump at the ballot box, so they want to deny Americans the opportunity to vote to reelect him," said Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign communications director. "In fighting against that, the campaign follows the lead of the president and the White House. The RNC is also an excellent partner and we all are working well in concert together."
David Bergstein, the Democratic National Committee's director of battleground state communications, said Democrats want to make sure voters are well informed of Trump's "record of broken promises" ahead of the 2020 election.
"A distraction campaign won't erase Trump's record: he's spiked health care costs, his tax scam will raise taxes on tens of millions of working families in order to give his rich friends another handout — and he's been caught asking foreign governments to interfere in our elections, which is un-American," Bergstein said in a statement.
O'Halleran is a former Republican legislator who switched parties and was elected in Arizona's sprawling and mostly rural 1st Congressional District, the most competitive in the state. He's being aggressively targeted by Republicans who see Trump's popularity with rural voters as a liability for him. Trump narrowly won the district in 2016.
O'Halleran has offered tepid support for the House impeachment probe, saying after the release of a whistleblower's complaint that "we must pursue this official inquiry and promptly complete the investigation so that Congress has all of the facts." He said he would decide how he'd vote on impeachment after seeing the results of the inquiry.
The GOP is glossing over any nuance in his position.
"Stop the madness that we have seen from the Democrat Party again and again and again," Ward said. "Ever since November 2016, they have gone crazy."
Trump supporters in the crowd said the real misconduct was committed by Democrats.
"The whole impeachment thing is a huge smokescreen covering for the sins they committed in the past," said Tony Gregorio, a 72-year-old retiree from nearby Maricopa.
Miller reported from Washington.