When President Trump tweeted his “Complete Endorsement” for Republican Christopher L. Jacobs last month, the congressional candidate could not have hoped for more.
Unless, of course, Trump joins him in a local arena filled with thousands of cheering, MAGA hat-wearing faithful.
Though one of the president’s signature rallies has yet to make anybody’s schedule here, the idea is entering lots of Republican conversations. After 90 Trump rallies around the country since Election Day 2016, discussions inside and outside the Jacobs campaign now include a possible “ultimate endorsement” before the April 28 special election against Democrat Nate McMurray.
“I’d love to have the president, the vice president or anyone else come,” Jacobs said last week.
Proponents of the idea point to a host of advantages a visit would offer Trump:
• National coverage of a presumably packed arena in a deep blue state, with supporters from throughout Western New York venturing into a Democratic enclave like Buffalo or Rochester.
• Assurance that support for Jacobs would play well in the 27th Congressional District, the most Republican in all of New York State.
• A convenient backdrop for the nation’s first federal election since impeachment.
Most Republicans say the president will weigh arguments for and against a Western New York visit.
“It’s a possibility, but it might be a hard sell,” said one source familiar with the situation who wished to remain unidentified, noting the president may simply skip an upstate New York election in which the Republican is heavily favored anyway.
Still, the chatter continues, mainly because of Trump’s appeal throughout the eight-county district devoid of any big cities. Amherst pollster Barry Zeplowitz’s survey of the district last summer showed 81% of Republicans support the president. At the time, Zeplowitz said anyone “endorsed by the president gets a great big lift.”
Zeplowitz now sounds a cautionary note regarding Jacobs’ immersion in the Trump message because the special election coincides with New York’s Democratic presidential primary. A significant turnout of Democrats is expected, he noted, with many motivated by anti-Trump sentiment. And the new dynamics of the Democratic race could propel New York into a Joe Biden-Bernie Sanders showdown in the final stages of primary season.
“It’s not black or white at all,” he said. “If there were no primary, Chris would win 60-40.”
Zeplowitz also noted Jacobs’ new television ads, complete with images of undocumented immigrants scaling border walls, that underscore the candidate’s support for Trump. Much of it aims at the Republican primary that Jacobs could face on June 23.
“They will be basically running a special election and primary campaign at the same time,” he said, “on the assumption they will drive out enough Trump-supporting Republicans to get him elected.”
James W. Moor, for many years a political scientist at St. Bonaventure University who now lectures at SUNY/Geneseo, said he recently studied 15 Republican congressmen who typify local Trump loyalty.
“If I’m a Republican running for office, I may not like Trump or the way he does things,” Moor said. “But even if 15% of my constituents like him, then I need those people.”
If Trump shows up in Buffalo or Rochester, he said, he will fill an arena. And beyond those flocking to rallies, he suspects the president still counts on many local – but silent – supporters.
“There are a lot of hidden Trump supporters who go to cocktail parties and won’t admit they like him,” Moor said.
Significantly, McMurray embraces a Trump visit as much as anyone. The former Grand Island supervisor who narrowly lost to Republican Chris Collins in 2018 is campaigning against Trump as fervently as Jacobs runs with him.
“I would welcome him. It would charge up our base, and our base is more charged than his,” McMurray said. “Come on over, President Trump.”
He views a presidential visit as within “the realm of possibility,” while questioning Trump’s full commitment to his opponent.
“I don’t thing he’s very excited about Chris Jacobs; neither is Beth Parlato nor Stefan Mychajliw,” he said, referring to other GOP candidates expected to run in a June 23 primary.
The candidate noted that Biden campaigned for him locally in 2018, and he would again welcome the former vice president who is suddenly enjoying a resurgence in the primaries.
“My brother picked him up at the airport and we just drove around NY-27 with him. It was incredible,” he said. “I would love to have him back.”