TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — President Donald Trump lashed out Friday at Democrats for a vote this week formalizing the House impeachment inquiry as he urged rallygoers in Mississippi to send a message to Washington by voting Republican in the state's upcoming gubernatorial race.
Democrats are "disgracing themselves and bringing shame upon the House of Representatives," Trump charged. "They've been plotting to overthrow the election since the moment I won."
Trump was in Mississippi trying to shore up support for Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who is locked in a tight race to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Phil Bryant in next week's off-year election. The race between Reeves and Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood for the open seat is considered the state's toughest governor's race in nearly a generation.
Trump cited the impeachment inquiry as a reason that voters in Mississippi should cast their ballot for Reeves. He expressed surprise that the race appears close but added, "We're going to send a signal by sending a terrific new Republican governor to Jackson."
Even though the state's Democratic nominee for governor lost by 34 percentage points four years ago, Democrats in this conservative Deep South state think they have a shot this time with Hood. Hood, who is serving his fourth term as attorney general, has been elected by wide margins in his previous races and is currently the only Democrat to hold statewide office.
The rally came a day after Democrats voted to formalize the investigation into whether Trump abused his office and compromised national security when he asked the president of Ukraine to investigate one of his political rivals. Aggrieved and feeding off the energy of the crowd, Trump repeatedly defended himself against what he called the "deranged impeachment witch hunt" and accused Democrats of doing anything to take him down and invalidate the results of the 2016 election.
Still, Trump insisted — despite polling to the contrary — that the investigation is helping him politically and will hurt Democrats come 2020, telling the crowd that "we've never had greater support than we have right now."
"While we're creating jobs and killing terrorists," he said, "the Democrat Party has gone completely insane."
During the rally, Trump celebrated the news that Beto O'Rourke, one of the Democratic candidates running to replace him, had dropped out of the race. Trump unleashed a slew of insults, calling O'Rourke "pathetic," ''nasty" and a "poor bastard."
"He made a total fool of himself," Trump said, mocking an interview in which O'Rourke said he was born for the job.
"He said that he was born for it, like he was born from heaven, he came down," Trump told his crowd. "Anybody who says they were born for this, they're in trouble."
Trump also referenced the killing last weekend in Syria of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the former leader of the Islamic State group, calling him "a savage and soulless monster." But he also complained that he hadn't gotten enough credit for the raid that led to his death.
"Conan the dog got more publicity than me," he said, referring to the military dog involved in the mission.
The rally was one of a handful of events Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will be holding in the coming days to try to bolster Republican candidates running in gubernatorial elections.
Trump is scheduled to travel to Kentucky on Monday to campaign for GOP Gov. Matt Bevin's reelection. He is heading to Louisiana on Wednesday to campaign for Republican gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone, who is trying to unseat Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Pence was in Kentucky on Friday campaigning for Bevin and will travel to the Mississippi Gulf Coast on Monday to campaign for Reeves, among other stops.
"It's always good for the president to help out Republicans up and down the ticket," said Rick Gorka, a spokesman for Trump's campaign and the national Republican Party. "He needs reliable partnerships and strong leaders in the states in order to continue to enact his policies, so this is a way to lend his support to Tate Reeves to close out this election strong."
Reeves has sought to tie Hood as closely as possible to national Democrats, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who are deeply unpopular in a state that voted heavily for Trump in the last presidential election.
Hood says Reeves and other Republicans have underfunded schools and ignored the financial plight of rural hospitals while giving tax breaks to big businesses.
Hood has not invited national Democratic figures to Mississippi. He's running campaign commercials that show him with his family, his pickup truck and his hunting dog, Buck. In one, Hood unpacks a rifle and says that "Tate Reeves and his out-of-state corporate masters" are spending money on a "bunch of lies."
Gorka said the party was confident heading into Tuesday's Election Day.
"We're looking at a strong possibility of winning in Mississippi but also flipping seats in Louisiana and keeping the one in Kentucky," he said. "So the way we always approach any election is we invest to win, both with data and infrastructure, but also with the most precious resource, the president's time, to make sure that we're getting the most bang for our buck."