MESA, AZ (Tucson News Now) - President Donald Trump was in Arizona Friday for a rally to support Rep. Martha McSally, who is seeking to fill retiring Sen. Jeff Flake’s Senate seat.
He also signed a memorandum for major water projects and toured Luke Air Force Base while in the state.
The main focus of Trump’s time in Arizona was supporting McSally, who is locked in a race with Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema.
The race has become increasingly contentious, with McSally accusing Sinema of supporting “treason” at a debate earlier this week. Sinema has drawn fire for comments made during a radio interview in 2003, when she told the radio host to “go ahead” if he wanted to hypothetically join the Taliban.
President Trump said McSally, a former Air Force colonel and combat fighter pilot, is “brilliant and brave” and has a “very, very strange opponent.” Trump didn’t say why he thought Sinema was “strange.”
McSally was a Trump critic in 2016 and represents a Tucson district that voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton. She’s now embraced the president and hopes his visit to Arizona helps unites Republicans against Sinema.
Arizonans have been subjected to a barrage of negative ads by both candidates throughout the election cycle. Sinema has also raised nearly $4 million more than McSally. Although President Trump won Arizona in 2016 by nearly four points, Democats are hopeful that they can capture Flake’s seat, if younger, urban and Hispanic voters turn out in November. The CBS News Battleground Tracker rates the race as “Edge Democrat.”
Trump, trying to hold onto Republicans' narrow 51-49 advantage in the Senate, said a vote for Sinema “is dangerous” because it would empower Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
During the rally, President Trump pounded Democrats, saying they are to blame for America’s immigration problems.
He said the new platform of the Democratic Party is “radical socialism and open borders.” Trump said the Democrats are opening “inviting millions of illegal aliens to break our laws, violate our borders and overwhelm our nation.”
Trump also pledged to end what is called “chain migration” where one person immigrates and then brings their extended family into the country.
The President’s comments on immigration come as a caravan of migrants from Central America is headed to the United States. At least 3,000 people crossed from Guatemala into Mexico Friday afternoon.
President Trump said Central Americans aren’t “little angels” but “some hardened criminals.”
Asked what evidence he had that they were “hardened criminals,” Trump told a reporter at a defense roundtable in Scottsdale: “Oh please. Please. Don’t be a baby.”
He told the reporter to look at Mexican soldiers lying on the ground as he discussed the migrants rushing across the border.
Trump then said he didn't want these "tough people" in the United States.
The president said: “I don’t want them in our country. and neither does our country want them in our country.”
He tweeted that the caravan was an “assault on our country at our Southern Border.”
Then, Thursday night in Montana, he told cheering supporters, “This will be an election of Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order and common sense. ... Remember it’s gonna be an election of the caravan.”
On an aggressive campaign blitz, Trump has sought to cast the midterms as a referendum on his presidency, believing that he must insert himself into the national conversation in order to bring Republicans out to vote. Perhaps no issue was more identified with his last campaign than immigration, particularly his much-vaunted — and still-unfulfilled — promise to quickly build a U.S.-Mexico border wall. To Trump, his pledges are still rallying cries.
"I think it's a big contrast point. All the Democrats are refusing to build the wall. It's a good contrast," said former Trump campaign aide Barry Bennett, who said the caravan was "perfectly timed" for Trump's midterm pitch.
But some warn that as Trump seeks to pump up his base, he could energize opposition. Matt Barreto, co-founder of the research firm Latino Decision, said an elevated immigration message could hurt Trump, too.
President Trump spoke with defense industry executives and local business leaders during a round table at Luke Air Force Base.
On Friday, Saudi Arabia said Jamal Khashoggi was killed in a fight inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
During the discussion at Luke AFB, the President said while he prefers ‘some form of sanction’ on Saudi Arabia after Khahoggi’s death, he wants to protect arms sales to the country.
President Trump on Friday ordered the government to speed up environmental reviews and streamline regulations that he says are hindering work on major water projects in California and other Western states.
Trump signed a memorandum aimed at helping the Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project in California, the Klamath Irrigation Project in Oregon and California and the Columbia River Basin system in the Pacific Northwest.
"We will resolve the issues blocking the completion of the Central Valley project," Trump said in Arizona during a swing through Western states. "I hope you enjoy the water that you're going to have."
The Central Valley Project is a federally managed water storage and delivery system that primarily benefits agricultural users in California's rich farming country in the center of the state.
The State Water Project serves agricultural and urban water users, including Los Angeles and much of sprawling Southern California.
Friday’s rally was part of a three-state tour through the west.
President Trump was in Montana Thursday and is holding also hosting a rally in Elko, Nevada, on Saturday. The president is meeting at a roundtable with supporters and then headlining a fundraiser Friday evening.
On Thursday, President Trump visited Montana to rally for Senate candidate Matt Rosendale. he focused heavily on illegal immigration in his speech.