Former presidential advisor Steve Bannon made a quiet visit to Oro Valley on Sunday afternoon, part of a larger, national tour to get Republicans out to vote in the midterms.
Bannon was in his element in the packed ballroom as roughly 100 invited guests listened to him about the importance of getting their friends, family and neighbors to the polls in the next two weeks.
He answered questions from the crowd, but the 64-year-old political strategist wove a common thread into each of his answers: The midterm election isn’t about the governorship, Jeff Flake’s Senate seat or a handful of House seats that represent Southern Arizona.
It is about President Trump.
Sitting down with the Arizona Daily Star after his speech, Bannon said his message is the same regardless of what congressional district he is in.
“What I’m there to do is say, ‘Hey, this is about Trump. You need to come out and vote like it’s a presidential election,’” Bannon said.
He credits Democrats, whom he repeatedly refers to as “the left,” for making the 2018 midterm elections a referendum on Trump and mobilizing its base much earlier than the Republicans.
“What the left has done, they’ve accomplished one very important thing. They’ve got a do-over,” Bannon said.
On Sunday, Bannon was in CD 1, helping retired Air Force Lt. Col. Wendy Rogers in her fight to unseat Democrat Tom O’Halleran. That night, Bannon traveled to Flagstaff — the largest city in the district — to hold another forum with Republican officials and grassroots activists.
Rogers could be the key to retaining Republican control of the House.
“If she can beat O’Halleran, we’ll hold the House. We’ll hold the House by one or two seats. And that’s why it’s so important, and that’s why I wanted to come down here,” Bannon said.
But that is true for 25 congressional districts that Bannon thinks Republican incumbents need to defend in the midterms successfully, plus the five or six seats including CD 1 where the GOP thinks they can flip the districts from blue to red.
“That’s where the urgency is. Everybody’s gotta pay attention here. You can’t be leaning on your shovel and say, ‘Oh, since (Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was successfully nominated), everything’s OK.’ It’s not. This is still very tough, and they’re plowing money into it,” Bannon said.
And the stakes, according to Bannon, couldn’t be higher.
“The House is one that could go either way, and of course, everything originates out there. First off, the appropriation bill, if you lose the House, you’re not going to get the (border) wall. And you’re not going to get it in any kind of way, and they’re not going to cut a deal in some lame duck session. They’re going to play hardball with Trump, and they’ve telegraphed that,” Bannon said.
His super PAC, Citizens of the American Republic, is helping to fund his visits to the congressional districts. Occasionally, he previews his forthcoming film, “Trump @ War,” to friendly audiences.
Bannon stressed that while he shared the stage with Rogers, his visit was designed to help motivate Republican voters throughout the state.
Hunched over a chair in a smaller conference room wearing his now signature one button-down shirt over another button-down shirt, Bannon disagrees with the recent decision by the National Republican Congressional Committee pulling funding out of Congressional District 2.
He blames the left for forcing the NRCC to spend money elsewhere, saying Republican Lea Marquez Peterson is a great candidate to take over Rep. Martha McSally’s seat in the House.
“I don’t agree with their pulling out of that, but here’s the thing: To put that in perspective for your audience, what the Democrats have done in ’18, what we did in ’10, they have spread the field. So what you have now is the committees have to go in, and their first priority is the incumbent that’s defending a district,” he said.
The race to watch is the Senate race, he says, calling it one of the most exciting races in the entire nation.
Bannon rattles off a condensed but detailed political biography of McSally, noting her razor-thin win over then-incumbent Congressman Ron Barber and tough primary fight against Jesse Kelly.
“She is really a stunning campaigner now,” Bannon said.
Bannon, who has ties to the Tucson community, predicts he will be spending more time in Arizona in the next two years.
“It’s been a state that conservatives can count on. You can’t count on that anymore. It’s a battleground state,” he said. “It’s clearly the heart of a big part of the Trump movement, and so we gotta hold our own here, and really start, I think, spending more time, focus on building the grassroots in Arizona.”