WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, his shadow hanging over midterm elections that will determine the future of his administration, used his final campaign pitch to ask voters to help preserve "fragile" GOP victories that could be erased by Democratic gains in Congress.
With the monthslong fight serving as a testing ground for his nationalist appeals and the strength of the coalition that powered him to the White House two years ago, Trump closed out a campaign season that has been defined by his racially charged rhetoric, hard-line immigration moves and scattershot policy proposals. Acknowledging the stakes in the closing days of campaigning, Trump stressed that everything is on the line.
"It's all fragile. Everything I told you about, it can be undone and changed by the Democrats if they get in," Trump told supporters Monday during a telephone "town hall" organized by his re-election campaign. "You see how they've behaved. You see what's happening with them. They've really become radicalized."
Trump's usually active Twitter feed was quiet Tuesday as voting booths opened across the country. He returned to the White House in the wee hours of the morning after headlining final campaign rallies in Ohio, Indiana and Missouri, and planned to spend Election Day at the White House but out of public view.
He and first lady Melania Trump voted in New York via absentee ballot several weeks ago, the White House said.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump would spend the day making telephone calls, monitoring political races and meeting with his political team. In the evening, family and friends were joining Trump and the first lady in the White House residence to watch the returns, as were Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen.
In an election-eve interview, Trump struck a gentler tone by telling Sinclair Broadcasting he regretted some of his caustic campaign rhetoric.
"I would like to have a much softer tone. I feel to a certain extent I have no choice, but maybe I do," Trump said.
Little of that was on display Monday as Trump spent his final hours on the trail in Ohio, Indiana and Missouri, where his rhetoric on illegal immigration turned harsh and he lobbed attacks at Democrats.
"The contrast in this election could not be more clear. Democrats produce mobs," Trump said at his final rally in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. "That's what's happened. Republicans produce jobs."
He warned in a Monday tweet that law enforcement was "strongly notified to watch closely for any ILLEGAL VOTING which may take place in Tuesday's Election (or Early Voting)." Trump has falsely claimed that millions of illegal votes were cast in 2016, which he says deprived him of a victory in the popular vote, and has stoked concerns, without providing evidence, of rampant fraudulent voting. Studies have found voter fraud to be a rare occurrence in the U.S.
"I do eventually want to unite," Trump said in Fort Wayne, Indiana, "but I'm driving them crazy."
Trump has sought to distance himself from potential blame if Republicans lose the House, saying "My primary focus has been on the Senate."
Whatever the outcome, Trump made clear he knew his political future was on the line.
"In a sense, I am on the ticket," he told a raucous crowd in Cleveland.
He warned supporters on the telephone town hall to vote because "the press is very much considering it a referendum on me and us as a movement."