But the president spent only a fraction of the evening rally talking about Barr, focusing instead on McConnell and the confirmation of more than 80 judges to the federal bench during the current Congress.
On several occasions, Trump departed from the topic at hand to praise and offer affectionate comments about the Republican leader and his junior colleague, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — a sharp contrast from Trump’s feud with Paul during the 2016 Republican presidential primary.
“Not everybody knows that Mitch is a great guy,” Trump said to laughs, calling the Republican leader “one of the most powerful men in the world . . . there’s nobody tougher, there’s nobody smarter.”
McConnell, who typically avoids commenting on Trump’s day-to-day remarks and behavior, spoke warmly about him to the crowd.
“Aren’t we proud of President Trump?” he said to cheers when called onstage. “Let me just add thanks to President Trump and thanks to Republican Senate — 84 new federal judges already this Congress.”
McConnell said he would continue helping to confirm Trump’s judicial appointments and predicted the wave of new judges will “change the court system forever.”
The focus on judges was safe territory for Trump weeks before the midterms where Democratic enthusiasm has put some Republican incumbents on the defensive. The remarks came just two days after McConnell struck a deal with Senate Democrats to allow votes on 15 more judicial nominees in exchange for allowing the Senate to end its work until after the midterms.
The successful confirmation of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court earned one of the biggest rounds of applause of the evening, with supporters chanting: “Ka-va-naugh! Ka-va-naugh!”
“Never has a man been treated so badly,” Trump said, referring to sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh from several women. “We stuck with him all the way, we knew the facts.”
Barr faces McGrath, a retired Marine fighter pilot, in the state’s only competitive federal race this November. McGrath has courted high profile Democratic supporters and equaled his $3 million in funds in the 6th congressional district race.
“This is not hyperbole. This election is bigger than politics,” former vice president Joe Biden told her supporters at a rally on Friday night.
Barr has sought to tie McGrath to the Democratic leadership in Washington, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — an association she has resisted. Fueled by small-dollar donations and viral campaign ads, the Afghanistan and Iraq veteran has run on a message of unity and healing America’s cultural divides.
“I do not believe the Democratic Party has all the answers. . . . Both sides need to learn to work together again,” McGrath said.
Trump on Saturday called McGrath an “extreme liberal.”
“If you want to stop Nancy Pelosi from becoming speaker of the House ... then you have to come out and vote for Garland “Andy” Barr,” he said, adding: “This could be the most important race there is.”
“The Democrats have become totally consumed with their chilling lust for power,” he said.
Trump traveled to Kentucky on Saturday after meeting with evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, who was released on Friday after two years of imprisonment in Turkey.
“He is now free from jail . . . He’s back with his family, together with his wife, and he is on American soil, and it’s a beautiful family,” Trump said.
“We don’t pay ransom. We don’t pay ransom,” he added.
The rally took place in the heart of Madison County — a sought-after swing county that has voted for the winner in every congressional race since 1990 with just one exception.
The county voted emphatically for Trump in 2016, where he almost doubled Hillary Clinton’s tally. It helped deliver a victory of 16 percentage points within the district — although his presence Saturday night provoked controversy at the Eastern Kentucky University venue, with faculty leaders writing a letter ahead of the event saying that Trump opposed the institution’s values of academic freedom.
A group of protesters lined the entrance to the rally, some chanting: “No Trump! No KKK! No Fascist USA!” Others toted placards with slogans including “Believe Women,” “Impeach Kavanaugh” and “Listen to Women,” reflecting how the tight race is after Kavanaugh’s confirmation following accusations of sexual misconduct.
The protesters were vastly outnumbered by a sea of red “Make America Great Again” caps, which stretched from the highway to the entrance of the university’s 6,000-capacity Alumni Coliseum. Trump tweeted a photo of supporters gathering outside the event two hours before he arrived, writing: “The crowds are once again, massive.”
With some arriving at 4 a.m., thousands of supporters did not make it into the event. A live stream of it was beamed onto a large screen outside, unusual for a Trump rally.
Ahead of the president’s arrival, Barr styled himself as an outspoken advocate of the White House agenda. “I proudly voted to build the wall,” he said, earning a standing ovation and telling supporters: “Under President Donald J. Trump, you are remembered again!”
Paul echoed Trump’s attacks on the Democratic Party as an angry mob, saying those protesting Kavanaugh’s nomination were “speaking vulgarities” and had “no respect at all.”
“Can you imagine the people yelling and screaming when they get in charge of the [Judiciary] committee?” he said. “It will be craziness.”
Of Clinton — whose name provoked chants of “Lock her up!” — and her recent claim that civility could wait until after the midterms, he said: “She’s on the perpetual whine, whine, whine!”
Viebeck reported from Washington.