Across Amer­ica, a call to vote

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Obituaries & Local - BY ALEXAN­DER BURNS AND JONATHAN MARTIN

The tu­mul­tuous 2018 midterm cam­paign, shaped by con­flicts over race and iden­tity and punc­tu­ated by tragedy, bar­reled through its fi­nal week­end as vot­ers pre­pared to de­liver a ver­dict on the first half of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s term, with Repub­li­cans brac­ing for losses in the House and state cap­i­tals but hope­ful they would pre­vail in Se­nate races in ar­eas where Trump is pop­u­lar.

The pres­i­dent was storm­ing across two states Satur­day, fol­lowed by two Sun­day and three Mon­day in an ef­fort to pick off Se­nate seats in In­di­ana, Florida and a hand­ful of other bat­tle­grounds where Repub­li­cans hope to add to their one-seat ma­jor­ity in the cham­ber. Democrats and lib­eral ac­tivists, gal­va­nized by op­po­si­tion to Trump, gath­ered Satur­day to knock on doors and make turnout calls from Penn­syl­va­nia to Illi­nois to Wash­ing­ton to try to erase the GOP’s 23-seat House ma­jor­ity.

The run-up to the elec­tion, widely seen as a ref­er­en­dum on Trump’s di­vi­sive per­sona and hard-line pol­icy agenda, has re­vealed deep strains in the pres­i­dent’s po­lit­i­cal coali­tion and left him con­fined to cam­paign in a nar­row band of con­ser­va­tive com­mu­ni­ties. Repub­li­cans’ in­ter­mit­tent fo­cus on fa­vor­able eco­nomic news, such as the Fri­day re­port show­ing strong job growth, has been over­whelmed by Trump’s mes­sage of racially in­cen­di­ary na­tion­al­ism.

While Trump re­tains a strong grip on many red states and work­ing-class white vot­ers, his je­re­mi­ads against im­mi­grants and pen­chant for ridicule have proved desta­bi­liz­ing, with the party los­ing more af­flu­ent whites and mod­er­ates in metropoli­tan ar­eas key to con­trol of the House.

Repub­li­cans have grown in­creas­ingly pes­simistic in re­cent days about hold­ing the House, as polls show a num­ber of in­cum­bents lag­ging well below 50 per­cent and some fac­ing un­ex­pect­edly close races in con­ser­va­tive-lean­ing dis­tricts.

In sev­eral di­verse Sun Belt states where Repub­li­cans had shown re­silience, in­clud­ing Texas, Florida and Ari­zona, their can­di­dates have seen their num­bers dip in polling as Trump has given up the uni­fy­ing role that U.S. pres­i­dents have tra­di­tion­ally tried to play.

Democrats are also in con­tention to re­tain or cap­ture gov­er­nor­ships in the rust belt states of Penn­syl­va­nia, Michi­gan and Wis­con­sin that were piv­otal to Trump’s vic­tory and fer­tile ground for Repub­li­cans for much of the last decade.

Yet some Repub­li­can lead­ers saw rea­son for mea­sured op­ti­mism. Trump said Fri­day that Repub­li­cans los­ing the House “could hap­pen,” But Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, who leads the GOP House cam­paign com­mit­tee, has con­tin­ued to pre­dict that his party will nar­rowly hold its ma­jor­ity. Repub­li­can strate­gists have ar­gued that about two dozen races are within the mar­gin of er­ror in polling; if right-of-cen­ter vot­ers swing back to them on Elec­tion Day, they say, Democrats could fall short of win­ning enough seats to take con­trol of the House.

Repub­li­can of­fi­cials were more con­fi­dent about their prospects in the Se­nate, where they had an op­portu- nity to en­large their ma­jor­ity in an oth­er­wise dif­fi­cult year. Nearly all of the most im­por­tant Se­nate races are be­ing fought on firmly con­ser­va­tive ter­rain, in­clud­ing North Dakota, Mis­souri and In­di­ana, where Demo­cratic in­cum­bents are in close con­tests for re-elec­tion. Trump won all three states by land­slide mar­gins in 2016.

There was an un­mis­tak­able dis­so­nance be­tween the rel­a­tive health of the econ­omy and the dark mood of a coun­try as vot­ers pre­pared to go to the polls just days af­ter a wave of at­tempted mail bomb­ings and a mas­sacre at a Pitts­burgh sy­n­a­gogue that left 11 dead.

“The na­tion is in po­lit­i­cal tur­moil,” said Rep. Car­los Curbelo, R-Fla., who faces a dif­fi­cult re-elec­tion in part be­cause of Trump’s un­pop­u­lar­ity. “The econ­omy is roar­ing, but the mood is so sour. It’s a very sad time in this coun­try.”

The mood that has im­per­iled Curbelo has buoyed Democrats across the coun­try. A class of first-time can­di­dates has been lifted by an enor­mous surge of ac­tivism and po­lit­i­cal en­ergy on the left, as a loose ar­ray of con­stituen­cies of­fended by Trump – in­clud­ing women, young peo­ple and vot­ers of color – has mo­bi­lized with a force un­seen in re­cent midterm elec­tions.

Early vot­ing across the coun­try re­flected the in­ten­sity of the elec­tion: More than 28 mil­lion peo­ple had al­ready cast bal­lots by the end of Fri­day, about 10 mil­lion more than at a com­pa­ra­ble point in the 2014 midterm elec­tions, ac­cord­ing to the Demo­cratic data firm Catal­ist.

These vot­ers have helped nom­i­nate a record num­ber of fe­male can­di­dates for Congress and de­liv­ered Democrats a wide and un­ac­cus­tomed fi­nan­cial ad­van­tage to­ward the end of the cam­paign.

If Trump has an­i­mated a pow­er­ful na­tional cam­paign against him, Demo­cratic can­di­dates have largely avoided en­gag­ing the pres­i­dent per­son­ally in the clos­ing days of the elec­tion, in­stead hew­ing close to a few fa­vored is­sues like health care.

At a Satur­day morn­ing rally, Rep. Ben Ray Lu­ján of New Mex­ico, the head of the Democrats’ cam­paign com­mit­tee in the House, drummed home the party’s ethos of ig­nor­ing Trump while rid­ing the back­lash against him.

“We don’t re­ally have to even talk about this pres­i­dent – he’s go­ing to do all the talk­ing about him­self, for him­self,” Lu­ján told vol­un­teers in Los Lunas, where Democrats are mak­ing a push to pick up an open House seat. “I want you to con­cen­trate on fam­i­lies here in New Mex­ico.”

But Sen. Martin Hen­rich, ap­pear­ing be­side Lu­ján and Xo­chitl Tor­res Small, a water-use lawyer who is the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee for Congress, cast the elec­tion in dire terms fa­mil­iar to anx­ious Democrats across the coun­try. “This is a bat­tle for who we are as a na­tion,” said Hein­rich, who is ex­pected to win re­elec­tion eas­ily Tues­day.

That mind­set has given Democrats an up­per hand in cam­paign fundrais­ing. Po­lit­i­cal spend­ing in the elec­tion is ex­pected to ex­ceed $5 bil­lion, mak­ing it the most costly midterm con­test in his­tory, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics. The re­port found that Demo­cratic can­di­dates for the House had raised more money than their Repub­li­can com­peti­tors, by a mar­gin of more than $300 mil­lion.

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