Across Amer­ica, a call to vote

The Wichita Eagle (Sunday) - - News - 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, such as 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 rust belt states like Penn­syl­va­nia, Michi­gan and Wis­con­sin that were piv­otal to Trump’s vic­tory and fer­tile ground for Re­pub­li­cans for much of the last decade.

De­spite these wor­ri­some signs, some Repub­li­can lead­ers saw rea­son for mea­sured op­ti­mism. While Trump said Fri­day that Re­pub­li­cans los­ing the House “could hap­pen,” 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; should right-of­cen­ter 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 op­por­tu­nity to en­large their ma­jor­ity in an oth­er­wise dif­fi­cult year. Nearly all of the most im­por­tant Sen­ate races are be­ing fought on solidly 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 is fac­ing 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 law­mak­ers such as 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.


Nia Ulysses greets vot­ers Satur­day as they en­ter the Palm Beach County Su­per­vi­sor of Elec­tions of­fice for early vot­ing in West Palm Beach, Fla.

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