MID-TERM VOTE CEN­TRES ON TRUMP

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - Suzanne Lynch in Mis­souri

It’s 5.30am on a dark mid-week morn­ing, and just off the main road into down­town St Louis, the lights are flick­ing on at Dave’s Diner. In the dis­tance, the faint sound of the Union Pa­cific freight train breaks the early- morn­ing si­lence. If you lis­ten hard enough, the sound of trucks can be heard as they join nearby Route 66 and em­bark on their jour­ney west­wards across Amer­ica.

In­side this sleepy Amer­i­can diner in the sub­urb of Kirk­wood, lo­cals are ar­riv­ing for their early-morn­ing break­fast.

Be­hind the tra­di­tional lunch counter, wait­resses be­gin whip­ping up eggs and waf­fles as cus­tomers take their seats. As they await their cof­fee they glance up pe­ri­od­i­cally at the muted TV screen above the counter and be­gin to chat.

St Louis na­tives Randy and Bill, who live nearby, have come by for break­fast. They are soon joined by Dave and John for a cof­fee. All lo­cal res­i­dents, they have been com­ing here for years.

As they sit and chat, talk soon turns to pol­i­tics. Above the counter, footage of Don­ald Trump at a pre­vi­ous night’s rally beams from the screen.

“I voted for Trump,” says Bill, a for­mer brew­ery worker. “I was a Demo­crat all my life, and a union man for 36 years, but I voted Repub­li­can in the last elec­tion. Trump said he would change things, and he did.”

He says that while he doesn’t al­ways like Trump’s rhetoric, he likes the re­sults of his poli­cies. Num­ber one is the econ­omy. “Un­em­ploy­ment is at its low­est ever, and the job mar­ket is strong,” he says. “He gets re­sults.”

Bill agrees. “I am be­ing of­fered jobs all the time – it wasn’t the case un­der Obama.”

All five are up to date on Trump’s trade pol­icy. “It’s a risky busi­ness be­cause so much of our prod­ucts are ex­ported,” says John, “but it seems to have worked”.

He cites the re­cent deal to rene­go­ti­ate Nafta, the free trade agree­ment be­tween the United States, Canada and Mex­ico in­tro­duced in the 1990s. “Trump said they would come run­ning, and they did. I have to say I didn’t be­lieve it,” he says, re­fer­ring to Canada’s re­cent move to en­dorse the re­vised agree­ment which has in­volved a num­ber of con­ces­sions by Canada.

Sim­i­larly, Trump’s for­eign pol­icy is pop­u­lar among the group – two of whom are ex- mil­i­tary. Are they con­cerned that Trump has stepped up engagement with North Korea with­out ex­tract­ing any con­ces­sions? “He has stopped the threats from Kim, and I think he has played him at his own game,” he says.

Un­der­lin­ing the con­ver­sa­tion is a dis­il­lu­sion­ment with the Demo­cratic Party.

“Obama said he was go­ing to be a can­di­date for change, but he didn’t ac­tu­ally achieve any­thing,” John says. All are united in their dis­like for Hil­lary Clin­ton.

“They for­got about their base, peo­ple like us, and in­stead shoved their lib­eral poli­cies down our throat. Ac­tu­ally, Bernie San­ders was in many ways a bet­ter can­di­date who had a lot of sim­i­lar ideas to Trump. It was very un­fair the way the DNC took that nom­i­na­tion from him. I think he might have won.”

Aban­doned

It is peo­ple just like these that Democrats hope to win back as they seek to mount a chal­lenge to Repub­li­can con­trol of the House and the Se­nate in the mid-term elec­tions on Novem­ber 6th. Mil­lions of white work­ing-class vot­ers aban­doned the Demo­cratic Party and voted for Trump two years ago, a shift that helped tip the pres­i­dency in Trump’s favour as a se­ries of swing states along the rust belt turned Repub­li­can red.

Mis­souri it­self is emerg­ing as one of the key bat­tle­ground states in next month’s mid-term elec­tions.

The pre­dom­i­nantly ru­ral state in the cen­tre of the United States has long been a com­pet­i­tive one.

It is flanked by the Mis­sis­sippi river to the east, where the city of St Louis de­vel­oped into a ma­jor in­dus­trial cen­tre in the 19th cen­tury.The west of the state is domi-

The state of Mis­souri en­cap­su­lates a grow­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of US pol­i­tics – a deep­en­ing ur­ban-ru­ral di­vide

nated by Kansas City, which strad­dles the bor­der be­tween Mis­souri and Kansas. In be­tween are swathes of ru­ral Amer­ica, in­ter­spersed by the odd small city, such as the univer­sity town of Columbia and the state cap­i­tal Jef­fer­son City.

Like many parts of Amer­ica, the state of Mis­souri en­cap­su­lates a grow­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of US pol­i­tics – a deep­en­ing ur­ban- ru­ral di­vide. The vast ma­jor­ity of the state votes Repub­li­can, with just two pock­ets of blue pop­ping through the elec­toral map – St Louis and Kansas City.

Po­lit­i­cal iden­tity

St Louis it­self has long been a strong Demo­cratic strong­hold, a po­lit­i­cal iden­tity that grew around the gritty city’s long his­tory of union mem­ber­ship. But in re­cent years the sub­urbs around greater St Louis county have been drift­ing to the right.

Trump won Mis­souri in 2016 by an 18.5 per cent mar­gin – more than dou­ble Mitt Rom­ney’s mar­gin in 2012.

Six of the state’s eight mem­bers of Congress are Repub­li­can, with the two Democrats hail­ing – un­sur­pris­ingly – from St Louis and Kansas City.

But Mis­souri has emerged as one of the closely- watched states in this year’s mid-term elec­tions due to its tight Se­nate race.

One of the state’s two Se­nate seats is on the bal­lot on Novem­ber 6th. In­cum­bent Demo­cratic se­na­tor Claire McCaskill is fac­ing the race of her life to de­fend her seat against Repub­li­can chal­lenger Josh Haw­ley.

McCaskill is one of 10 Demo­cratic sen­a­tors up for re-elec­tion in states that Trump won in 2016.

An ex­pe­ri­enced force in Mis­souri poli-

The mid-term elec­tions What are the mid-term elec­tions?

Ev­ery two years, Amer­i­cans go to the polls to vote for their rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Congress. Ev­ery four years the elec­tions co­in­cide with the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion; the rest of the time they oc­cur mid-way through the four-year pres­i­den­tial term, hence the phrase “mid-term” elec­tions.

Are all rep­re­sen­ta­tives up for elec­tion?

No. Like the Oireach­tas, the US Congress is a bi­cam­eral leg­is­la­ture with two cham­bers. The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives has 435 mem­bers.

The Se­nate has 100 seats – two sen­a­tors per state. While all 435 House seats are up for elec­tion ev­ery two years, only a third of Se­nate seats are.

This year, 35 sen­a­tors face elec­tion. This means that House mem­bers must face their elec­torates ev­ery two years, but sen­a­tors are elected for a six-year term. tics, she faced a tough con­test back in 2012 when she was con­sid­ered one of the Se­nate’s most vul­ner­a­ble in­cum­bents. But she gained a last- minute boost when the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Todd Akin pro­voked na­tional out­rage in a com­ment about “le­git­i­mate rape”. McCaskill won eas­ily.

Six years on, she is fac­ing a dif­fi­cult bat­tle as she tries to re­tain her seat in a state that is in­creas­ingly turn­ing red.

Her op­po­nent, Josh Haw­ley, is a 38-year-old Ivy League grad­u­ate who was elected state at­tor­ney gen­eral two years ago. Like many Repub­li­cans across the coun­try, he is con­sciously al­ly­ing him­self with Trump – a trend that un­der­lines the ex­tent to which the pres­i­dent is defin­ing the Repub­li­can Party.

With Repub­li­cans sens­ing an op­por­tu­nity to gain a Se­nate seat here, Trump him­self cam­paigned along­side Haw­ley in Mis­souri last month. Sim­i­larly, Democrats

What is at stake in these elec­tions?

Repub­li­cans con­trol all levers of power in Wash­ing­ton – The White House, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, the Se­nate, and, in­creas­ingly, the ju­di­ciary.

They could po­ten­tially lose ma­jori­ties in the House and the Se­nate, which would make it much more dif­fi­cult for Don­ald Trump to get his agenda through Congress.

What are the chances of Repub­li­cans los­ing power?

Tra­di­tion­ally the party not in con­trol of the White House per­forms well in mid-term . Democrats are hope­ful of re­gain­ing con­trol of the House, where they need a net gain of 24 seats to flip the cham­ber.

The Se­nate is a more dif­fi­cult chal­lenge,. Ten of the 35 seats up for elec­tion are held by Democrats in states that voted for Trump in 2016. How­ever, Democrats are hope­ful that they could flip some tra­di­tion­ally Repub­li­can states, such as Texas and Ten­nessee.

have been pour­ing money into the state, with McCaskill rais­ing three times more fund­ing than Haw­ley.

De­bate

In the stu­dios of St Louis’ lo­cal Nine Net­work TV chan­nel, the candidates are tak­ing part in a tele­vised de­bate. The 100 au­di­ence mem­bers, cho­sen from across the po­lit­i­cal di­vide, throw ques­tions at the candidates and raise many of the elec­tion pri­or­i­ties sur­fac­ing across the coun­try – health­care, the grow­ing deficit, tax cuts, and gun rights.

With Mis­souri boast­ing one of the most lib­eral gun laws in the coun­try, even McCaskill sup­ports the sec­ond amend­ment right to bear arms, though she favours stricter back­ground checks.

The de­bate re­mains rel­a­tively civil – though McCaskill ac­cuses her op­po­nent’s cam­paign of hav­ing a “tor­tured re­la­tion-

Are there any other races on the bal­lot?

Yes, vot­ers are also elect­ing mem­bers of state leg­is­la­tures, 36 state gover­nor posts are up for elec­tion as well as var­i­ous city may­ors. In ad­di­tion, vot­ers in many dis­tricts will de­cide on state con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments and lo­cal laws.

What about Don­ald Trump?

Though Trump is not on the bal­lot, in many ways this is an elec­tion about the fire­brand pres­i­dent who un­ex­pect­edly won the 2016 elec­tion.

Trump him­self has been hit­ting the cam­paign trail, hold­ing ral­lies in bat­tle­ground states. While Repub­li­cans be­lieve that the con­tro­versy over Brett Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion to the supreme court have fired up their base in the fi­nal weeks, Democrats are equally con­fi­dent that an­tipa­thy to­wards Pres­i­dent Trump will mo­ti­vate their vot­ers and spark a “blue wave” on Novem­ber 6th.

ship with the truth”. Haw­ley calls the two- term se­na­tor a “party- line lib­eral” who “does not rep­re­sent this state any­more”.

Speak­ing to press af­ter the de­bate, how­ever, the gloves come off, re­flect­ing the deeply per­sonal in­vec­tive that has de­fined the Mis­souri cam­paign.

Haw­ley lam­basts McCaskill’s de­ci­sion not to vote for Brett Ka­vanaugh as supreme court jus­tice. Like many Repub­li­cans, he be­lieves the Ka­vanaugh hear­ings have helped to mo­ti­vate the Repub­li­can base.

Speak­ing to The Ir­ish Times he says: “Peo­ple here are ap­palled at what hap­pened at the Ka­vanaugh hear­ings, the cir­cus at­mos­phere in the Se­nate. This was never about get­ting to the truth. It was al­ways about stop­ping Trump from ap­point­ing his nom­i­nee.”

With the mid- term elec­tions now less than two weeks away, polls sug­gest the Se­nate candidates are neck-and-neck, though pri­vately Repub­li­can of­fi­cials say that their own polling show a sub­stan­tial post-Ka­vanaugh boost for their can­di­date.

As with else­where around the coun­try though, the out­come rests on turnout.

Mo­ti­vated

Out­side, the Net­work Nine stu­dios crowds have gath­ered to watch the de­bate on an out­door screen. Most are car­ry­ing McCaskill signs. Mother and daugh­ter Jane and Molly Thal are strongly be­hind McCaskill. Jane be­lieves that Democrats are highly mo­ti­vated go­ing into this elec­tion.

“In 2016 it seemed like such a fore­gone con­clu­sion. Peo­ple got com­pla­cent. This year there is a sense that we have to fight a lit­tle harder.”

Across the coun­try re­search is show­ing that women vot­ers could de­ter­mine the elec­tion out­come, par­tic­u­larly ed­u­cated sub­ur­ban women in ur­ban cen­tres from Dal­las to At­lanta to St Louis. Trump re­mains more un­pop­u­lar with women than men, and Repub­li­cans are wor­ried.

For 21- year- old Molly, this will be the sec­ond time she has voted, hav­ing cast her first vote for Hil­lary Clin­ton in 2016. For her, what is at stake is Amer­ica’s very iden­tity and stand­ing in the world.

“I spent six months liv­ing in Europe last year and ev­ery time I said I was from Amer­ica ev­ery­one looked at me and said, ‘ Oh, Trump’,” she said.

“We are a laugh­ing stock,” she says, her voice qui­et­ing. “I just hope peo­ple re­alise what is at stake and get out and vote on Novem­ber 6th.”

Like many Repub­li­cans across the coun­try, Haw­ley is con­sciously al­ly­ing him­self with Trump

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