High stakes sprint to Elec­tion Day

Ripon Bulletin - - Nation Public Notices -

WASHINGTON (AP) — Con­trol of Congress and the fu­ture of Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency are on the line as the pri­mary sea­son closes this week, jump-start­ing a two-month sprint to Elec­tion Day that will test Democrats’ abil­ity to har­ness opposition to Trump and deter­mine whether the Repub­li­can pres­i­dent can get his sup­port­ers to the polls.

For both par­ties, the stakes are ex­ceed­ingly high.

Af­ter crush­ing de­feats in 2016, Democrats open the fall cam­paign brim­ming with con­fi­dence about their prospects for re­tak­ing the House, which would give them power to open a wide swath of in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Trump or even launch im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings. The out­come of the elec­tion, which fea­tures a record num­ber of Demo­cratic fe­male and mi­nor­ity can­di­dates, will also help shape the party’s direc­tion head­ing into the 2020 pres­i­den­tial race.

Repub­li­cans have spent the pri­mary sea­son anx­iously watch­ing sub­ur­ban vot­ers, par­tic­u­larly women, peel away be­cause of their dis­dain for Trump. The shift seems likely to cost the party in sev­eral key con­gres­sional races. Still, party lead­ers are op­ti­mistic that Repub­li­cans can keep con­trol of the Se­nate, which could help in­su­late Trump from a raft of Demo­cratic in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

History is not on Trump’s side. The pres­i­dent’s party typ­i­cally suf­fers big losses in the first midterm elec­tion af­ter tak­ing of­fice. And de­spite a strong econ­omy, Repub­li­cans must also con­tend with the pres­i­dent’s sag­ging ap­proval rat­ing and the con­stant swirl of con­tro­versy hang­ing over the White House, in­clud­ing spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s on­go­ing probe into Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence and pos­si­ble ob­struc­tion of jus­tice by Trump.

De­spite those head­winds, Trump is betting on him­self this fall. He’s thrust him­self into the cen­ter of the cam­paign and be­lieves he can ramp up turnout among his ar­dent sup­port­ers and off­set a wave of Demo­cratic en­thu­si­asm. Aides say he’ll spend much of the fall hold­ing ral­lies in swing states.

“The great un­known is whether the pres­i­dent can mo­bi­lize his base to meet the en­thu­si­asm gap that is clearly pre­sented at this point,” said Josh Holmes, a long­time ad­viser to

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell. “Be­cause the mid­dle won’t be there for Repub­li­cans.”

In­deed, Trump’s tur­bu­lent sum­mer ap­pears to have put many moder­ates and in­de­pen­dents out of reach for Repub­li­can can­di­dates, ac­cord­ing to GOP of­fi­cials. One in­ter­nal GOP poll ob­tained by The As­so­ci­ated Press showed Trump’s ap­proval rat­ing among in­de­pen­dents in con­gres­sional bat­tle­ground districts dropped 10 points be­tween June and Au­gust.

A GOP of­fi­cial who over­saw the sur­vey at­trib­uted the drop to neg­a­tive views of Trump’s meet­ing with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and the White House’s pol­icy of sep­a­rat­ing im­mi­grant chil­dren from their par­ents at the U.S.Mex­ico bor­der. The of­fi­cial was not autho­rized to dis­cuss the in­ter­nal polling pub­licly and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Those de­clines put sev­eral in­cum­bent GOP law­mak­ers at risk, in­clud­ing Vir­ginia Rep. Bar­bara Com­stock, who rep­re­sents a dis­trict in the Washington sub­urbs, and Rep. Erik Paulsen, whose sub­ur­ban Minneapolis dis­trict has been in Repub­li­can hands since 1961.

Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to take con­trol of the House. Op­er­a­tives in both par­ties be­lieve at least 40 seats will be com­pet­i­tive in Novem­ber.

Corry Bliss, who runs a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, ac­knowl­edged a “tough en­vi­ron­ment” for Repub­li­cans that could quickly be­come too dif­fi­cult for some in­cum­bents to over­come.

“In­cum­bents who wake up down in the beginning of Oc­to­ber are not go­ing to be able to fix it in this en­vi­ron­ment,” Bliss said. “But in­cum­bents who go on the of­fense early can and will win.”

Demo­cratic in­cum­bents had a sim­i­lar wakeup call dur­ing the pri­maries af­ter New York Rep. Joe Crowley, who held a pow­er­ful lead­er­ship po­si­tion in Congress, stun­ningly lost to 28-year-old first-time can­di­date Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez. She’s among sev­eral younger mi­nor­ity can­di­dates who de­feated older, more es­tab­lished op­po­nents, sig­nal­ing a de­sire among many Demo­cratic vot­ers for gen­er­a­tional change.

The re­sult is a Demo­cratic field with more women and mi­nori­ties on the gen­eral-elec­tion bal­lot than ever be­fore, sev­eral of whom are poised to make history if elected. Ayanna Press­ley, who de­feated 10-term Rep. Michael Ca­puano in a pri­mary last week and is un­op­posed in the gen­eral elec­tion, will be the first black woman to rep­re­sent Mas­sachusetts in Congress. Rashida Talib of Michi­gan is on track to be­come the first Mus­lim woman in Congress. And Stacey Abrams in Ge­or­gia and Andrew Gil­lum in Florida would be their states’ first black gov­er­nors if elected this fall.

Crowley said the wave that led to his own de­feat will have long-term ben­e­fits for the Demo­cratic Party if it mo­ti­vates more young peo­ple and mi­nori­ties to vote.

“Look at the pos­i­tives for the coun­try in terms of en­gage­ment and the ac­tiv­ity that it’s caus­ing and fer­vor that is form­ing,” Crowley said.

In­deed, turnout for Democrats has been high in a se­ries of spe­cial elec­tions that pre­ceded the Novem­ber con­test. Nearly 60 Demo­cratic chal­lengers out­raised House Repub­li­cans in the sec­ond quar­ter of 2018. And of the 10 Se­nate Democrats run­ning for re-elec­tion in states Trump car­ried two years ago, only Florida Sen. Bill Nel­son has been out­raised by his Repub­li­can op­po­nent.

“We’ve got real wind at our back,” said Tom Perez, the chair­man of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee. “The breadth and depth of the map is re­mark­able.”

De­spite Democrats’ op­ti­mism head­ing into the fall, party of­fi­cials con­cede that tak­ing back con­trol of the Se­nate may not be re­al­is­tic. Un­like the com­pet­i­tive House races, which are be­ing fought in ter­ri­tory that is in­creas­ingly fa­vor­able to Democrats, the most com­pet­i­tive Se­nate con­tests are in states Trump won — of­ten de­ci­sively.

Demo­cratic op­er­a­tives are in­creas­ingly wor­ried about Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s abil­ity to hang on in North Dakota, a state Trump won by 36 points and vis­ited on Fri­day. Demo­cratic in­cum­bents also face more con­ser­va­tive elec­torates in Mis­souri, In­di­ana and Montana.

Still, Democrats be­lieve that if mo­men­tum builds through the fall and Trump’s ap­proval rat­ing sinks fur­ther, the party could not only hold onto its cur­rent Se­nate seats but also add wins in ter­ri­tory that has long been out of reach, in­clud­ing Ten­nessee and Texas, where Rep. Beto O’Rourke is giv­ing Repub­li­can Sen. Ted Cruz a sur­pris­ing re-elec­tion fight.

“There’s en­gage­ment and mo­men­tum like I haven’t seen since the Ann Richards days,” said Texas Demo­cratic Chair­man Gil­berto Hi­no­josa, re­fer­ring to the state’s Demo­cratic gover­nor in the early 1990s.

While most of the at­ten­tion is on the bat­tle for Congress, com­pe­ti­tion for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in 2020 is heat­ing up. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is sched­uled to head­line the mar­quee fall ban­quet for Iowa Democrats next month.

For now, for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama is emerg­ing as the top Demo­crat mak­ing the case for the party this fall. He re­turned to the po­lit­i­cal fray last week im­plor­ing vot­ers up­set with Trump to show up in Novem­ber.

“Just a glance at re­cent head­lines should tell you this mo­ment re­ally is dif­fer­ent,” Obama said in a speech Fri­day. “The stakes re­ally are higher. The con­se­quences of any of us sit­ting on the side­lines are more dire.

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