Across America, a call to vote
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.