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US midterm elections: Democrats look to buck Donald Trump

DONALD Trump’s whirlwind campaign hits three states on Monday in the final effort to stop Democrats from breaking Republicans’ stranglehold on Congress in midterm elections seen as a referendum on the most divisive US president in decades.

Cleveland, Ohio; Fort Wayne, Indiana; then Cape Girardeau, Missouri: it will be well after midnight before the real estate billionaire and populist showman gets back to the White House — and only a few hours more before polls open Tuesday across the world’s largest economy.

“Don’t fall for the Suppression Game. Go out & VOTE. Remember, we now have perhaps the greatest Economy (JOBS) in the history of our Country!” Mr Trump tweeted on Monday before setting off for the furious final round of campaigning.

media_cameraDonald Trump at a rally in Chattanooga. Picture: AFP

Mr Trump is not on the ballot in the midterms, which see the entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate up for grabs.

But in a hard-driving series of rallies around the country Mr Trump has put himself at the centre of every issue.

With a characteristic mix of folksiness, bombast and sometimes cruel humour, he says voters must choose between his stewardship of a booming economy and strong focus on security and what he claims would be the Democrats’ hard-left policies.

The bid to make it all about Mr Trump is a gamble, as is his shift from touting economic successes to a bitter — critics say racist — narrative claiming that the country is under attack from illegal immigration.

In the run-up to Tuesday’s vote Mr Trump has sent thousands of soldiers to the Mexican border, suggested that illegal immigrants who throw stones could be shot, and tried to persuade Americans that the Democrats would turn the country into a crime-and-drugs black hole.

“They want to impose socialism on our country. And they want to erase America’s borders,” Mr Trump told a raucous rally in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Sunday.

That worked for Mr Trump in his own shock 2016 election victory but has turned off swathes of Americans, giving Democrats confidence that they could capture at least the lower house of Congress.

According to polls, the Republicans are comfortably on track to retain the Senate. But with polls often too close for comfort and turnout being the crucial unknown factor, both parties are braced for potential surprises.

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media_cameraA voter casts their ballot in early voting in Cincinnati. Picture: AP

In traditionally Republican Texas, popular Democrat Beto O’Rourke is trying to dethrone Senator Ted Cruz, while Republican Pete Stauber might flip a House Democratic stronghold in Minnesota.

In Florida and Georgia, Democrats are aiming to become the states’ first African-American governors.

WILL THE ‘BLUE-WAVE’ EVENTUATE?

US voters on Tuesday will decide the $US5 billion ($A7 billion) debate between Mr Trump’s take-no-prisoner politics and the Democratic Party’s supercharged campaign to end the Republican monopoly in Washington and statehouses across the nation.

There are indications that an oft-discussed “blue wave” may help Democrats seize control of at least one chamber of Congress. But two years after an election that proved polls and prognosticators wrong, nothing is certain on the eve of the first nationwide elections of the Trump presidency.

“I don’t think there’s a Democrat in this country that doesn’t have a little angst left over from 2016 deep down,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, which spent more than ever before — nearly $US60 million ($A83 million) in all — to support Democratic women this campaign season.

media_cameraDonald Trump’s whirlwind campaign hits three states on Monday in the final effort to stop Democrats from breaking his Republicans’ stranglehold on Congress. Picture: AFP

“Everything matters and everything’s at stake,” Ms Schriock said. All 435 seats in the US House are up for re-election. And 35 Senate seats are in play, as are almost 40 governorships and the balance of power in virtually every state legislature.

Mr Trump himself has acknowledged that the 2018 midterms, above all, represent a referendum on his presidency. Should Democrats win control of the House, as strategists in both parties suggest is likely, they could derail Mr Trump’s legislative agenda for the next two years.

media_cameraFormer President Barack Obama has been campaigning hard for the Democratic Party. Picture: AP

Perhaps more importantly, they would also win subpoena power to investigate the president’s many personal and professional missteps. Tuesday’s elections will also test the strength of a Trump-era political realignment defined by evolving divisions among voters by race, gender and especially education.

Mr Trump’s Republican coalition is increasingly becoming older, whiter, more male and less likely to have a college degree. Democrats are relying more upon women, people of colour, young people and university graduates.

The political realignment, if there is one, could reshape US politics for a generation.

Just five years ago, the Republican National Committee reported that survival for the Republican party depended upon attracting more minorities and women.

media_cameraIn traditionally Republican Texas, popular Democrat Beto O’Rourke is trying to dethrone Senator Ted Cruz. Picture: Getty Images/AFP

Instead, those voters have increasingly fled the party, turned off by his chaotic leadership style and xenophobic rhetoric. Blue-collar men, however, have embraced the unconventional president.

One of the RNC report’s authors, Ari Fleischer, acknowledged that Republican leaders never envisioned expanding their ranks with white, working-class men.

“What it means to be Republican is being rewritten as we speak,” Mr Fleischer said. “Donald Trump has the pen, and his handwriting isn’t always very good.”

A nationwide poll released on Sunday by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal detailed the depth of the demographic shifts.

Democrats led with likely African-American voters (84 per cent to 8 per cent), Latinos (57 per cent to 29 per cent), voters between the ages of 18-34 (57 per cent to 34 per cent), women (55 per cent to 37 per cent) and independents (35 per cent to 23 per cent).

Among white college-educated women, Democrats enjoy a 28-point advantage: 61 per cent to 33 per cent.

media_cameraSupporters at a Trump rally in Tennessee. Picture: Getty Images/AFP

On the other side, Republicans led with voters between the ages of 50 and 64 (52 per cent to 43 per cent), men (50 per cent to 43 per cent) and whites (50 per cent to 44 per cent). And among white men without college degrees, Republicans led 65 per cent to 30 per cent.

Democrats hope to elect a record number of women to Congress. They are also poised to make history with the number of LGBT candidates and Muslims up and down the ballot.

Former President Barack Obama seized on the differences between the parties in a final-days scramble to motivate voters across the nation.

media_cameraBillionaire Michael Bloomberg has poured in $152 million to help Democrats. Picture: Getty Images/AFP
media_cameraHedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer has spent $166 million this midterm season. Picture: Getty Images/AFP

FIGHT FOR THE US SOUL

The Democrats rolled out their biggest gun in the final days of the campaign: former president Barack Obama, who on Sunday made a last-ditch appeal for an endangered Senate Democrat in Indiana.

Laying into the tangled legal scandals enveloping the Trump administration — especially the possible collusion between his presidential campaign and Russian operatives — Mr Obama scoffed: “They’ve racked up enough indictments to fill a football team.” And describing the election as even more consequential than his own historic 2008 victory as the first non-white president, Mr Obama said more than politics is at stake.

“The character of our country’s on the ballot. One election won’t eliminate racism, sexism or homophobia,” Mr Obama said. “But it’ll be a start.”

Mr Trump has delivered a very different closing argument, railing against Latin American immigrants seeking asylum at the US border.

With the walking caravan weeks away, Mr Trump dispatched more than 5000 soldiers to the region. The president also said soldiers would use lethal force against migrants who throw rocks, before later reversing himself.

media_cameraDemocrats are banking on women, African-Americans and minorities to get out and vote. Picture: AP

Still, his xenophobic rhetoric has been unprecedented for an American president in the modern era: “Barbed wire used properly can be a beautiful sight,” Mr Trump told voters in Montana.

The hyper-charged environment is expected to drive record turnout in some places, but on the eve of the election, it’s far from certain which side will show up in the greatest numbers.

The outcome is clouded by the dramatically different landscape between the House and Senate.

Democrats are most optimistic about the House, a sprawling battlefield extending from Alaska to Florida. Most top races, however, are set in America’s suburbs where more educated and affluent voters in both parties have soured on Mr Trump’s turbulent presidency, despite the strength of the national economy.

media_cameraThe US midterms mark the first major elections of Donald Trump’s presidency. Picture: Getty Images/AFP

BILLIONAIRES POUR MONEY INTO DEMOCRATS

Democrats need to pick up two dozen seats to claim the House majority. Billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who personally invested $US110 million ($A152 million) to help Democrats this year, largely in the House, has seized on voter education levels in picking target races, according to senior aide Howard Wolfson.

“In this cycle, it seemed as if there was a disproportionately negative reaction among highly educated voters to Trump,” he said.

As a result, Mr Bloomberg’s team poured money into otherwise overlooked suburban districts in states like Georgia, Washington state and Oklahoma because data revealed voters there were better-educated.

Democrats face a far more difficult challenge in the Senate, where they are almost exclusively on defence in rural states where Mr Trump remains popular. Democratic Senate incumbents are up for re-election, for example, in North Dakota, West Virginia, and Montana — states Mr Trump carried by 30 percentage points on average two years ago.

media_cameraVoters at an early voting station in California. Picture: Getty Images/AFP

Democrats need to win two seats to claim the Senate majority, although most political operatives in both parties expect Republicans to add to their majority.

While Mr Trump is prepared to claim victory if his party retains Senate control, at least one prominent ally fears that losing even one chamber of Congress could be disastrous.

“If they take back the House, he essentially will become a lame-duck president, and he won’t win re-election,” said Amy Kremer, a tea party activist who leads the group Women for Trump.

“They’ll do anything and everything they can to impeach him,” she said.

Indeed, powerful Democratic forces are already pushing for Mr Trump’s impeachment, even if Democratic leaders aren’t ready to go that far.

Liberal activist Tom Steyer spent roughly $US120 million ($A166 million) this midterm season. Much of that has gone to boost turnout among younger voters, although he has produced a nationwide advertising campaign calling for Mr Trump’s impeachment.

Mr Steyer insisted that most Democrats agree.

“We’re not some fringe element of the Democratic Party. We are the Democratic Party,” he said.

media_cameraBoth parties have been on a major offensive to get Americans to the polling booth. Picture: AFP

By election day, both sides are expected to have spent more than $US5 billion ($A7 billion), according to the Centre for Responsive Politics. The flood of campaign cash, a midterm record, has been overwhelmingly fuelled by energy on the left. Money aside, Mr Steyer said he and concerned voters everywhere have invested their hearts and souls into the fight to punish Mr Trump’s party.

“That’s what’s at stake: my heart and soul, along with everybody else’s,” he said.

Originally published as ‘Everything at stake’ in US elections

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