Democrats have midterms momentum, but remember 2016 and don’t get comfortable, says columnist Paul Brandus.
WASHINGTONÂ â€“ What’s at stake?Â
Democrats warn that the midterm elections on Tuesday will undermine the future of America’s democracy unless President Trump’s authoritarian instincts are curtailed. Republicans argue that the nation’s sovereignty is at risk if Democrats prevail.
“Fear isÂ the dominant issue, bar none,” said Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University.Â
That’s particularly remarkable because the economy is strong and the nation doesn’t face an instant foreign policy crisis, although there are trouble spots around the world. Instead of a sense of peace and prosperity, though, the final weeks of the campaign have been dominated by violence and conflict: the mass murder of worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue,Â the mailing of improvised explosive devices to more than a dozen leading Democrats, the images of a caravan of Central American asylum-seekers making their way across southernÂ Mexico.
TheÂ campaign has crystallized clashing visions of whatÂ defines the nation: America First, or an increasingly diverse melting pot?
“The character of our country is on the ballot,” declared former president Barack Obama, back on the stump in Miami.
President Trump’s message is dark. “If you don’t want America to be overrun by masses of illegal aliens and giant caravans,” he warned at a rally in Missouri, “you better vote Republican.”
Trump is the dividing force in this election, the president who since his inauguration two years ago has united his party and inflamed the opposing one. While he isn’tÂ on the ballot, he is at the center of both the conflict and its consequences.Â The midterm results will shape the second two years of his term and set the landscape for the re-election campaign that already is underway.
More: Election Day is almost here. Here’s what you need to know before you cast your midterm ballot.
More: Here are the candidates poised to make history Nov. 6
More: These Democrats could make Trump’s life miserable if they win the House in the midterms
Most combustible midterm in a generation
Calamitous language isn’t exactly new to American politics,Â and the assertion that just about everyÂ election is crucial has become a political trope. But the 2018 midterms have been the most combustible of any in more than a generation.Â The arguments are fiercer and the lines more sharply drawn than even those marked by clashes over war (Vietnam in 1966, Iraq in 2006) and scandal (Watergate in 1974, impeachment in 1998).Â
“One electorate has its hair on fire and thinks that Donald Trump is a threat to the republic,” Lawrence Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance atÂ the University of Minnesota, said of Democrats. “For Republicans,Â there’s an ominous warning about chaos, that the resistance movement will be the breakdown of law and order.”
Both sides see “cataclysmic scenarios,” Jacobs said.
One sign of this year’s high passions is the rise in early voting inÂ states from Arizona to Wisconsin. By early Sunday, political scientist Michael McDonald of the University of Florida had counted a record 34.3 million people who already had voted by absentee or mail ballot, or at early voting stations. In the last midterm election, in 2014, only 20.5 million voted early; this year’s total may be close to double that.Â
In an incendiary closing argument, Trump spotlighted a web video created by his campaign that asserted, without evidence,Â that Democrats were complicit in the deaths of two California sheriff’s deputies who were killed by an illegal Mexican immigrant. A menacing figure, heÂ is shown mocking police in court. “Who else would Democrats let in?” the adÂ demands. (In fact, court records show his case was handled primarily by Republicans.)Â
Critics accused Trump of exploiting the nation’s racial divisions, exaggerating the threat from immigrants, and misusing the powers of his office by vowing to ban birthright citizenship byÂ executive order and by dispatching thousands of military troops to the southern border to repel the caravan, which â€“ traveling on foot â€“ is still weeks away from reaching the U.S.Â
Rep.Â Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, in line to chair the Homeland Security committee if Democrats win control of the House of Representatives, called the president’s threats “a political stunt aimed at whipping up fear and xenophobia just days before the election.”
The election returns will direct but won’t dissipate the nation’s political heat. If Democrats win a majority in the House, as nonpartisan analysts and strategists on both sides now predict, they will gain the authority to launch vigorous congressional oversight of the Trump administration in general and the president in particular.Â
Democrats also are hopeful they will win governorships now held by Republicans inÂ Rust Belt states that were key in electing Trump â€” Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. A half-dozen other states that now have GOP governors have competitive contests as well, from swing states like Florida and Iowa to traditional Republican strongholds in Georgia and Kansas.
Victories in state capitols will have repercussions forÂ congressional redistricting after the 2020 Census and during the 2020 campaign, when presidential nominees could benefit from friendly governors’ statewide standing and their political organizations.
One thing at stake in this election, then, is the next one.
More: Midterms: Races for governor, statehouses will help decide control of Congress for a decade
A difference in battlegrounds
Trump and other Republicans are increasingly optimistic that the GOP will maintain control of the Senate, perhaps even bolsteringÂ their current 51-seat majority. Â “I know we’re doing well in the Senate,” Trump boasted to reporters, though on Friday he acknowledged for the first time that they could lose the House. “It could happen,” he said at a rally in Huntington, W.V.
That disparity reflects an accident of the map: Ten Democratic-held Senate seats on the ballot are in states that Trump carried in 2016, some by double-digit margins. That has put Democrats on the defensive in Indiana, Missouri, Montana and North Dakota, and it has made winning Senate control an uphill struggle.
In contrast, many of the most crucial House battlegrounds have turned out to beÂ suburban districts where many college-educated voters, especially women, have been repelled by Trump’s disruptive rhetoric and his hard line policies toward immigrants and others.Â Democrats need a net gain of at least 23 seats to take control.Â
The split decision, if that happensÂ â€” Democrats flipping the House while Republicans hold the SenateÂ â€” would give each side bragging rights. GOP partisans would focus on the Senate outcome as “a huge validation” of Trump, Charlie Cook of the nonpartisanÂ Cook Political Report predicted, while Democratic partisans would argue thatÂ the House takeover was “a huge repudiation” of him.
“Everybody wakes up the next morning happy because they heard what they wanted to hear,” Cook said.Â
Up for election Tuesday are all 435 House seats andÂ 35 of the 100 Senate seats. Governors will be elected in 36 states and three territories, as will state legislators across the country. Mayoral contests are being held in 27 of the nation’s 100 biggest cities, among them Louisville, Nashville, Newark, Phoenix, Reno, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.Â Â
More: Young voter turnout in midterm elections is often dismal. This year could be different
What’s at stake for both parties?
The power to probe. Democrats will get more than a gavel if they win control of the House. They gain the ability to set the agenda and the authority to convene hearings, call witnesses and issue subpoenas. Many of the prospective new chairmen already are making plans. At the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York says he will investigate corruption accusations against Trump and allegations of sexual misconduct and perjury against newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, now the ranking Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says he will pursue alleged fraud and abuse at the White House and in agencies, including the EPA.Â
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, in line to chair the Intelligence Committee, says he will revive the investigation intoÂ whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russians who interfered in the 2016 election.
A Senate safety net. Maintaining Republican control of the Senate would make it easier for the White House to win confirmation of judicial nominees and of officials in the Cabinet,Â where turnover is expected. It would make it harder for Democrats, even if they rule the House, to pass legislation that Republicans don’t also support or that puts the White House on the spot.
In the most cataclysmic scenario for Trump, if the House considered articles of impeachment against the president, a GOP-controlled Senate could be a backstop in a trial over whether to remove him from office.Â
The demography of democracy. The midterms already have broken new ground in the gender, race, religion and sexual orientation of candidates,Â mostly Democrats. Among the competitive races, Georgia could become the first state to elect an African American woman as governor. Kansas and New Mexico could send the first Native American women to serve in Congress. Michigan and Minnesota are poised to elect the first Muslim women to Congress.
An unprecedented number of women have been nominated by the major parties for office this year, in part spurred by opposition to Trump and by the #MeToo movement. Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics reports records at every level: 23 female nominees for the Senate,Â 237 for the House, 16 for governor. While women are partisans, to be sure, some academic studies have found that female officeholders tend to govern differently than male ones. If the number of women in office significantly increases, they could change the issues that get traction and the way some political coalitions are forged.Â
More: Midterms 2018: Faith leaders try creative steps to urge people to vote. ‘It is an act of worship’
The democratic bargain
For some, this year’sÂ midtermsÂ have raised fundamental questions about the way our democracy works, or doesn’t work.
Leon Panetta has a long perspective. He was elected to the House from California in 1976; served as President Clinton’s chief of staff through the Democrats’Â catastrophic midterm election in 1994; and joined President Obama’s Cabinet in 2009, heading the CIA and then the Pentagon. But the debate in the country today feels ominous to him, in his view a test of the need to restore checks and balances on the president.
“In the past, while there’s been a lot of the politics and the ugliness we see today, I always felt it was in the end about the future of the country and what needed to happen,” Panetta said. “This one lacks that sense of where this country needs to go in the future, and it’s more about trying to tear down the institutions that are there. It gives you the feeling that this country in many ways is at a real turning point.”
A studyÂ sponsored by the Baker Center for Leadership Governance at George Washington University found that Americans now view even basic institutions through a partisan lens: Democrats tend to trust the FBI and the press; Republicans don’t. Republicans tend to trust the executive branch; Democrats don’t. With a Republican in the White House, more than three of four Republicans say they are satisfied with how democracy is working; fewer than half of Democrats agree.
And there’s this: One-thirdÂ of Democrats and of Republicans say they believe that members of the opposing party are a “very serious threat to the United States and its people.”
While some of the findings simply reflect the current state of hyper-partisanship, political scientist Joshua Tucker of New York University says the risk is that “common touchstones” are being eroded and the basic bargain of democracy â€” that it’s acceptable and to be expected that the other side will sometimes prevail â€” is being challenged. “The percentage who think the other party never has the interests of the country at heart at all?” he said. “That is going to translate to making it harder to govern.”
That would be after Election Day.
More: 2018 midterms: Racial justice motivating factor for young voters of color, poll finds
More: Midterm elections 2018: From climate change to conservation, environmentalists shift green battle to states
A link has been posted to your Facebook feed.
Mike Stewart, AP
- 1 of 32
- 2 of 32
- 3 of 32
- 4 of 32
- 5 of 32
- 6 of 32
- 7 of 32
- 8 of 32
- 9 of 32
- 10 of 32
- 11 of 32
- 12 of 32
- 13 of 32
- 14 of 32
- 15 of 32
- 16 of 32
- 17 of 32
- 18 of 32
- 19 of 32
- 20 of 32
- 21 of 32
- 22 of 32
- 23 of 32
- 24 of 32
- 25 of 32
- 26 of 32
- 27 of 32
- 28 of 32
- 29 of 32
- 30 of 32
- 31 of 32
- 32 of 32