Monday 16 September 2019

Voters get their chance to shape US politics in Donald Trump era

The president warned against a ‘socialist nightmare’ while Democrats hoped for an ‘awakening’ after losing the White House two years ago.

Randy Wick fills in his midterm election ballot (Martha Irvine/AP)
Randy Wick fills in his midterm election ballot (Martha Irvine/AP)

By Steve Peoples

The voters were having their say on Tuesday as Donald Trump faced the first US national election of his presidency against a Democratic party hoping to turn the page on a stunning defeat in 2016.

Pollsters, who largely failed to predict Mr Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton two years ago, were more reluctant to commit themselves ahead of the midterms in which the presidency is not up for grabs but the shape of federal and state government is.

Mr Trump, the Republican party’s chief messenger, warned that significant Democratic victories would trigger devastating consequences.

“If the radical Democrats take power they will take a wrecking ball to our economy and our future,” Trump declared in Cleveland, using the same heated rhetoric that has defined much of his presidency.

He added: “The Democrat agenda is a socialist nightmare.”

(PA Graphics)

Democrats, whose very relevance in the Trump era depended on winning at least one chamber of Congress, were laser-focused on health care as they predicted victories that would break up the Republican monopoly in Washington and state governments.

“They’ve had two years to find out what it’s like to have an unhinged person in the White House,” said Washington governor Jay Inslee, who leads the Democratic Governors Association.

“It’s an awakening of the Democratic Party.”

Supporters of Donald Trump cheer as the president arrives to speak during a rally in Missouri (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Democrats could derail Mr Trump’s legislative agenda for the next two years should they win control of the House or the Senate.

Perhaps more important, they would claim subpoena power to investigate Mr Trump’s personal and professional shortcomings.

Some Democrats have already vowed to force the release of his tax returns.

Others have pledged to pursue impeachment, although removal from office is unlikely so long as the Republicans control the Senate or even maintains a healthy minority.

Former President Barack Obama smiles as he greets Democratic volunteers (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Democrats’ fate depends upon a delicate coalition of infrequent voters, particularly young people and minorities, who traditionally shun midterm elections.

If ever there was an off-year election for younger voters to break tradition, this is it.

Young voters promised to vote in record numbers as they waged mass protests in the wake of the February mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 students and staff dead.

Democrats are drawing strength from women and college-educated voters in general, who swung decidedly against Mr Trump since his election.

(PA Graphics)

Polling suggests the Republican coalition is increasingly older, whiter, more male and less likely to have a college degree.

Democrats boast record diversity on the ballot.

Three states could elect their first African-American governors, while several others are running LGBT candidates and Muslims.

A record number of women are also running for Senate, House, governorships and state legislative seats.

“The vast majority of women voters are angry, frustrated and they are really done with seeing where the Republican Party is taking them, particularly as it related to heath care and civility,” said Stephanie Schriock, who leads Emily’s List, a group that help elect Democratic women.

“You’re going to see the largest gender gap we’ve ever seen.”

The political realignment, defined by race, gender and education, could re-shape US politics for a generation.

(PA Graphics)

The demographic shifts also reflect each party’s closing argument.

While the economy continues to thrive, Mr Trump has spent much of the campaign’s final days railing against a caravan of Latin American immigrants seeking asylum at the US border.

He dispatched more than 5,000 troops to the region, suggesting soldiers would use lethal force against migrants who throw rocks, before later reversing himself.

You vote, you might save a life Barack Obama

Republicans have privately encouraged the president to back off, to no avail.

Democrats, meanwhile, have beat their drum on health care.

“Health care is on the ballot,” former president Barack Obama told Democratic volunteers in Virginia.

“Health care for millions of people. You vote, you might save a life.”

Given Mr Trump’s stunning victory in 2016, few were confident in their predictions.

“I feel less comfortable making a prediction today than I have in two decades,” Republican pollster Frank Luntz said.

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