Democrats come on strong in U.S. midterms, but Republicans stand firm
WASHINGTON — Democrats were inching closer to upending the balance of power on Capitol Hill in Tuesday’s U.S. midterm elections, but early returns from the eastern half of the country were showing little sign of what critics had hoped would be a scolding rebuke of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Two key races went to the Democrats early: Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock went down to defeat to prosecutor Jennifer Wexton, while Clinton-era cabinet member Donna Shalala toppled television personality Maria Elvira Salazar, delivering two of the 23 seats in the House of Representatives the Democrats need to form a majority.
But a key race in Trump-friendly Kentucky went to the Republicans as incumbent Andy Barr held off a strong challenge from Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot, putting a dent in Democratic promises of a so-called blue wave.
For weeks, pollsters have been projecting that the Republicans would lose control of the House of Representatives but maintain control of the Senate, resulting in a divided Congress that would untether some of the president’s most vociferous critics on Capitol Hill.
With the night only half over, it was shaping up precisely that way — and Democratic aspirations of an even more impressive breakthrough were beginning to fade away.
In a closely watched governor’s race in Florida, where it’s been nearly 25 years since a Democrat held the job, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum — aspiring to be the state’s first African-American governor — was trailing Republican challenger Ron DeSantis in a close battle that traded leads early in the evening.
That state’s Democratic senator, Bill Nelson, also appeared to be looking at a narrow defeat at the hands of Republican opponent Rick Scott, with all signs pointing towards the GOP actually widening its Senate majority: Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill appeared to be facing defeat.
In Texas, one of the most closely watched races of the 2018 political season, charismatic Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke was locked in a dead heat for the state’s Senate seat with Republican incumbent and one-time Trump foil Ted Cruz
Unlike past midterm votes and their middling level of interest, the 2018 edition has generated robust early voting turnout — in Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Utah, the number of advance ballots exceeded the total cast in 2014.
There were reports of long lineups throughout the morning in New Hampshire, Georgia and Texas, while other districts reported unprecedented levels of voter interest throughout the morning. Democrat campaign workers at one northern Virginia location cited a 63 per cent spike in interest over previous years.
“Typically, independents and younger voters tend to turn out less in these off-term, midterm congressional years,” said Carleton University politics professor Melissa Haussman.
“This particular year is an exception because of the anti-Trump feeling on the part of a lot of them.”
There are too many fundamental differences between electoral systems and cycles in the U.S. and Canada for this year’s stateside turnout to offer any lessons for anyone hoping to generate similar levels of interest north of the border in 2019, Haussman said.
Turnout, she said, has everything to do with a campaign’s most prominent figures and whether voters who aren’t regular participants in the electoral process are more motivated to take part.
More than 68 per cent of registered voters in Canada turned out to weigh in during the last federal election in 2015, when Justin Trudeau’s youthful, social-media-savvy campaign and promised re-engagement with Indigenous communities helped to mobilize young and disenfranchised voters — the strongest turnout since 1993.
That year, turnout in Canada exceeded 69 per cent. And in both cases, voters turned up to turf out long-standing Conservative governments — Stephen Harper in 2015 and Kim Campbell, who took over briefly for Brian Mulroney, 22 years earlier.
Given the prominent role figures like Trump and former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have played in the midterm campaign, maybe there’s a lesson there for past prime ministers to spend more time on the campaign trail in 2019, Haussman suggested.
“We’ve seen former presidents go around campaigning, and perhaps Canada could also invoke former prime ministers to do a little more campaigning on both sides,” she said. “Depending on who’s in power in Canada, former prime ministers might want to get involved a bit.”
In the United States, during what’s been one of the most remarkable political seasons in the country’s modern history, some experts are wondering if the country is in the midst of a historic partisan realignment, one that could have lasting repercussions on the traditional red-blue model.
“Things are pretty good, yet we have all this division and we have this president who’s relatively unpopular, so we have this strange juxtaposition,” said Kent State politics professor Michael Ensley, citing Trump’s poor approval ratings despite a rollicking U.S. economy and the absence of any major foreign-policy challenges.
Presidential tides are supposed to wax and wane with traditional economic indicators like job creation, wage rates, unemployment and consumer confidence — all of which are going gangbusters, according to numbers released last week. Yet for Trump, talking about the economy just isn’t very exciting, he admitted on the weekend.
“The broad question I keep asking myself is, are we at a point of a fundamental change in the American party system,” Ensley said. “I’m torn on the answer to that question.”
Democrats, sensing an opportunity to regain control of the House, were aggressively beating the health-care drum, promising to defend health coverage for pre-existing conditions from what they predicted would be a renewed Republican assault on the Affordable Care Act.
But where the Republicans should be singing the praises of an economy firing on all cylinders, Trump instead hewed closely to his 2016 playbook, relentlessly rallying his red-hatted supporters with a war footing against a South American migrant caravan slowly making its way through Mexico.
News credit-The Canadian Press