Americans will finally cast their ballots in record-breaking numbers Tuesday in an election that is widely viewed as a referendum on President Trump’s divisive personality, leadership style and policy ideas, following a historically hostile campaign season.
Enthusiasm on both the right and the left has surged and partisanship has reached toxic levels in the leadup to the election, as Trump has fired up his base with fact-challenged fearmongering about immigrants while Democrats have painted the midterms as a battle for the soul of the nation.
In a phone call with supporters Monday morning, Trump acknowledged that the elections are to a large extent about him.
“In a certain way, I am on the ballot,” Trump said. “Whether we consider it or not, the press is very much considering it a referendum on me and us as a movement.”
For once, Democrats agree with the President.
Blue candidates across the country have raged against their opponents for either embracing or quietly accepting Trump’s hard-line immigration policies and racially charged rhetoric.
“Tomorrow’s elections might be the most important of our lifetimes,” tweeted former President Barack Obama, who has campaigned for Democrats in Illinois, Georgia and Florida in recent days. “The character of our country is on the ballot.”
As of Monday afternoon, more than 34 million Americans had already cast their ballots — a more than 50% increase as compared with the total number of early votes in the 2014 midterms, according to polls.
The unprecedented early turnout was up among all demographics and even tops the numbers of ballots cast in some states for presidential elections.
Strategists tie the skyrocketing turnout and unusual enthusiasm to the way Trump has divided the country into two camps: either you support him unequivocally, or you despise him more than anything.
“Donald Trump is omnipresent in this midterm election because he is there at every turn,” veteran Republican strategist Evan Siegfried told the Daily News. “He puts out a tweet, it’s next day’s headline; someone kneels during an NFL game, his anger becomes the focus. You can’t even go to a movie without somehow hearing about him. He has permeated all sectors of America.”
Democrats riding on Trump’s disastrous approval ratings have a good shot at reclaiming the House, which Republicans currently control with a 24-seat margin.
At least 73 House districts, only four of which are controlled by Democrats, could flip in the election, according to several surveys. Most of the possible tossup districts are in suburban areas, where women and well-educated voters, disillusioned by Trump’s untraditional style, are fleeing the GOP like the plague.
The Senate, meanwhile, appears to be safe for Republicans. Some prognostics suggest the GOP could expand its razor-thin 51-to-49 majority in the upper chamber, and Trump appears to have picked up on that prospect, throwing campaign rallies in Indiana and Missouri on Monday night, where Democrats Joe Donnelly and Claire McCaskill, respectively, are facing tight races.
A major hurdle to beating the Republicans in the Senate is the strong economy, low unemployment and a booming stock market.
Thirty-six governorships and hundreds of local offices are also up for election, including in Georgia, where the gubernatorial race has received national attention over accusations that Republican candidate Brian Kemp, running against African-American Democrat Stacey Abrams, is trying to systemically suppress the black vote.
Tuesday’s elections come as the nation reels from an anti-Semitic massacre at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and a rash of mail bombs sent to high-profile Democrats and critics of the President.
Instead of issuing calls for unity, Trump has tried to make the elections all about a slow-moving caravan of Central American migrants fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries.
The President has made numerous false claims about the desperate migrants, including asserting without evidence that “unknown Middle Easterners” are “mixed in” with them. He has also sent roughly 7,000 U.S. troops to the southwestern border even though the caravan is at least a month away and comprises less than 3,500 people, many of whom are children and families.
Republican midterm candidates across the country have picked up on Trump’s harsh rhetoric, perpetuating racially charged language to attack their Democratic challengers.
In Florida, GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis set the tone early on by urging constituents to “not monkey this up” by electing his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, who is African-American. In upstate New York, incumbent Rep. John Faso followed suit, issuing racially charged ads painting his African-American opponent, Antonio Delgado, as a “big city rapper” because he had a brief hip-hop career more than a decade ago.
Democrats have stayed clear of the Trump-style insults, but have time and again trashed Republicans as morally flawed, corrupt and beholden to the President.
“President Trump, when it comes to draining the swamp, has been a complete and total disappointment," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a news conference in May while announcing a sweeping anti-Trump platform called “Better Deal,” which was meant to boost Democratic congressional candidates. “Trump has embraced the most egregious establishment Republican norms and appointed the most conflict-of-interest ridden cabinet in my lifetime. The swamp has never been more foul or more fetid than under this President."
Cultural movements meant to spotlight deep-rooted social problems have also became political tools in this election.
MeToo — intended to address the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct in politics and society at large — took center stage in fueling the flames of partisanship as Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court was nearly derailed earlier this year amid claims he sexually assaulted several women.
Conservatives claimed Kavanaugh was the victim of a baseless smear while Democrats accused the GOP of choosing political expediency over credible accusations of misconduct.
Trump, in turn, has painted the embattled jurist’s confirmation as a major reason to vote Republican in the midterms, telling supporters at numerous rallies that the elections are about “Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order and common sense.”
Siegfried said the midterms are more than anything about anger.
“The most renewable political resource is anger, and we’re seeing an incredible amount of it right now,” Siegfried said. “Both sides of the aisle are campaigning on it.”