Democrats entered the final weekend before Election Day with a head of steam in the fight for the House — emboldened by a pair of long-serving Republicans in solid conservative territory scrambling to save their seats.
President Donald Trump, who planned rallies Saturday in Montana and Florida, amplified his anti-immigration rhetoric in states where Republicans could win significant Senate and gubernatorial contests. Yet the message worried House Republicans looking to stanch losses in suburban districts, and even the president acknowledged the growing likelihood that Democrats will win the chamber.
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“It could happen, could happen,” Trump said at a rally Friday in West Virginia. “We’re doing very well, and we’re doing really well in the Senate, but could happen. And you know what you do? My whole life, you know what I say? ‘Don’t worry about it, I’ll just figure it out.’”
The brightening Democratic prospects were confirmed by late moves in red districts in Alaska and Iowa, where Reps. Don Young and Steve King faced surprising headwinds in the final days of their campaigns. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Republican leadership, mounted a last-minute get-out-the-vote initiative for Young, the House’s longest-serving member, and Democrats rushed to seize an opportunity in Iowa against King, whose anti-immigrant rhetoric has drawn scorn from both parties.
Trump’s frenetic schedule of campaign stops came as early voting closed in many states, with more than 31 million Americans already casting ballots, according to Michael McDonald’s United States Elections Project at the University of Florida.
Turnout exceeded early voting from the last midterm election in more than 25 states, though to whose benefit remains unclear. Reports of robust turnout among younger voters in Texas and California, and among black voters in the Southeast, could improve Democrats’ prospects on Tuesday, while Republicans were moving to run up their numbers in rural, red swaths of the country.
Democrats in Nevada were buoyed on Friday night by large crowds of voters lining up at early vote centers in Democrat-heavy Las Vegas, in a scene reminiscent of the last presidential election, in 2016. Addressing supporters in Nevada on Friday, Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is bidding to unseat Republican Sen. Dean Heller in a fiercely contested race, said, “I’m going to give you some real good news: We added 4,000 Democratic votes to our lead here in Clark County, I think pushing us up around the 38,000 firewall.” By late Friday, that number climbed past 40,000.
In Arizona’s hotly contested Senate race — a must-win for Democrats who are hoping to limit Trump’s hopes for GOP gains — Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) rallied her party Saturday morning by touting its “gangbusters” performance in early voting. Data on early voting released by the state indicates that Democrats have narrowed, although not eliminated, Republicans’ historically wide advantage this year.
Sinema also returned to her party’s bread-and-butter as Trump digs in on immigration: health care. She’s repeatedly reminded voters that her GOP opponent, Rep. Martha McSally, supported a House Obamacare repeal bill that would have gutted protections for those with preexisting conditions.
“I have been fighting so hard” to preserve popular elements of Obamacare, Sinema told backers at a Phoenix community center, “but they are at risk” given the repeated GOP attempts to chip away at the health care law.
But Democratic and Republican strategists alike entered Saturday uncertain about the implications of the early vote.
“Is there going to be a blue wave? Yes. Is there going to be a red wave? Yes. What does that mean? I don’t know,” said Mike Madrid, a longtime Republican consultant in California.
Still, Madrid acknowledged the possibility that Democrats surpass expectations on Tuesday – picking up seats in the Senate or gaining a larger than expected majority in the House – with dramatic implications for the long-term health of the GOP.
If Democrats can prevail in suburban, Republican-held House districts that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, he said, “That’s going to be a really tectonic shift in American politics, because it means there’s a hemorrhaging in the Republican base … If they know what’s at stake and they say, ‘Fine, give Nancy Pelosi [speaker’s] gavel, that’s a huge break in the coalition.”
Pelosi (D-Calif.) has already declared victory, saying on “The Late Show” with Stephen Colbert this week that “We will win.” But many Democrats remain uneasy, in part because of flawed projections that left them dumfounded following Trump’s election in 2016.
Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmentalist and Democratic megadonor, urged Democratic activists on Friday to “sprint through the tape,” while Andrew Feldman, a Democratic strategist in Washington, said Democrats “can’t take the foot off the gas.”
Just days before the election, both parties sought to gain an edge in critical races by boosting third party candidates. In Indiana, the state Democratic Party ran Facebook ads aimed at conservative voters attacking Republican Senate candidate Mike Braun for his past as a registered Democrat and calling the libertarian candidate the “true anti-tax conservative.” And the Arizona Republican Party sent mailers tying Green Party candidate Angela Green to Sen. Bernie Sanders, calling the two “too extreme” for Arizona in the hopes of pushing some liberal voters towards her rather than Sinema. (Green dropped out of the race on Tuesday and endorsed Sinema.)
Trump blasted Sinema’s immigration record in a Saturday tweet endorsing McSally that came soon after both candidates rallied fans at Arizona State University’s homecoming game. Trump claimed that Sinema “doesn’t even care about” border security, aiming to chip at her appeal on an issue in which she’s hewed close to the center.
Republicans received an election-eve gift Friday with the release of a report showing 250,000 jobs gained in October. But Trump, ignoring the pleas of Republicans to focus on the economy in his midterm messaging, said at a rally Friday that “sometimes it’s not as exciting to talk about the economy … because we have a lot of other things to talk about.”
Instead, in an effort to turn out base voters, Trump has kept his closing argument largely focused on immigration, warning Friday of “illegal aliens trying to flood into our country on your dollar.”
The Trump administration this week approved sending more than 5,000 U.S. troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to stop a caravan of Central American asylum seekers heading toward the United States. And Trump said he wants to eliminate birthright citizenship, a move most legal scholars say would be impossible without a constitutional amendment, but that Trump says he thinks is possible with an executive order.
At a rally in Montana on Saturday for Republican Senate candidate Matt Rosendale, Trump touted the recent economic news while attacking Democratic Sen. Jon Tester over his opposition to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“This election will decide whether we build on the extraordinary prosperity that we’ve achieved or whether we let the radical Democrats take control of Congress and take a giant wrecking ball to our economy and to the future of our nation,” Trump said, before pivoting back to immigration later in the appearance.
Democrats’ long odds of capturing the Senate were reflected in New Jersey, where incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez is locked in a closer-than-expected race against Republican Bob Hugin.
In a brief speech to about 100 Republicans in front of the Burlington County GOP headquarters in Mount Holly, Hugin assailed Menendez for the incumbent’s corruption trial last year — which ended in a mistrial — but never mentioned Trump, who is unpopular in the state.
“[Menendez] has to go,” said Hugin, who has loaned his campaign $36 million and called the race a dead heat. “It’s time for him to go.”
Democrats, while lambasting Trump on immigration, are focusing heavily on health care — and specifically on Republicans’ efforts to rescind Obamacare, and with it the law’s provisions protecting people with pre-existing conditions.
Campaigning alongside Rosen in Nevada, Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat who is likely to run for president in 2020, said, “As far as I’m concerned, anyone who wants to vote to get rid of our health care should be voted out of office.” And later that day in Georgia, where Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp are locked in a close race for governor, former President Barack Obama lashed out at Republicans on the issue.
“Not only will they not own up to what they have done,” Obama said. “Suddenly they are saying that they’re the ones to protect people with preexisting conditions. I want everyone to pay attention to this. They have literally been doing the opposite. It’s like calling black, white. It requires some kind of gumption.”
Meanwhile, on Saturday morning in Kentucky’s 6th congressional district, one of the tightest and closest-watched contests in the country, Democrat Amy McGrath kicked off a day-long series of mini-pep rallies with canvassers. Speaking to two dozen volunteers inside a small campaign office in Georgetown, McCrath, a retired Marine fighter pilot, mentioned her service service in the context of their own.
“You are here serving the country,” she said. “By knocking on 30, 40, 50 doors, you are serving the country — and I would argue you are saving the country.”
Some 20 miles south, in Lexington, Republicans were doing work of their own. At the local headquarters of the Congressional Leadership Fund, the powerful outside group aligned with House GOP leadership, waves of door-knockers were being dispatched to blanket precincts in the 6th district. Meanwhile, a team of 10 volunteers—high school and college kids—worked the phones, dialing voters and asking whether they were voting for McGrath or Republican incumbent Andy Barr.
In generic congressional polls, Democrats’ advantage has remained relatively steady, at about 7.5 percent, according to the RealClearPolitics average.
But Paul Maslin, a top Democratic pollster, said Trump’s inability to “sell the economy” combined with his anti-immigration pronouncements and reaction to the bomb scare and synagogue shooting “at least temporarily seems to have swung the thing at least a couple of points in our direction.”
“Is it possible that the still-enthusiastic Trump voter will still turn out and balance out the intensely negative anti-Trump voter? Yeah, that’s possible, Maslin said. “But it’s more likely that he’s never recovered from the damage he did to himself.”
“You could have a two or three percent swing,” Maslin said. “And if it happens in enough places in the end, among independents and women and suburban voters who just say, ‘Enough is enough’ … If that happens in many places, then this could be a very good, a very good political night.”
Still, Maslin said, “I still think we’re in a mess on Nov. 7,” with a fractured political climate that “is not going to be any prettier.”
“We may have a very good night next Tuesday, and so what?” he said. “That doesn’t answer any real question other than Trump’s failed pretty spectacularly in his first two years, and we’ll see what he does as a result.”
Reporting from Siders in Nevada and California, Schor in Arizona, Shepard in New Jersey, Alberta in Kentucky, Strauss in Georgia, Marinucci in California and Arkin in Washington, D.C.