Tue, 13 Nov 2018
13
El Salvador

Control of the U.S. Congress is up for grabs as Americans vote in one of the most bitterly fought midterm elections in a generation.

The outcome of the November 6 elections is also likely to have a major impact on President Donald Trump's next two years in office -- the second half of his four-year term.

All 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of the Senate's 100 seats are being contested.

With Republicans holding a 23-seat majority in the House of Representatives -- the lower house of Congress -- and controlling the upper house -- the Senate -- by just a single seat, many polls are predicting that Democrats have a strong chance to take control of at least the House.

A national poll released on November 4 by The Washington Post and ABC News showed that registered voters prefer Democratic candidates for the House 50 percent to 43 percent over Republicans. In some individual races, however, polls showed many candidates were statistically tied.

U.S. midterm elections usually draw fewer voters to the polls.

But even before polling precincts opened, a surge in early voting in many states -- setting new records, by some accounts -- highlighted how electrified the U.S. voters are about a range of issues -- first and foremost, Trump's presidency.

The growth in early voting in many U.S. states means that more than 28.5 million people had already cast ballots by November 2, according to data compiled by University of Florida professor Michael McDonald. Мore than 20 states had exceeded their total number of early votes cast from in the last midterm election, in 2014.

By all accounts, the election campaign has been rancorous to a degree not seen in years. On the one hand, the U.S. economy is surging in strength, with a major jobs report released on November 2 putting the unemployment rate at 3.7 percent.

The economy grew at a 3.5 percent annual rate in the third quarter, according to federal data, fueled in part by the major tax cut passed by congressional Republicans last year.

Normally, that would put the president and his party in a strong position for congressional elections, which occur every two years and are all called midterms when they fall at the midway point of a president's four-year term, like this year.

But Trump's hard-line approach to policy-making and social issues has dented the ability of Republicans to claim full credit for the strong economy.

If Democrats take control of the House, most observers expect lawmakers to open major investigations, looking into matters such as the U.S. intelligence conclusions that Russia interfered in the 2016 election campaign and whether Trump associates tried to conspire with Russian officials.

On the eve of Election Day, senior U.S. security and intelligence officials issued a joint statement saying that so far 'we have no indication of compromise of our nation's election infrastructure that would prevent voting, change vote counts, or disrupt the ability to tally votes.'

'But Americans should be aware that foreign actors - and Russia in particular - continue to try to influence public sentiment and voter perceptions through actions intended to sow discord,' the November 5 statement from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and FBI Director Christopher Wray said.

House Democrats would also focus on the ethical problems some of Trump's cabinet members have faced, meaning the final two years of Trump's first term as president would likely be shadowed by a stream of bad news.

If Republicans maintain control of the House, Trump is expected to push forward on legislation including more tax cuts, efforts to shrink the federal government, cutting regulatory rules, and other things.

U.S. voters also cast ballots in races for the governorships of 36 states, three U.S. territories, and the mayor of the District of Columbia. There were also elections for state legislative seats in each of the 50 U.S. states and referendums on specific issues in some states.

The midterm campaign has been roiled by a wave of attempted mail bombings, allegedly committed by a Florida man who regularly posted vitriolic statements on social media, and who appeared to be a die-hard Trump supporter. A shooting massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 people on October 27 has also darkened the national mood; the gunman allegedly shouted anti-Semitic slurs as he opened fire.

Instead of highlighting the strong economy, Trump's political organization, which is separate from the Republican Party, has focused on the question of immigration, an issue that Trump himself campaigned on during in 2016. Like most presidents, Trump has an organization, outside of the U.S. government, that is set up to solicit donations and put out campaign materials on behalf of Trump or those he is supporting.

Trump and his supporters have tried to focus on hundreds of Central American migrants who are making their way to the United States, asserting that the migrants would increase crime in the United States. The White House has ordered the deployment of 5,000 active-duty military personnel to the border ahead of the migrants' arrival, in coming weeks.

The campaign also saw by an extraordinarily contentious confirmation hearing for Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh was ultimately confirmed by the Senate, but the process was overshadowed by a decades-old allegation that he had sexually assaulted a woman when they were both teenagers.

Trump himself has been dogged by allegations of sexual assault, and the so-called #MeToo movement has helped spur a record number of women running for Congress this year, many of whom are Democrats.

Mike Eckel

Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL based in Washington.

EckelM@rferl.org FOLLOW Subscribe via RSS

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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