News Analysis: U.S. heads toward first major electoral battle in two years

by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3 (Xinhua) — The midterm elections to be held on Tuesday are the first major electoral battle since U.S. President Donald Trump clinched the White House. Now, after two years, Democrats are eager to get back in the ring and slug it out with the GOP.

But no one has the crystal ball to tell who will win, especially after pundits, polls and political soothsayers have been wrong before.

The wild card in this year’s midterms is the House of Representatives, while Republicans are expected to keep control of the Senate.

Democrats need to take away at least 23 Republican seats to have control of the House. On Saturday, the often-cited Real Clear Politics “Battle for the House 2018” poll had Democrats ahead by 203 to 196. The race has been tighter in recent weeks, with Democrats making gains even in areas that tend to lean conservative, the non-partisan Cook Political Report found.

There are currently 17 Republican-held districts that are seeing a slight or strong lean toward Democrats, mainly in upper-middle-class suburbs, including in the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

However, Republicans have gained ground in some rural districts, such as outside the cities of St. Louis and Cincinnati, where conservatives have rallied to support Trump, according to the Cook report.

“Trump definitely has galvanized the Democratic base and it is likely to turn out in big numbers on Tuesday,” Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Darrell West told Xinhua.

Republican Strategist and TV news personality Ford O’Connell, however, said that while historical precedent is in Democrats’ favor, “the only question here is whether the Republicans in the House can minimize their losses and hold onto the House by a sliver.”

Christopher Galdieri, an assistant professor at Saint Anselm College, said Democrats “have been fired up about 2018 since shortly after the 2016 election.”

“We’ve seen evidence of that in the number of strong candidates running, including in districts that have not had competitive races in years, Democratic fundraising, and shifts toward Democrats in special elections for Congress and state offices in 2017 and 2018.”

But a win is not necessarily in the bag, he cautioned.

“That does not mean winning the House is a lock, by any means,” he said.

Galdieri said Republican voters look likely to turn out at their usual midterm levels. Republicans have turned out in midterms in recent years while Democrats tended to stay at home. But this year Democrats look to be “at least as enthusiastic about voting as Republicans are, if not more so.”

The Senate is expected to remain firmly in the hands of Republicans, with the oft-cited Website FiveThirtyEight predicting a 1-in-7 chance that Democrats will win the Senate.

“Republicans are going to retain control of the U.S. Senate, the only question is by how much. Because so long as they win Texas, Tennessee and North Dakota — and everyone thinks they’re going to — they have 50 senators,” O’Connell said.

Historical records show only twice since 1934 has any sitting president’s party gained seats in both houses of Congress — in 1934 and in 2002. In both cases, the gains weren’t particularly large.

House losses in midterm elections, however, tend to be large. In the 1938 elections the Democrats at the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt took a beating, losing 71 seats, according to political publication PolitiFact.

“The president’s party almost always loses seats in the midterm, so it will not be a surprise if there are Democratic gains,” West said.

If Republicans win the House, they will continue to control Congress and the White House, allowing Trump to continue to press toward his legislative agenda as he has since he took office.

But if Democrats win, the consensus among pundits and politicians is that Democrats plan to launch some investigations against Trump. CNN last week cited unnamed sources inside the Democratic party as saying that the party is quietly gearing up to implement some investigations against Trump, and the issue has grabbed numerous headlines over the past couple of weeks.

Indeed, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told the San Francisco Chronicle last week that investigating the president’s tax records is one of the “first things we’d do.”

Representative Ted Lieu, a Democrat, said earlier this week that his party would launch an investigation into what he described as Trump’s fast and loose use of his cell phone.

“(Democrats) will have subpoena power and the ability to get documents and testimony,” West said on what could happen if Democrats win the House.

O’Connell said “Democrats are going to launch many investigations and launch many subpoenas” if they control the House.

As the race tightens, Trump continues to hit the campaign trail in support of GOP lawmakers, hammering on illegal immigration, at a time when the United States hosts around 12 million illegal migrants.

The issue is now grabbing global headlines, as a migrant caravan of thousands is heading through Mexico toward the United States.

Many Trump supporters are working class males who see themselves as displaced by illegal migrants, at a time when blue collar jobs have gone overseas. The Democrats have blasted Trump’s stance on illegal immigration, and many voters on the progressive left disapprove of Trump’s stance.

The past week has seen Trump make a number of stops in several U.S. states including Missouri.

“We’re going to keep these people out of our country. Vote Republican,” Trump said to a cheering crowd, referring to illegal immigrants.

Galdieri said that Trump’s campaign took off back in 2015 “because of the hard line he took on immigration — that led him to the GOP nomination and to a win in the electoral college.”

“So I suspect he thinks of (his stance on immigration) as his greatest hit, and an approach that can help Republicans in advance of next week’s elections,” Galdieri added.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether this tactic will help GOP candidates.

“This is a hot-button issue for many of Trump’s core supporters, but it’s an open question as to whether they’ll transfer their enthusiasm to candidates other than Trump,” Galdieri said. 

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