Democrats were showing early signs of strength as results trickle in across the eastern United States in midterm elections widely expected to pass judgment on the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency.
With only a fraction of polls reporting and polling stations yet to close in half the country, Democrats were leading in 15 of the 23 Republican-held seats they need to retake control of the House of Representatives.
One key district in northern Virginia had Republican representative and Trump ally Barbara Comstock trailing Democrat challenger Jennifer Wexton by about 16 percentage points with just over half the polls reporting.
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 was maintaining a narrow lead over Republican challenger Ron DeSantis in his bid to become the state’s first African-American mayor.
The hotly contested Senate seat in the Sunshine State was also up for grabs with Democrat Bill Nelson exchanging a narrow lead with Republican Rick Scott.
And in Texas, the charismatic Democratic Senate challenger Beto O’Rourke — credited with mobilizing young and Hispanic voters — was enjoying an early lead over Canadian-born Republican and former presidential challenger 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 of Representatives, have been aggressively beating the health-care drum, promising to defend health coverage for pre-existing conditions from what they predict will 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 has been hewing 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.
James McCarten, The Canadian Press