Americans head to the polls in first major test for Trump

Democrats buoyed by high early voter turnout in key midterm elections; several races seen as very close

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On the eve of Election Day, candidates are making their final appearances and final pushes for votes.
Voters casting their ballots in Carmel, Indiana, yesterday. Thirty-five Senate seats, all 435 House seats, 36 gubernatorial positions, and hundreds of other state-and local-level positions are up for grabs in the midterms. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Americans voted across the country in midterm elections seen as a crucial referendum on President Donald Trump - and a chance for the Democratic Party to recover seats in Congress and find some traction again after being outplayed in 2016.

Mr Trump is not on the ballot. But 35 Senate seats, all 435 House seats, 36 gubernatorial positions, and hundreds of other state-and local-level positions are up for grabs in what is seen as particularly consequential elections, already drawing a record turnout in early voting.

The opposition Democratic Party, buoyed by a high early voter turnout including many first-time voters, is favoured to claw back seats in the House, where it needs to flip 23 to gain a majority and position it to act as a check on the President.

The Cook Political Report, in an election-eve assessment, said: "Bottom line: Anything from a Democratic gain of 20 to 45 seats remains well within the realm of possibility, but a gain of 30 to 40 seats - and House control - is the most likely outcome."

The Republican Party is expected to retain its majority in the Senate. But several critical state governor positions may go to the Democrats.

Yet with several races very close, there is potential for a nail-biting denouement. In early voting in Florida, for instance, 40.1 per cent who voted early were registered Republicans, and 40.5 per cent registered Democrats, said media reports.

The campaign has been marked by harsh rhetoric and attack advertising fuelled by record amounts of money, as candidates present stark choices.

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Republicans have played up the robust economy, but also used scare tactics and accused the Democratic Party of wanting to turn America into a socialist disaster rife with criminal illegal immigrants.

Democrats have accused Republicans of racism, corruption and financial profligacy. They have also campaigned on healthcare, warning that more people would lose coverage if Republicans held onto power.

The elections are the first trial for Mr Trump, who has loomed large over them, campaigning vigorously across the country to fire up his base and propel key Republican candidates to power in races where some - like Senator Ted Cruz in Texas - have faced uncommonly strong opposition from Democratic challengers.

In Washington, a dozen or so lined up to vote in Columbia Heights, a diverse and firmly Democratic neighbourhood, standing in the rain even before the polling station opened at 7am. Voter Dominic Lopiano, 27, said: "Everything is at stake - racial equality, immigration, the trade war with China, all of that stuff. Democrats have to win back the House and stop Trump."

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On the other side of the political spectrum, in reliably Republican Brecksville, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, 66-year-old retired carpenter Benny, who would not give his last name, called the midterms a "classic battle between good and evil".

"Democrats want to control everything and everyone. They want to control our lives," he told The Straits Times. One of his main concerns was abortion, legalised in the 1973 Roe v Wade verdict, which progressives fear may be overturned by a conservative Supreme Court.

In Miami, Florida International University political scientist Kathryn DePalo said: "It's really a base election. Both Republicans and Democrats are energised. Angry voters vote. And angry voters vote in midterms. Trump has done a good job at keeping Republicans angry."

University of Miami graduate student Maddie Kaufman, 24, said she was voting Democrat because of climate change. Florida has the longest coastline in the US, but Florida's Republican candidate for governor, Mr Ron DeSantis, is a climate sceptic.

"Climate change is real," said Ms Kaufman, who works in a coral research lab. "We need to elect politicians who believe in it and will do something about it."

At a polling station yesterday in Miami Dade county, video editor Daniel Z., 52, who described himself as an independent voter, said: "This is an accident in democracy - that a reality TV guy is our President.

"I think in America, people seem to be very isolated, especially when you go to the middle of the country... A lot of people get a lot of misinformation through talk radio and very limited real news. And then when they can get the real news, they're being told those are lies. We should learn history to know that those things don't end well."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2018, with the headline Americans head to the polls in first major test for Trump. Subscribe