Democrats begin wide-open campaign to pick 2020 challenger to Trump

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WASHINGTON—The 2016 Democratic presidential primary: a coronation. The 2020 primary: a battle royale.

Four years after almost every possible candidate conceded the nomination to a dominant Hillary Clinton, the party is about to have an unpredictable everybody-into-the-pool scrap to be chosen as the candidate to challenge Donald Trump.

Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren is surrounded by reporters at the Massachusetts Statehouse on Jan. 2, 2019, in Boston. Warren has taken the first major step toward launching a widely anticipated campaign for the presidency, hoping her reputation as a populist fighter can help her navigate a crowded Democratic field.
Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren is surrounded by reporters at the Massachusetts Statehouse on Jan. 2, 2019, in Boston. Warren has taken the first major step toward launching a widely anticipated campaign for the presidency, hoping her reputation as a populist fighter can help her navigate a crowded Democratic field.  (Elise Amendola / AP)

And it’s starting already.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced this week that she was launching an exploratory committee, which allows her to raise money and hire staff. Former housing secretary Julian Castro has scheduled an announcement for Jan. 12.

Over the next few months, they will be joined by a mix of the party’s who’s-who and who’s-that. The “first debate,” scheduled for June, will almost certainly have to be split into two debates to accommodate the large field.

That field will likely be the most personally diverse ever to seek the presidency, featuring multiple women and people of colour. On policy, the candidates will tend toward the unabashed liberalism now favoured by much of the party’s base — though there will be significant differences in their choices of issue emphasis, in the ways they depart from progressive orthodoxy and in how they approach President Donald Trump.

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The best-known hypothetical candidates are former vice-president Joe Biden and Clinton’s main challenger, democratic socialist Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, both of whom have been unsubtly laying groundwork. Beto O’Rourke, the charismatic Texas congressman who gained national attention during his unsuccessful Senate run against Ted Cruz, is also mulling a run.

US Senator Kamala Harris attends the United State of Women Summit at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in May 2018. After two years of relative party unity in fighting Trump’s initiatives, members of the grassroots “resistance” will have to choose an affirmative party identity.
US Senator Kamala Harris attends the United State of Women Summit at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in May 2018. After two years of relative party unity in fighting Trump’s initiatives, members of the grassroots “resistance” will have to choose an affirmative party identity.  (CHRIS DELMAS/AFP/Getty Images)

So are — deep breath now — California Sen. Kamala Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg…

…among others. Former attorney general Eric Holder, wealthy environmentalist Tom Steyer, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and California Rep. Eric Swalwell have all expressed interest.

After two years of relative party unity in fighting Trump’s initiatives, members of the grassroots “resistance” will have to choose an affirmative party identity. They could go any number of ways. The list of prospects includes people known for fiery oratory and for low-key affability, for ideological rigidity and for shape-shifting, for focusing on economic injustice and on racial injustice. It includes champions and skeptics of free trade, advocates and opponents of free college tuition, billionaires and critics of the billionaire class, Washington veterans and relative newcomers.

The leaders in extremely-early opinion polls — which should be treated mostly as measures of how widely the candidates’ names are currently known — are Biden and Sanders. Both have devout fans. But as white men of age 76 and 77, they will be challenged by what seems to be a desire in much of the party base for fresh faces.

“I think the country is looking for excitement. I think they’re looking for someone who is not a part of the Washington conversation. And I think they’re looking for new ideas,” said Democratic strategist Jennifer Holdsworth. “People that most of the country has never heard of,” she said, “are ultimately going to be much closer to the top than people think.”

In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats elected a record number of women and people of colour to Congress. “I think that the Democratic electorate is hungry for either a woman or a person of colour,” said Kate Maeder, a party strategist in California.

Former vice-president Joe Biden is one of the best-known hypothetical candidates for the Democratic primary.
Former vice-president Joe Biden is one of the best-known hypothetical candidates for the Democratic primary.  (Bloomberg / David Paul Morris)

“I think we just kind of need to clean house with the old white male guard,” said Lori Goldstein, party chair in Adams County, Colorado. “And we need to keep our younger folks invested in all of this, and I think we’ve lost a lot of them because of the old white male guard.”

The first voting is 13 months away. Mayra Rivera-Vazquez, Democratic chair in Beaufort County, South Carolina, said local party members want diverse candidates but will reserve judgment until the candidates make their pitches.

“You hear the common names, but probably there are probably going to be other names too. So we don’t know. We’ll see,” she said. We have a spectrum of all thinkers there. It’s too early to decide what type of presidential candidate the Democrats want. Let’s see when they come here: what are going to be the issues, what are they going to offer, what is the message?”

California’s move of its primary to March, from the traditional June, will require candidates to change the way they approach the early months. The nation’s most populous state has long been an afterthought because of how late it came in the process. Now, its racially diverse Democratic electorate will begin casting ballots in early voting on the same February day as the first caucuses are held in the small, heavily white state of Iowa.

Candidates will have to figure out how to establish national personas in a media environment dominated by Trump. And they will have to decide how to navigate the uncompromising mood of an increasingly left-leaning party base while also retaining their viability among the moderates who may decide the general election — and while convincing the base that they are best positioned to beat Trump.

Texas Democrat Beto O'Rourke speaks during a town hall meeting in Brady, Texas, on April 6, 2018.
Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke speaks during a town hall meeting in Brady, Texas, on April 6, 2018.  (Bloomberg photo / Sergio Flores)

So far, it has been full-speed ahead to the left. Harris, Booker, Gillibrand, Warren and Sanders have all endorsed the idea of a federal jobs guarantee. In 2016, Sanders’s endorsement of single-payer health care, “Medicare for All,” made him a left-wing novelty. In 2020, that position is expected to be a Democratic standard.

Sanders has already won one early victory. After furious complaints from him and his allies, the party voted this summer to sharply limit the power of “superdelegates,” the party elites who previously got to vote for whichever candidate they wanted no matter what regular voters decided.

10 potential Democratic candidates

  • Joe Biden, former vice-president

Strengths in the primary: Personal fondness of most Democrats, reputation for connecting with white working class, association with Barack Obama.

Weaknesses in the primary: Age, error-prone campaign past, past conservative votes, handling of Anita Hill hearing.

  • Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts senator

Strengths: Anti-Wall St. credibility, reputation for unyielding liberalism.

Weaknesses: Low approval ratings with broader public, decision to take DNA test to prove claim to Native American heritage.

  • Bernie Sanders, independent Vermont senator

Strengths: Perceived authenticity, progressive record, voter loyalty established in 2016.

Weaknesses: Age, unpopularity among some Clinton devotees, weakness with Black voters, distance from the Democratic party.

  • Sherrod Brown, Ohio senator

Strengths: Record of electoral success with white working class.

Weaknesses: Support for Trump’s trade policy, past allegation of 1980s domestic abuse (by ex-wife who now supports him).

  • Kamala Harris, California senator

Strengths: Lawyerly eloquence, varied personal background, popularity in California.

Weaknesses: Centrist decisions as a prosecutor.

  • Cory Booker, New Jersey senator

Strengths: Powerful oratory, focus on racial inequality.

Weaknesses: History of Wall St. ties, mixed results as Newark mayor.

  • Julian Castro, former housing secretary

Strengths: Service in Obama administration, Latino identity.

Weaknesses: Never elected to office higher than mayor, non-fluency in Spanish.

  • Michael Bloomberg, former New York City mayor

Strengths: Wealth, leadership on gun control.

Weaknesses: Wealth, conservative positions.

  • Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota senator

Strengths: “Minnesota nice” likability, broad appeal in Midwestern states.

Weaknesses: Low national profile, relatively conservative voting record.

  • Beto O’Rourke, Texas congressman

Strengths: Charisma, fundraising prowess, youth.

Weaknesses: Never held office higher than the House, relatively conservative voting record.

Daniel Dale is the Star’s Washington bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @ddale8

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The day Audrey McLaughlin and the New Democrats made history

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In less than three years, Audrey McLaughlin went from being a rookie MP to the leader of the federal New Democrats.

Supporters of Audrey McLaughlin are seen at the 1989 NDP leadership convention in Winnipeg. (The National/CBC Archives)

Her rapid rise to the top was also historic, as McLaughlin became the first woman to lead a national party in Canada, when she won the leadership on Dec. 2, 1989.

« I’m just ready to roar and take it on, » McLaughlin told reporters, after winning the top job with the New Democrats.

Her victory came on the fourth round of ballots that were cast at the NDP leadership convention, which was held in Winnipeg.

« Her jubilant supporters danced in the aisles and all over the convention hall, giddy after five-and-a-half hours of balloting and exhaustive backroom manoeuvring to deliver the vote, » the CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonti reported to viewers of The National

‘We are a united party’

Dave Barrett was the runner-up in the 1989 federal NDP leadership contest. (The National/CBC Archives)

McLaughlin’s main competition had been Dave Barrett, the MP for Esquimalt—​Juan de Fuca and the former premier of British Columbia. 

But McLaughlin had been considered the front-runner from the outset and had led from the first ballot.

On the fourth-round ballot, McLaughlin had the support of 1,316 delegates, giving her a 244-vote margin of victory over Barrett’s 1,072 votes.

As Tremonti told viewers, Barrett and McLaughlin had « never shown any public animosity, » but their supporters had been divided. When McLaughlin’s victory was clear, Barrett endorsed her leadership to the people at the convention.

« I want to tell the people of Canada that we are a united party, » said Barrett.

A win to inspire others

The newly crowned NDP leader addresses delegates after her leadership win. 0:53

McLaughlin said she had not run a campaign on the basis of her gender. But she believed her win could inspire others to pursue politics. 

« I hope that what’s happened here today will really give a message to a lot of Canadians — women, but also others who feel they’ve kind of been left out, you know, of political things, » she told CBC News.

Audrey McLaughlin (left) would be succeeded as NDP leader by Alexa McDonough (right) in 1995. (Andrew Wallace/Canadian Press)

« Times are changing. So is politics. »

McLaughlin had been elected to Parliament as the MP for Yukon in a byelection the summer of 1987. The seat had become vacant when Erik Nielsen, a former Tory cabinet minister, had stepped down from Parliament.

Prior to Nielsen’s departure, he had held the seat for the Tories for nearly 30 years. When McLaughlin won the ensuing byelection, she became the first-ever New Democrat elected in Yukon.

McLaughlin would stay in Parliament until 1997. But she would eventually resign the leadership and see another woman, Alexa McDonough, succeed her as leader in 1995.

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Unions and Democrats raise concerns about USMCA

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WASHINGTON—Yes, the leaders of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico have a deal on a new trade agreement.

No, that does not mean the negotiations are definitely over.

New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell, seen here during a television interview in New York on Oct. 17, 2017, says it’s not clear that the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement makes things better for American workers. Pascrell is the top Democrat on a House subcommittee on trade which held a hearing on the USMCA on Nov. 15, 2018.
New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell, seen here during a television interview in New York on Oct. 17, 2017, says it’s not clear that the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement makes things better for American workers. Pascrell is the top Democrat on a House subcommittee on trade which held a hearing on the USMCA on Nov. 15, 2018.  (Christopher Goodney / Bloomberg)

The legislatures of all three countries have to approve the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement for it to come into effect. And the Democrats who have won back control of the House of Representatives, one half of the U.S. Congress, have signalled this week that they are not ready to vote for the deal as it stands.

“There are certainly some improvements in the USMCA over the previous NAFTA, but the jury is still out as to whether this deal meets my standard for a better deal for American workers,” Rep. Bill Pascrell, the top Democrat on a House subcommittee on trade, said at a hearing on the USMCA in Washington on Thursday.

Trump’s team said it was designing a deal that would win the support of the U.S. labour movement, a key ally of Democrats and traditionally an opponent of trade agreements. But the AFL-CIO labour coalition said Thursday that it was reserving judgment.

“While there are positive changes in it,” such as improved terms on labour and manufacturing rules, “it is not obvious that the improvements are sufficient to make a meaningful difference to jobs and wages or to Mexico’s protection union regime,” AFL-CIO trade policy specialist Celeste Drake testified. She added: “Other rules in the agreement undermine the interests of working families.”

The complaints from the left have been largely centred on what they see as the weakness of provisions meant to compel Mexico to raise its wages and improve its labour standards. They see Mexico’s labour regime as one of the key reasons companies have shifted manufacturing jobs away from the U.S.

The Trump administration took steps to address Mexican labour, but unions and some Democrats say they have not done enough to guarantee the enforcement of provisions meant to compel changes. The left has also quibbled with particular provisions. Unions say, for example, that a new rule requiring a certain percentage of a car to be made by workers earning at least $16 (U.S.) per hour needs to be indexed to inflation so it doesn’t get softer over time.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi may be returned to her previous post as House speaker when Democrats take control in January. Under Pelosi, House Democrats took more than four years to approve trade agreements made by another Republican president, George W. Bush — and only after Democrat Barack Obama got elected and made changes to those texts.

“Right now, it is a work in progress,” Pelosi told the New York Times.

Changes could be made through either the main text of the agreement or through so-called “side letters,” like those added to the original NAFTA by Democrat Bill Clinton. The original NAFTA will remain in effect as the debate plays out.

At the Thursday hearing, representatives for the auto industry criticized the Trump administration for not removing its tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from Canada and Mexico, saying the tariffs were raising costs.

They also warned that they would be hurt by the quotas Trump has been said to be considering in exchange for lifting the tariffs.

“We believe that imposing quotas on Mexico and Canada will also severely harm our global competitiveness by ensuring that the price of U.S.-made steel and aluminum will remain significantly higher than the prices paid for these commodities by automakers that produce their vehicles elsewhere,” said American Automotive Policy Council president Matt Blunt. “We have, therefore, urged the administration to move quickly and engage with Mexico and Canada to resolve these tariff issues, without resorting to quotas, prior to the signing of the USMCA later this month.”

Daniel Dale is the Star’s Washington bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @ddale8

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Labour issues may hand Democrats the key to fighting USMCA

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In conversation at the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School last month, Nancy Pelosi laid out her priorities should the Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives and should Pelosi reclaim the top job as Speaker.

HR1, she said, meaning House Resolution Number 1, would be campaign finance reform, followed by lowering the cost of health care, “building the infrastructure of America” (mass transit, schools, housing), protecting the Dreamers and passing the Equality Act amendment to the Civil Rights Act, thereby enshrining protections for the LGBTQ community.

Trump’s NAFTA plan could be upended by Democrats’ House takeover

U.S. midterm elections put USMCA in jeopardy

Now that Democrats are back in control of the House, it isn’t certain, but it is a reasonable bet, that Pelosi will re-emerge as Speaker. When she last took up that gavel in January of 2007 she delivered, within 100 days, on her promised legislative agenda, which included rescinding billions of dollars of tax breaks to oil and gas companies and raising the federal minimum wage, which the Democrats will fight for again, she vows.

What Pelosi has not put on her Top 10 list is passage of the United-States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

This shouldn’t come as a post-election surprise.

Those who lived through the first NAFTA recall the free trade expansion negotiated by the Republicans under George H. W. Bush in 1992, the opposition from the Democrats, and the 11th-hour conversion of Bill Clinton, who, as president, signed the trade deal into law late in 1993, but not before the ignored issues of the environment and labour were addressed.

By “addressed” I do not mean to suggest they were addressed effectively. Kept out of the main text, environment and labour were written in as side agreement addenda. The language was woefully lax. On labour, as I have written before, the signatories to the deal said they were “committed to promote” a few “guiding principles” governing “broad areas of concern.” The word flaccid does not do the deal justice.

The warnings raised by Democratic opponents were realized.

The labour rights of the Mexican worker would be ignored. There would be no enforcement of the right to collective bargaining. The suppression of wages for Mexican workers would see American jobs flood south of the border, as North American business exploited cheap labour.

The NAFTA accord marks its quarter century this January.

And where are we? In the new USMCA there is a direct labour chapter, with an annex specifically addressing worker representation in collective bargaining in Mexico.

Again, 25 years have passed and here we are. An excerpt: Mexico is to “provide in its labor laws the right of workers to engage in concerted activities for collective bargaining or protection and to organize, form, and join the union of their choice.” Employer “domination or interference in union activities” is to be prohibited. Discrimination against workers for union activity is to be banned.

There’s a seven-point directive as to what the new legislation is to cover.

We must wonder: how is it this was not enshrined decades ago? “It is the expectation of the Parties,” the annex concludes, “that Mexico shall adopt legislation described above before January, 2019. It is further understood that entry into force of the agreement may be delayed until such legislation becomes effective.” (Those italics are mine.)

On this issue of enforcement, we find such mewling language as “encouraging the establishment of worker-management committees” and “providing or encouraging mediation” and implementing undefined sanctions.

Little wonder there’s a growing expectation that the Democrats could seize the moment to call for changes to the labour chapter and, while they’re at it, push for new environmental standards, a back-to-the-future discussion, if you will.

None of this interferes with the timeline Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, outgoing Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and U.S. President Donald Trump continue to follow, that is, the formal signing of USMCA by month’s end. But that formality is just setting the stage for the tumult ahead.

Perhaps, as some have suggested, Trump will threaten to pull out of NAFTA altogether if the deal doesn’t advance through Congress after it convenes in January.

There will be the inevitable complaints about political opportunism on the part of the Democrats should they hold firm.

This ignores the failure of NAFTA in its first round: that it failed to enshrine labour rights as it advanced “freer, fairer” markets. The new deal promises the “protection and enforcement of labour rights, the improvement of working conditions, the strengthening of co-operation and the Parties’ capacity on labor issues.”

That isn’t much of a promise at all. And Nancy Pelosi knows it.

Jennifer Wells is a business columnist based in Toronto. Reach her on email: jenwells@thestar.ca

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Infuriated by Trump, female Democrats fuel a push to win back Congress in midterms

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WASHINGTON—Barack Obama’s first midterm was the election of the angry white man. Eight years later, Donald Trump’s first midterm is shaping up as the election of the angry liberal woman.

Democrats are heavily favoured to win back control of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, an outcome that would thwart most of Trump’s legislative agenda and subject him to a barrage of congressional investigations. If they do, it will be largely because of the women he has infuriated into action.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, women have donated more than $308 million to Democratic congressional candidates this year — more than three times what women donated to Democratic congressional candidates in the 2014 midterms.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, women have donated more than $308 million to Democratic congressional candidates this year — more than three times what women donated to Democratic congressional candidates in the 2014 midterms.  (KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI / AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

The Resistance, as Trump’s fervent grassroots opposition calls itself, is mostly female. Democratic women have run for office in unprecedented numbers, gifted campaigns an unprecedented army of midterm volunteers, and poured unprecedented cash, a few dollars at a time, into candidates’ coffers.

They are people like Beth Headrick, 49, who makes $10.80 an hour working the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at a convenience store in St. Augustine, Fla. She had ignored every midterm before this year.

Now, filled with “hate” for Trump even though she holds some conservative views on immigration, Headrick is not only a midterm voter but a midterm donor: $20 to the Democrats’ governor candidate in Florida, $20 to their Senate candidate in Texas, $10 to their governor candidate in Kansas, $12 to their governor candidate in Georgia. And she has a new goodbye for young customers at the store.

“I no longer say, ‘Hey, goodnight.’ I say, ‘Hey, don’t forget to vote,’ ” she said.

Read more:

Rust Belt stats sour on Republicans

The Trump strategy: fear and lying

Tariff talk only a faint echo

Dionne Mitchell, 38, a software developer in the Atlanta-area suburb of Buford, didn’t even watch the news before Trump was elected, let alone vote in midterms. Now she watches left-leaning political channel MSNBC, nothing but MSNBC, from morning to night as she works, worrying about the future of her 9-year-old Black boy. Incensed about Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court, she “went on a rage-donate” spree, sprinkling cash to Democratic candidates as far away as North Dakota.

“I was just like: I’m so mad I gotta do something,” Mitchell said.

Dionne Mitchell, a software developer in Buford, Ga., had never voted in a midterm. She's now addicted to MSNBC's coverage.
Dionne Mitchell, a software developer in Buford, Ga., had never voted in a midterm. She’s now addicted to MSNBC’s coverage.

Monica Hutchinson, 38, spends her days knocking on doors in Black and Latino communities in central Virginia. She had volunteered for Democratic campaigns for years. But after Trump got elected, she quit her job at a pharmacy and her pre-pharmacy university program and became a full-time progressive organizer, working to mobilize the marginalized neighbourhoods that elections sometimes seem to forget.

“Me being a Black woman in America, I just don’t have time to sit around and wait. It’s now,” she said. “For me, it wasn’t so much a great awakening as much as: enough is enough.”

Monica Hutchinson became a full-time progressive organizer after Trump's election, abandoning plans for a career in pharmacy. She spends her days talking to people in marginalized Black and Latino communities.
Monica Hutchinson became a full-time progressive organizer after Trump’s election, abandoning plans for a career in pharmacy. She spends her days talking to people in marginalized Black and Latino communities.

In Simi Valley, Calif., the women of professional singer Leanna Brand’s chapter of the resistance group Indivisible toil on the midterms every day of the week. Monday morning is for standing on highway overpasses and holding up “ginormous” signs to commuters below. Tuesday is for writing postcards to Democratic neighbours, Wednesday for hanging flyers on doors. They go back to the overpasses for the Thursday evening rush. Then they knock on doors all weekend.

Brand, 58, choked up as she contemplated Nov. 6. Like many Democrats, she sees the election as a pivotal moment for the country.

“I’ve gotta feel like, on November 7th, that I have done everything I could do,” she said. “No matter what happens, I’ve gotta feel like I didn’t leave anything in the tank.”

Leanna Brand is co-leader of the Indivisible chapter in Simi Valley, Calif., and seen here with the big VOTE sign. The largely female group does a midterms activity every day of the week. On Monday and Thursday they stand on highway overpasses with large signs.
Leanna Brand is co-leader of the Indivisible chapter in Simi Valley, Calif., and seen here with the big VOTE sign. The largely female group does a midterms activity every day of the week. On Monday and Thursday they stand on highway overpasses with large signs.

A Democratic victory is no sure thing. The party needs to gain 23 seats to take the House. They appear very likely to get at least somewhere in the teens, but they are not certain to get the rest.

Angered by Democrats’ treatment of Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault, Republican voters have closed or narrowed the gap in polls of voter enthusiasm. Republican House candidates in some states have the benefit of district boundaries gerrymandered to their partisan advantage.

The forecasting website FiveThirtyEight gave Democrats an 85-per-cent chance to win the House as of Thursday. But Republicans had an 85-per-cent chance to keep control of the Senate, where they currently hold a 51-49 advantage. This year’s roster of 35 Senate races is especially rough for Democrats: 10 involve Democratic incumbents in states Trump won in 2016, five of them states Trump won by 19 points or more.

But the president’s party almost always loses seats in the midterms, Trump’s approval rating is stuck below 45 per cent, and all those $12 donations to Democrats have mattered. Many of the party’s candidates have large cash advantages that have allowed them to hammer their opponents with television ads.

« Democratic enthusiasm has led to an avalanche of financial contributions, which has allowed Democratic candidates and interest groups to vastly outspend their GOP opponents in these final weeks,” said Cam Savage, a Republican political consultant in Indiana, where Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly is in a tight Senate race. “Republicans are being swamped not just by the billionaires like Michael Bloomberg, but by tens of thousands of contributors across the country. It’s a massive problem in this election, but a catastrophe in future elections if not righted.”

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, women have donated more than $308 million to Democratic congressional candidates this year. That is more than three times what women donated to Democratic congressional candidates in the 2014 midterms.

The cash disparity has widened the House battleground. Nate Silver, the prominent analyst at FiveThirtyEight, said as many as 99 seats are at least somewhat competitive — almost as many as in the anti-Obama Tea Party wave midterm of 2010, when Republicans gained 63 House seats.

Most of Democrats’ best House pickup opportunities come in affluent suburban districts. College-educated white women in suburbs around cities from Los Angeles to Miami to Denver to Minneapolis to Detroit appear to have soured on Trump’s party, creating a historic gender gap that has made long-Republican seats suddenly attainable to Democrats.

It is white men keeping Republicans competitive. In one Marist College poll in October, for example, 44 per cent of men said they planned to vote for the local Republican, 43 per cent for the local Democrat — while 56 per cent of women said they planned to vote for the local Democrat, just 35 per cent for the local Republican.

“You’re going to have a lot of suburban households where the wife is voting Democrat and the husband is voting Republican,” said Mark Weaver, a Republican political consultant in Ohio. “That’s not true in exurban (areas). In exurban, you’re going to have wife and husband voting Republican. In urban areas, you’re largely having wife and husband voting Democrat.”

With big cities largely secure for Democratic incumbents, party supporters have poured resources into nearby suburbs. Swing Left, an organization founded after Trump’s win to channel progressive energy into competitive districts, says 100,000 people have signed up to volunteer in the last four days of the election.

Hundreds of liberals have driven from Los Angeles to the surrounding cities, trying to help Democratic House candidates knock off Republicans in long-conservative communities. A remarkable 300 people showed up in California’s 25th House district on a recent Saturday to knock on doors for Katie Hill, a 31-year-old Democratic challenger who ran an organization serving homeless people.

“This is unprecedented,” Hill said while grabbing lunch near her campaign office. “We’ve never seen volunteerism like this. We haven’t seen this in a presidential. It’s massive.”

The outpouring of female enthusiasm could create lasting change in the party. The surge has produced a record number of Democratic women winning nominations for not only Congress but for state positions — and a record number of women of colour. After six years of state-level defeats under Obama, Democrats now have a chance to replenish their bench with potential female stars like Georgia governor candidate Stacey Abrams, a Black lawyer locked in a tight race with a Trump-backed Republican, and Michigan governor candidate Gretchen Whitmer, a heavy favourite in a Midwestern state Trump won.

Supporters film a speech by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, who was campaigning with Stacey Abrams, the party's nominee for governor of Georgia, in Morrow, Ga.
Supporters film a speech by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, who was campaigning with Stacey Abrams, the party’s nominee for governor of Georgia, in Morrow, Ga.  (MELISSA GOLDEN)

The women leading the resistance “are not hyper-ideological but progressive and practical,” said Neera Tanden, president of the liberal Center for American Progress think tank and a close adviser to Hillary Clinton in 2016. “They are building a broad coalition with people of colour and millennials. And if they stay engaged, they will shift America in a more progressive direction for decades to come.”

Turnout in early voting has been much higher than in 2014, where the 37-per-cent total turnout was the lowest since the Second World War. Conversations with people in four states in October suggested a country not only deeply divided but deeply confused, each side unable to fathom how the other side views Trump the way it does.

“He’s just so unhinged,” said Dianne Hilliard, 62, retired from a General Motors plant, after she voted in Martinsburg, W.Va. “It’s scary. Why don’t these people that support him — why don’t they see it? I’m not an educated person. I didn’t go to college. But it doesn’t take a scholar to figure this out. I don’t understand. I really don’t understand.”

“He’s a brilliant man, and he’s headed in the right direction,” said fellow retiree Pat Schafer, 61, of Ebensburg, Pa. “He may not speak up to what he should be, but he’s getting stuff done. And that’s what we want. And I don’t think they’re treating him fair.”

Republicans losing the House, even while keeping the Senate, would represent a significant repudiation of the president. But a narrow House loss, in which Democrats gain only a slim majority, may give him reason for optimism going into the 2020 presidential election.

The president’s party almost always loses seats in a midterm. Republicans won back the House and the Senate in Bill Clinton’s first midterm in 1994. Democrats won both chambers in George W. Bush’s second midterm in 2006. Republicans won both chambers in Obama’s first midterm in 2010.

Trump has expressed optimism about the Senate but made clear he is uncertain about the House.

“I know we’re doing well in the Senate,” he told reporters Wednesday. ”And it looks like we’re doing OK in the House. We’re going to have to see.”

Women gather for a rally and march at Grant Park in Chicago in October, to inspire voter turnout ahead of midterm polls. -
Women gather for a rally and march at Grant Park in Chicago in October, to inspire voter turnout ahead of midterm polls. –  (KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI)

Even a slim Democratic majority in the House would radically alter Trump’s presidency. Democrats would have the power to launch investigations, subpoena White House officials for public testimony, obtain Trump’s long-hidden tax returns, and, if they wanted, to impeach him — though Democrats would not have the two-thirds votes in the Senate to remove him from office.

One way or another, Trump is a central factor in every congressional race. Most Democrats, though, are not emphasizing him in their advertising. Rather, their overwhelming focus is health care — an issue they mentioned in 61 per cent of their television ads between mid-September and mid-October, according to the Wesleyan Media Project, three times as much as they mentioned anything else.

“We’re doing persuasion,” said Jason McGrath, a Democratic pollster involved in congressional races. “You don’t persuade somebody to like or dislike Trump. They have made their mind up for the most part. We’re trying to persuade people on things that really do affect them.”

Republicans’ 2010 midterm triumph was fuelled by voter discontent about Obamacare. In a dramatic reversal, the law is now popular, and Democrats now want to talk about it. Their ads pummel Republicans for their attempts to replace Obamacare with much weaker insurance protections for people with “pre-existing” health conditions.

The issue mentioned second-most by Democrats, at 21 per cent, is taxes. Trump and Republicans had once hoped that they could campaign on their 2017 tax cut, which favoured the wealthy and corporations. But even a humming economy has not made the law popular. McGrath said bringing up Republican candidates’ stances on health care and taxes has been a more powerful Democratic attack than even bringing up the candidates’ personal ethics scandals.

“People they have a rooting interest in what happens to their own bodies and to their own wallets,” he said. “And so we have a real advantage on this, insofar as they have overplayed their hand.”

Trump seems to be especially weak in the Midwest-and-Pennsylvania Rust Belt that put him over the top in 2016.

“I think Trump thinks that Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana … those states are ‘his states’ because he won them,” said Democratic strategist Jeff Hewitt. “But I think he’s going to be rudely awakened on election day that he’s tied those candidates to himself and he’s sunk them.”

Trump and Republicans have responded to the health-care barrage by insisting that they, too, will protect patients with pre-existing conditions, no matter what their voting records show, and by changing the subject.

Trump’s preferred subjects have been the supposed unfairness of the news media, which he has returned to gleefully calling “the enemy of the people,” and immigration, the issue that polls suggest is paramount to Republican voters. In the last two weeks of the campaign, Trump has used dishonesty and racial fearmongering to motivate his base.

Trump has attempted to gin up anxiety about a shrinking and slow-moving caravan of Latin American asylum seekers, portraying it as a dangerous horde of “very bad thugs” and “unknown Middle Easterners.” He has deployed thousands of troops to the border, supposedly to help with the eventual arrival of these migrants; critics have called this an obvious stunt. He has promised to try to eliminate “birthright citizenship,” which grants citizenship to anyone born on American soil. He has run videos featuring violent mobs, his preferred campaign word for Democratic supporters, and an unauthorized immigrant who is an unrepentant murderer.

It is a return to part of his successful 2016 playbook — but only part of it. Trump was uncharacteristically disciplined in the waning days of the 2016 election, keeping much of the news focus on Clinton. This time, his haphazard race-baiting has unnerved some Republicans in competitive House districts, who would prefer the president and immigration out of the headlines.

“Political malpractice,” tweeted Ryan Costello, a Republican Pennsylvania congress member not running for re-election, warning of the impact on suburban candidates with high numbers of immigrant voters.

The gambit, though, may be a triage attempt focused on saving the Senate. Most of the key races are occurring in heavily white states with a large proportion of very conservative voters, including North Dakota, Montana, West Virginia, Indiana and Missouri.

Walking a tightrope, Democratic candidates in Trump-friendly states have stretched to align themselves with the president on immigration. Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill said she “100 per cent” supports Trump “doing what he needs to do to secure the border.” Indiana Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly said he was open to legislation changing birthright citizenship.

As he did in 2016, Trump is ending the campaign with a rally blitz — this time 11 rallies in eight states over six days, including three rallies planned for Monday. His travel is centred around Senate races in states he won, a sign of his unpopularity in much of the most important House terrain.

Trump’s closing argument that Americans should fear foreigners, or see the left as a mob, has been undermined by the anti-Democrat attempted bombing spree allegedly committed by an American Trump devotee, and the mass murder of Pittsburgh Jews allegedly committed by an American white nationalist. And Trump’s long history of Congress-bashing has complicated his effort to motivate his supporters to vote for members of Congress. At the insistence of his aides, he eventually declared at a rally the first week of October: “I’m not on the ticket, but I am on the ticket, because this is also a referendum about me.”

By Halloween, though, he had taken a long break from suggesting the outcome would say anything about his own popularity. At a rally in Florida, he dutifully read his prepared text about how this was “one of the most important elections of our entire lives.”

Then he improvised: “Although I will say: not as important as 2016. »

Daniel Dale is the Star’s Washington bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @ddale8

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