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Primary elections: new wave of firebrand candidates prepare for 2018 midterm elections under Trump

The most successful candidates thus far are the ones who have taken strong stances on the presidency


Chris Riotta
New York
Monday 15 October 2018 15:05 BST
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A new wave of political candidates – both Democratic and Republican – have gained tremendous momentum ahead of the 2018 midterm elections under Donald Trump.

Their ideologies range from Democratic Socialism to conservative populism. They arrived on the national stage from a vast array of backgrounds and religious affiliations; however, many of them share a singular common trait.

The most successful candidates in recent primaries across the country have virtually all taken strong stances on Mr Trump’s presidency, either supporting or rebuking the current White House wholeheartedly. While the most popular Republican candidates have often backed the administration’s hardline agenda on issues like immigration and trade, a breadth of diverse Democratic hopefuls have added fuel to the “Resistance Movement,” vowing to fight the president at every turn.

Christine Hallquist, a transgender woman who won the Democratic Party’s nomination in Vermont’s gubernatorial primaries, said Mr Trump’s presidency was in part responsible for her recent political success.

“You know, in the physics world we say for every action there is an opposite and opposing reaction, what we’re looking at in our political world is a definite reaction to what happened in 2016,” she said in an interview with CNN. “People like myself and people who wouldn’t normally be involved in politics are rising up all over. I think that’s what a healthy democracy looks like.”

“I’m hoping that, years from now, we can look back and say, ‘Isn’t American democracy wonderful? We survived a despot,’” she continued.

Ms Hallquist’s win — which positions her to face the Vermont incumbent Republican governor come November — wasn’t based solely on her rejection of the president, however.

Nationally, Ms Hallquist is running her campaign as the first transgender gubernatorial candidate and a fierce opponent of conservative, anti-environmental policies. However, the Democrat is focusing on hyperlocal issues when speaking to Vermont voters about policy initiatives, from expanding healthcare access to improving the economy and education system.

Other candidates who have repeatedly spoken out against the Trump administration also enjoyed strong support from a newfound base of Americans they say weren’t involved in the political process until after 2016.

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Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the 28-year-old Democratic Socialist who unseated a 10-term Democrat in the New York primaries, was one of those candidates. The former bartender and organiser for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign ran on a platform of Medicare-for-all, abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement and opposing many of Mr Trump’s most controversial policies.

Her candidacy was not solely based in – nor exclusively successful because of – her rebuke of Mr Trump’s presidency. However, voters may have seen her as an outsider capable of taking on the administration, unlike a career politician poised to become the next Democratic speaker of the House.

Other diverse candidates who stand in direct opposition to Mr Trump also saw unprecedented victories in recent primaries. Jahana Hayes is expected to become the first black woman representing New England in Congress after winning the Democratic nomination this week. Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American Muslim woman who won in Minnesota’s primary, gained prominence after becoming an outspoken voice against Mr Trump’s travel restrictions on several Muslim-majority nations.

The Democratic Party is gaining support nationwide ahead of the midterm elections, with Democratic candidates leading Republicans by 52 percent to 41 percent in a new CNN poll. But there is an arm of the Republican Party that has enjoyed victories leading up to the 2018 midterms: candidates embracing Mr Trump.

Numerous Republican candidates who have aligned themselves with the president have received his endorsements on Twitter, with Mr Trump travelling the country to stump for his most ardent supporters running for office.

Claire McCaskill, the incumbent Democratic senator from Missouri, is now in a dead heat with Josh Hawley, a populist Republican candidate who sailed to victory in the state’s recent primaries. She was previously leading her opponent in the polls before Mr Hawley received Mr Trump’s endorsement and the president joined him in Missouri for a fundraising event.

Mr Hawley has even begun tweeting like the president, referring to his opponent as “#PhonyClaire”.

In Minnesota, former governor Tim Pawlenty lost the nomination he was once expected to receive after referring to the president as “unhinged and unfit” at a campaign event earlier this year. The loss in his support made way for Jeff Johnson, a relative political outsider.

“The Republican Party has shifted,” he said in a speech as he lost. “It is the era of Trump, and I’m just not a Trump-like politician.”

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Republican candidates more closely aligned with Mr Trump’s politics also won gubernatorial primary victories in Minnesota and Kansas this week.

As voters learn more about the candidates vying for political office in 2018, it appears as if Mr Trump’s political presence is a double-edged sword. For those who support the president, aligning with his ideologies could mean a national endorsement, increased fundraising opportunities and more. But candidates also appear to be able to usher in bold new campaign ideas and push their party further from the centre, so long as they stand against the president – at least within the Democratic Party.

For now, it seems the biggest losers in the 2018 midterm elections are candidates afraid to take a stance on Mr Trump — or worse, those who play politics from centre-field as often as possible.

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