Midterms 2018: 7 things to look out for in the first major election of Donald Trump’s presidency

Voting is set to take place on 6 November

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Tuesday 23 October 2018 14:14 BST
US Midterms 2018: The five big questions

The 2018 midterms are just two weeks away and races all over the country are heating up - Donald Trump also is in the midst of an unprecedented run of campaign rallies.

Midterm elections, in the middle of the sitting president’s term, have historically been a referendum on the current leader and their party.

However, 2018 could shape up to be a reinforcement for Mr Trump’s particular brand of Republican politics and policies instead.

Democrats have been raising hundreds of millions of dollars in this cycle for what they deem are ‘vulnerable’ seats - both US Senate and US House seats which could turn from Republican ‘red’ to Democrat ‘blue’ and those staid strongholds which are in danger of turning more conservative.

Voter turnout in midterm elections has always been abysmally low, as has turnout in presidential elections compared to the rest of the world.

But, pollsters seem to think Mr Trump’s influence - which has played in a part in more women running for office than ever before on both sides of the political aisle - could have an effect.

Those on the left are angered by his 2016 win, immigration policy to separate families of undocumented immigrants at the US-Mexico border, and the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court despite being accused of sexual assault.

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While Mr Trump’s supporters have been out in full force at his series of “Make America Great” rallies in support of down-ticket candidates.

Here are five things you should keep in mind as you read our full coverage of this important election:

Donald Trump is running for office, too

Mr Trump has repeatedly said at his red hat-filled rallies: “A vote for [your candidate] is a vote for me”.

The president may not officially be on any ballots for another two years but that has not stopped him from throwing his name into the mix in support of Republican candidates for the US Senate and House as well as governors.

It is a campaign strategy which most sitting presidents have not been so bold to take on as Senators and House members are seen as a check on the executive branch of government, not just a blanket endorsement.

Donald Trump phones into Fox and Friends ahead of Midterm elections

However, Mr Trump is counting on packing the federal legislative bodies with his brand of Republicans in order to garner more unwavering support for not only his re-election campaign in 2020 in key battleground states like Ohio, Michigan, and Georgia, but for pushing through controversial legislation like repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare, reinstating his family separation policy which several sitting members of his party were openly against, and a new tax plan.

Control of the House and Senate are at stake and these are the states to watch

Mr Trump’s influence through frequent campaigning and taking and taking more questions from journalists than ever before have certainly raised the stakes for an already crucial election.

The current numbers are this: The 115th Congress which is set to end on 3 January 2019 show Republicans hold 235 seats to Democrats’ 193 in the US House with six vacant seats.

The vacant seats are due to current representatives running for other offices in this election cycle, one member who passed away, and several resignations.

In the US Senate there are 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats, and 2 Independents - counting the late Republican Senator John McCain.

Naturally, both parties want to control both houses of Congress and midterm elections are usually when control turns over. Democrats will be gunning for seats left by Republican members like Blake Farenthold who resigned over sexual harassment allegations.

The entire US House of 435 seats is up for re-election as it is every two years and a third of the US Senate is running again.

Democrats’ vulnerable Senate seats include several hotly contested races: Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Joe Donnelly in Vice President Mike Pence’s state of Indiana, Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, Bill Nelson of Florida, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Bob Casey in Pennsylvania.

It is no coincidence Mr Trump won all those states, some by a large margin, in the 2016 presidential election.

Donald Trump accuses China of interfering in 2018 midterm elections

But Republicans are not without their vulnerable seats in the Senate either as recent votes have proven they are uncomfortable with such a small majority and closer-to-center Senators make them nervous.

Dean Heller, the Senator from Nevada, could be in particular danger of losing his seat as is Ted Cruz of Texas, whose upstart opponent Beto O’Rourke has raised more than double the money in Mr Cruz’s campaign coffers.

Other critical races are in Arizona for both the retiring Jeff Flake and late John McCain’s seats as well as in Tennessee, where candidates vy to fill the retiring Bob Corker’s spot.

The Cook Political Report, a longstanding Washington newsletter which analyses elections, campaigns, and polling data, has labeled those Republican races as “toss-ups”.

The report also said races for Mr Brown, Mr Casey, and Ms Baldwin all “lean Democrat” but the remainder are “toss ups”.

Who becomes governor this year will be important for 2020 races across the board

While the focus is often on US House members and US Senators, governors hold quite a bit of power. There are only 50 of them for the states and four for US territories plus the mayor of the District of Columbia.

When it comes to governors, they, state legislators, and mayors often have a larger impact on people’s everyday lives than the politicians in Washington, DC.

This is important for Mr Trump because he will want to retain all the states he won during the 2016 presidential election and having a governor of a state supporting him will go a long way.

There are 36 states holding gubernatorial elections in 2018. Of those, 26 are currently held by Republicans, nine by Democrats, and one Independent.

Democrats will be defending seats in Colorado, Connecticut, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Republicans will try to hold on to their state leadership positions in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.

According to experts, Democrats have the best chance to gain control in Maine and New Mexico and Republicans have the best chance in Connecticut as current Governor Dan Malloy’s approval rating is below 30 per cent.

Not all Republican governors are likely to blanket endorse the president, however.

The ugly scandal of sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was just the latest incident when Maryland’s Larry Hogan and Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker distanced themselves from the president.

They called on the Senate to postpone a vote on confirming Mr Kavanaugh - who denies all the allegations - breaking with the rest of the party as they both run for re-election in relatively liberal states.

More women are running for office than ever before

If anything clear has resulted from Mr Trump’s 2016 victory, it is the resurgence of the women’s rights movement.

From the day after his inauguration in January 2017 when millions of people - around the world - joined in on a massive protest and march for women’s rights to this year’s unprecedented number of women running for office, the influence his policies and rhetoric have had is clear.

Nearly 600 women have run or are running for office in races around the country and that is only counting US House, Senate, and gubernatorial races.

The majority - up to 75 per cent - are Democrats, but the rest are Republican or third party.

According to Politico, 273 have advanced past their primaries thus far.

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The last time Congress saw this wave was in 1992, dubbed the “Year of the Woman”. What resulted was largely ignored female members or being told how to vote by male colleagues.

But, times have changed and the political climate has gotten not just more female, but also more brown, black, and Asian though white male representation remains the highest.

Voter turnout rates for primaries

Part of the relatively low voter turnout in the US is due to a disillusionment with the people who have traditionally run for office and also the ease of voting in particular states but race, income, education are also important factors.

In 2016, the turnout of the voting age population was an estimated 55.5 per cent - Hawaii had the lowest and Minnesota had the highest.

Voter turnout rates are often even lower during midterms cycles. In 2014, an astonishing 36.4 per cent of eligible voters showed up to the polls.

It was the lowest percentage in 70 years.

Democrats and Republicans alike hope the anger whipped up since Mr Trump has come into office will benefit them and send people to the polls.

As former President Obama famously said: “Don’t boo, vote!”

The celebrity factor

There are several so-called ‘Get Out the Vote’ efforts around the country by both parties, though it has normally been encouraged by Democrats who want to reach poorer and minority populations.

Part of that movement is recruiting celebrities to endorse candidates and Hollywood has by and large supported the left.

This year is no exception with the likes of legend Willie Nelson holding a concert to benefit Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for a US Senate seat.

Some of his more conservative fans got angry but the country music icon simply said: “I don’t care”.

Beto O'Rourke rips into 'liar' Ted Cruz in final debate before midterm elections

Taylor Swift is more known for her shaky track record of failed-personal-relationships-turned-hit-songs, but the but the pop princess came out to endorse Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen and House candidate Jim Cooper in her home state of Tennessee.

She said she was always reluctant to express her political views but wrote in an Instagram post: "due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now."

Kanye West is one who is never shy about expressing his views. In recent months, the rapper and husband of Kim Kardashian West has been seen rubbing elbows in the Oval office and sporting a “Make America Great Again” hat.

Mr Trump even floated the idea of West running for office himself one day.

Most expensive races in the most expensive midterms cycle

The 2018 election has not only been the most watched midterms cycle in US history but also the most expensive.

In terms of raising money, the Texas Senate race between Mr Cruz and Mr O’Rourke has garnered more than $96m in contributions according to the Center for Responsive Politics, with Mr O’Rourke raising $60m of that.

The Florida Senate race between Republican Rick Scott and Mr Nelson has raised nearly $80m, with nearly $55m going to Mr Scott, the current governor.

Reverse those two races for the most amount of money spent on the campaigns thus far.

Mr Scott has spent a whopping $52m of his funds, compared to $17m for Mr Nelson.

Mr O’Rourke has spent $38m to Mr Cruz’s $24m.

And, the election is still two weeks away.

There are several other House and Senate races from Missouri to Indiana which have spent more than $100m combined, but one race remains the top - the Illinois gubernatorial campaign.

By June 2018, Democrat and Hyatt hotel chain heir JB Pritzker and incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner had spent in excess of $200m combined on their race.

With just two weeks to go, Mr Pritzker alone has spent $161.5m.

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