State passes largest expansion of voting rights in decades as Massachusetts affirms transgender protections.
It’s not all about the red v blue. In dozens of states, voters cast ballots on Tuesday on issues ranging from voting rights and climate change to gun control and taxing tech to fund homeless services. Four states will see voters weigh in on the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, while Massachusetts voters will have a chance to reaffirm (or reject) a measure protecting the rights of transgender people.
We’ll be updating this story all night as the results come in, so stay tuned …
Last-minute lawsuits, long lines, voter roll purges, and inconvenient polling places – Americans’ ability to exercise their right to vote has been under pressure since the supreme court invalidated parts of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.
Five states had voting rights issues on their ballots tonight, including Florida, where voters chose to restore the franchise to 1.5 million people who were convicted of felonies and have completed their sentences. Activists who fought to pass Amendment 4 cheered the victory, which represents the largest expansion of voting rights in decades.
Maryland approved a measure that will expand voting rights by allowing same-day registration, and Nevada enacted automatic voter registration when drivers have contact with the department of motor vehicles.
Meanwhile, North Carolina and Arkansas both passed constitutional amendments requiring voters to provide photo IDs to vote – measures that generally have the effect of restricting the voting rights of the poor and elderly.
Tech tax for the homeless
A controversial measure that will levy a tax against the largest businesses in San Francisco to fund housing and services for the homeless has passed. The 0.5% gross receipts tax on companies with revenues over $50m had touched off a battle between the city’s tech billionaires, with the Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff, publicly feuding with Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and other tech titans who complained the tax was unfair.
Another California housing measure, Proposition 10, which would have allowed cities to enact rent control measures, failed.
A Massachusetts civil rights law came under attack this year with Question 3, which sought to repeal the 2016 state law banning discrimination against transgender people. But voters rejected the measure, making Massachusetts the first state to affirm transgender rights in a statewide vote.
It was a tough night for reproductive rights, with voters in two staunchly Republican states approving measures to restrict abortion. Alabama passed a constitutional amendment to recognize the “right to life” of fetuses and deny public funding for abortion. West Virginia also passed a constitutional amendment declaring that the state does not protect the right to abortion and restricting public funding for the procedure. A similar measure prohibiting public funding of abortion was rejected by voters in Oregon.
Legal weed continues to spread across the US, as four more states voted on legalization. Missouri voted to legalize medical marijuana, and Michigan voted to approve recreational use of the drug. North Dakota, which allows medical marijuana, rejected legalization for recreational purposes. We’re still awaiting results from Utah, where a measures legalizing use for medical purposes is leading the polls.
Thirty years after Oregon passed a sanctuary law, barring state and local law enforcement from using public resources for immigration enforcement, voters in the state rejected an attempt to repeal the measure.
Voters in Louisiana elected to require a unanimous verdict from a 12-person jury for a felony conviction. Juries in the state had previously been allowed to convict with 10 out of 12 votes, a remnant of Jim Crow-era laws that disproportionately affected African Americans.
It’s not quite $15 an hour, but hundreds of thousands of workers in Arkansas and Missouri will get raises after voters in the two states approved increases to the minimum wages. In Arkansas, the rate will increase from $8.50 to $11 an hour by 2021; in Missouri the wage will ramp up from the current $7.85 to $12 an hour by 2023.
Efforts to curb America’s addiction to fossil fuel consumption saw little success at the ballot box on Tuesday. In Arizona, a well-funded campaign to require electric utilities to get half their power from renewable sources by 2030 was rejected by voters, and in Colorado, a measure to place restrictions on where new oil and gas wells can be located failed to pass.
Missouri and Utah voters also rejected increases on gasoline taxes. Another major environmental initiative – a carbon emissions fee in the state of Washington – is currently trailing. California voters did manage to reject an attempt to repeal the state’s most recent gas tax increase.
Washington state enacted tough new gun control laws, increasing the minimum age for purchasing a gun to 21 and establishing background checks and waiting periods.
In a blow to factory farms, California’s Proposition 12 passed, establishing minimum space requirements for farm animals. The measure also requires that all egg-laying hens be raised “cage-free” by 2022.
Four states voted on the expansion of Medicaid coverage to more low-income residents, a key aspect of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, that many Republican state governments rejected. So far, voters in Nebraska and Idaho have approved the expansion, and the measure is leading in Utah. In Montana, voters are facing a slightly different question: whether to maintain the Medicaid expansion beyond 2019 and fund it through a tobacco tax. That race is still too close to call.
Tampon tax exemption
And in one small victory for women, Nevada voted to exempt feminine hygiene products from state and local sales taxes.
The 2018 midterms will probably be the most expensive in US history. More than $5.2bn is predicted to be funneled into closely watched races – and an extraordinary amount is coming from just a few individuals.
Political spending has leapt by 35% since the 2014 midterms, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). The center has found that individual political donations account for the majority of campaign cash across the board: they comprise about 71% of donations to Senate races for both Republicans and Democrats and about 61% of donations to House candidates.
While political donations can come in all shapes and sizes – from large to small – it’s the big-ticket players who have an outsized influence in shaping elections and, in turn, public policy.
“Donors get their phone calls answered, is one way of thinking about it,” says Ian Vandewalker, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “We like to think of our democracy as being one person, one vote – the majority rules. But just being rich and being able to write million-dollar checks gets you influence over elected officials that’s far greater than the average person.”
So who are the biggest givers?
“Overwhelmingly, the cast of characters is a familiar one going back years and in some cases, decades,” says Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the CRP, of the 2018 midterms. This includes figures such as the Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and the progressive mega-donor George Soros – but many names may be unfamiliar to the average voter.
The following individuals have given millions on the record, but many of them have also probably given an unknown amount of “dark money” to organizations that can avoid disclosure due to a complex regulatory situation and murky definitions of “political” activity. As of 1 November, five days before the election, here are the top 20 spenders, and what we know about where their money went:
1. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, $113m
Net worth: $31bn Politics: Conservative Bio in brief: Sheldon Adelson is the head of an international casino empire, the Las Vegas Sands, and owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper. He was the largest individual donor to the 2016 Trump campaign and to Trump’s inauguration fund. Midterms behavior: The largest recipients of Adelson’s donations are the Congressional Leadership Fund and the Senate Leadership Fund, both Super Pacs dedicated to electing Republicans. He gave $25m to each.
2. Thomas Steyer and Kathryn Taylor, $50.7m
Net worth: 1.6bn Politics: Liberal Bio in brief: Steyer, a former hedge fund manager, has focused on political and environmental activism since he retired in 2012. Heavily involved in Democratic activism and fundraising for decades, he’s been called the progressive’s answer to the Koch brothers. Midterms behavior: The largest single recipient of Steyer’s donations is his own Pac, NextGen Climate Action, which supports candidates and causes that work to combat climate change. He has given it about $41m so far.
3. Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, $39m
Net worth: Unknown
Politics: Conservative Bio in brief: Founders of a successful shipping supply company, Uline, the Uihleins are “the most powerful conservative couple you’ve never heard of”, according to the New York Times. The Uihleins have been supporting conservative causes for years but have only recently received national attention. Midterms behavior: They’ve given at least $6.7m to the Club for Growth Action, a Super Pac dedicated to supporting anti-big government and “pro-growth” candidates, and at least $8m to Restoration Pac, a Super Pac with a wide range of politically conservative stances. They also give heavily to candidates and causes in their home state of Wisconsin.
4. Michael Bloomberg, $38m
Net worth: $46.1bn Politics: Liberal Bio in brief: Michael Bloomberg is a billionaire businessman and the former mayor of New York City. Despite being a lifelong Democrat, Bloomberg ran for mayor as a Republican in 2001 and then left the Republican party in 2007. He is often seen as a fiscally conservative, socially liberal centrist. Midterms behavior: He has given at least $20m this cycle to Senate Majority Pac, which supports putting Democrats in the Senate, and more than $7m to his own Super Pac, Independence USA Pac, which focuses on gun laws, the environment and education policy.
5. Donald Sussman, $22.8m
Net worth: Unknown Politics: Liberal Bio in brief: Sussman’s hedge fund, Paloma Partners, was the top contributor to Hillary Clinton’s campaign with $21.6m, and he has given millions more to Democratic candidates and causes over the last few decades. Midterms behavior: Sussman has made major donations to Senate Majority Pac, House Majority Pac and Priorities USA Action – all Super Pacs supporting Democratic candidates and causes.
6. James Simons, $18.9m
Net worth: $20bn Politics: Liberal Bio in brief: “Jim” Simons is yet another hedge fund billionaire, and a former mathematician. He founded Renaissance Technologies, from which he retired in 2010. He has been a major Democratic donor for about the last two decades. Midterms behavior: This cycle, some of Simons’ biggest donations have gone to the Senate Majority Pac and the House Majority Pac.
7. George Soros, $17m
Net worth: $8.3bn Politics: Liberal Bio in brief: George Soros, one of the most well-known names in the world of Democratic political funders, is an investor and hedge fund manager originally from Hungary. He donates to various causes through his foundation, the Open Society Foundation. He has been demonized by Donald Trump and his supporters. Midterms behavior: Soros has given millions this cycle to Win Justice Pac, a Super Pac started by a coalition of progressive groups: Planned Parenthood Votes, Center for Community Change Action, Color of Chance PAC and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). He has given large amounts to Priorities USA Action and Senate Majority PAC.
8. Stephen and Christine Schwarzman, $12.8m
Net worth: $13bn Politics: Conservative Bio in brief: Stephen Schwarzman is the founder and CEO of Blackstone Group, an investment company. He is closely connected to the Trump administration, and has been a supporter of conservative causes for about the last decade. Midterms behavior: Schwarzman has given $8m to the Senate Leadership Fund, a Republican Super Pac aimed at maintaining the Republican majority in the Senate.
9. Fred Eychaner, $12m
Net worth: Unknown, but estimated to be at least $500m. Politics: Liberal Bio in brief: Fred Eychaner is a Chicago media entrepreneur and chairman of Newsweb, a company that owns several newspapers and radio stations. He avoids the spotlight more than many big donors, but has been a prominent Democratic funder for about the past decade. Midterms behavior: This cycle, he has given millions to the Senate Majority Pac and House Majority Pac.
10. Kenneth and Anne Griffin, $11m
Net worth: About $9.9bn Politics: Conservative Bio in brief: Kenneth Griffin is the founder and CEO of Citadel, a hedge fund in Chicago. He is active in art philanthropy and is an avid collector, and has been supporting Republican candidates and causes for about the last decade. Midterm behavior: This cycle, he has given at least $2.5m to the Congressional Leadership Fund.
11. Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, $10.1m
Net worth: $134bn Politics: Non-partisan Bio in brief: The Amazon CEO has been designated the “richest person in modern history” by Forbes. Despite his high profile and his enormous wealth, Bezos had not participated heavily in politics before the 2018 midterms. Bezos’s ownership of the Washington Post has made him a frequent target of Trump. Midterms behavior: Almost all of Bezos’s contributions this cycle went to a non-partisan Pac called the With Honor Fund, which is dedicated to getting veterans elected and working towards a “less polarized government”. He also gave $5,400 to his senator, Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington state. His wife, MacKenzie Bezos, has a longer history of small donations to candidates and Pacs.
12. Timothy Mellon, $10m
Net worth: About $1bn Politics: Conservative Bio in brief: Timothy Mellon is the grandson of Andrew Mellon, an entrepreneur at the turn of the 20th century and member of the renowned Mellon family, associated with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Timothy avoids the public eye and runs a transportation company based in New Hampshire. Midterms behavior: Almost all of his contributions in the midterms – $10m – are to the conservative Congressional Leadership Fund Pac, but he has also given several small donations to Republican candidates, and one puzzling donation of $2,700 to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the surprise 29-year-old Democratic congressional candidate from the Bronx.
13. Deborah Simon, $8.9m
Net worth: Exact net worth is unknown, but Forbes estimated the entire Simon family’s wealth at $7.7bn in 2015
Politics: Liberal Bio in brief: Deborah Simon is an heir to a shopping mall fortune made by her father, Melvin Simon, who is deceased. She lives in Indiana and has spent most of her career working at the family company, Simon Property Group. She is known locally for her involvement in progressive politics. Midterms behavior: Some of her largest donations this cycle have gone to the liberal Senate Majority Pac and House Majority Pac funds, and Planned Parenthood Votes.
14. Reid Hoffman, $8.1m
Net worth: About $1.8bn Politics: Liberal Bio in brief: Reid Hoffman is best known as the co-founder of LinkedIn, which he helped start after being an executive at PayPal in its early days. He has been one of the more politically active and outspoken members of Silicon Valley’s tech community. Midterms behavior: His largest donations this cycle have gone to the Senate Majority Pac and House Majority Pac, about $5m combined. He has also given $1m to Forward Majority Action Pac, a fund dedicated to helping Democrats gain majorities in state legislatures. He also gave $10,000 to the Republican party of Massachusetts, and several donations to candidates.
15. George and Judith Marcus, $8.1m
Net worth: $1.4bn Politics: Liberal Bio in brief: George Marcus co-founded a San Francisco-based real estate firm. Despite having been a significant Democratic donor for decades, he has kept a relatively low profile. Midterms behavior: For the midterms cycle, the bulk of his giving – at least $6.5m – has gone to the Senate Majority Pac and House Majority Pac, along with several small donations to candidates from him and his wife.
16. Bernard and Billi Wilma Marcus, $7.9m
Net worth: $5.1bn Politics: Conservative Bio in brief: Bernard Marcus is the co-founder and former CEO of Home Depot. Retired since 2002, he has been an active philanthropist, donating millions to scientific and medical research. He and his wife were major donors to Trump’s election efforts with $7m. Midterms behavior: The couple has given $4m to the conservative Senate Leadership Fund Pac this cycle, along with several other significant donations to Republican Pacs, candidate and party committees.
17. Charles and Helen Schwab, $7.2m
Net worth: $8.8bn Politics: Conservative Bio in brief: Charles Schwab is a financier and highly recognized figure, due to the investment brokerage he founded with his name. He retired as CEO of the company in 2008. Midterms behavior: Schwab’s giving this cycle is made up of several (relatively) small periodic contributions to Republican party committees and Pacs, and donations to Republican candidates.
18. Karla Jurvetson, $7m
Net worth: $8.8bn Politics: Liberal Bio in brief: Karla Jurvetson is a psychiatrist in Silicon Valley, and the wife of Steve Jurvetson, a well-known venture capitalist. Midterms behavior: Karla’s largest donation, of $5.4m, went to Women Vote!, a Super Pac run by the organization Emily’s List, dedicated to electing pro-choice female candidates.
19. Paul Skjodt and Cynthia Simon Skjodt, $6.6m
Net worth: Exact net worth is unknown, but Forbes estimated the entire Simon family’s wealth at $7.7bn in 2015 Politics: Liberal Bio in brief: Cynthia Simon Skjodt is the sister of Deborah Simon, and also an heir to the family’s shopping mall fortune, created by their father, Melvin. She has been an active philanthropist in Indiana, and serves on several boards. Midterms behavior: Her and her husband’s largest donations this cycle are to the House Majority Pac and Senate Majority Pac, with several smaller donations to Democratic party committees and candidates.
20. Ronald and Nina Cameron, $6.5m
Net worth: Unknown Politics: Conservative Bio in brief: Ronald Cameron lives in Arkansas and owns and runs the seventh-largest poultry company in the country, Mountaire Farms, which was founded by his grandfather. Midterms behavior: In the 2014 midterm cycle, Mountaire was the largest corporate donor to the Koch brothers’ Super Pac, Freedom Partners Action Fund, and he was a big supporter of Mike Huckabee in the 2016 primaries. This cycle, he and his wife have given heavily – at least $3m – to another Koch brothers Pac, Americans for Prosperity Action. They also gave $1m to the conservative Congressional Leadership Fund.
Today’s midterm elections will mark two years since Donald Trump was elected President, and its results will be a barometer of how the people of the US think he is faring. In recent weeks birthright citizenship, the migrant caravan and the mail bomber have overshadowed debates and may spell trouble for the Republican party.
The midterm elections, which involve a combination of elections for the US Congress, governorships and local races, take place every two years.
Republicans currently control the House of Representatives and the Senate – the two chambers which make up the US Congress. But pundits are suggesting the Democrats might take control.
With all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 out of the Senate’s 100 seats up for election, as well as 36 state governors, there are a lot of races to keep an eye on.
And with Trump’s approval rating hovering around 40 per cent, a lot could change. Here is our guide on the seats to watch – and when we can expect to see results from them.
When does voting start and end?
People will take to the polls across the 50 states from 1pm GMT today, with polls closing from midnight GMT onwards. Below are the last polling times for each state.
19:00 EST (midnight GMT): Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia
19:30 EST (00:30 GMT): North Carolina, Ohio, West Virginia
20:00 EST (01:00 GMT): Alabama, Conneticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massacheutts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee
20:30 EST (01:30 GMT): Arkansas
21:00 EST (02:00 GMT): Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin, Wyoming
22:00 EST (03:00 GMT): Iowa, Montana, Nevada, Utah
23:00 EST (04:00 GMT): California, Hawaii, Idaho, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington
01:00 EST (06:00 GMT): Alaska
When will we know the results?
The votes will start to be counted as soon as the each polling station closes, which means results will trickle in over the early hours of the morning. We can expect a clear picture on what the elections mean for the country by 8am tomorrow (Wednesday 7th November) GMT.
Which are the seats to watch for the House of Representatives?
The number of seats each US state receives depends on its population size. California, the most populous state, has 53 representatives while seven states – Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming have just one representative.
The Republican Party currently controls the chamber with a 43-seat majority, but it is widely expected that the Democrats will gain control in the upcoming election. The current House has 236 Republicans and 193 Democrats, with six vacant seats.
The Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to win a majority, which is no small accomplishment, but the president’s low approval ratings have given the party reason to hope.
Donald Trump won West Virginia’s 3rd district by 30 points. But it is the Democratic candidate running in the district, which has a long history of coal mining, that is gaining national attention. Richard Ojeda says he voted for Donald Trump in 2016, opposes universal background checks for gun buyers, and is pro-coal.
Mr Ojeda is running against Republican Carol Miller in the open-seat race after the incumbent Republican Evan Jenkins vacated the seat to run for the Senate.
Polling suggests it will be a tight race between the two candidates, but analysts are keeping a close watch to see if a populist Democrat in a pro-Trump area is a winning formula.
Last polls for West Virginia close at 19:30 EST (00:30 GMT).
Republican Representative Mimi Walters is battling to keep hold of her seat against Democrat Katie Porter in the state’s 45th district, Orange County. The number of registered Republicans in the county has consistently declined as its population becomes more diverse.
Ms Walters is one of seven Republicans representing districts in California which Hillary Clinton won in 2016. The Democrats need to take several of these in order to have a chance of regaining a majority in the House.
Pundits are viewing a win in this race as a sign they will do well across Southern California – picking up crucial Republican-held seats. Professor Larry Sabato from the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics has changed his prediction from ‘leaning Republican’ to a ‘toss-up’.
Last polls for California close at 23:00 EST (04:00 GMT).
Minnesota’s 8th district is considered one of the Democrats’ most at-risk seats in November. It is a traditionally Democrat area – former president Barack Obama won the district twice but it swung heavily to Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
The seat is currently held by Democrat Rick Nolan but the 74-year-old is not seeking re-election. The party’s candidate Joe Radinovich, a former state legislator, is facing a tough battle against Republican Pete Stauber, a county commissioner.
Last polls for Minnesota close at 21:00 EST (02:00 GMT).
The race in Texas’ 23rd district will largely focus on one of the Trump administration’s main concerns – immigration. The district contains a third of the US-Mexico border and has the second highest population of ‘Dreamers’ – the term given to undocumented migrants who arrived in America as children and have been granted temporary protection.
The incumbent, Republican Will Hurd, is a former CIA agent who has chosen to distance himself from Mr Trump. His Democratic rival, Gina Ortiz Jones, is a Filipina-American, openly LGBTQ and an Iraq veteran.
Mr Hurd, who became the first African-American elected to Congress from Texas when he was elected in 2015, is tipped to win by a narrow margin in the swing district.
He has distanced himself from the national Republican party and even wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in July stating that the president had been manipulated by Russian intelligence.
Last polls for Texas close at 21:00 EST (02:00 GMT).
Moderate Republicans will be looking to Florida’s 26th district to see whether they can keep hold of a largely Hispanic area in the Trump era.
The incumbent, Carlos Curbelo, is well-liked but Republicans still fear his Democrat opponent, Latin immigrant Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, could sweep to a surprise victory. Hillary Clinton won the district by 16 points in 2015.
Last polls for Florida close at 20:00 EST (01:00 GMT).
What about the Senate?
The US Senate is the upper chamber on Capitol Hill. There are 100 Senators, two from each state, and Republicans currently hold a razor thin majority with 51 seats.
The US Senate writes and passes laws but has a number of other powers and responsibilities, from ratifying treaties with other countries to overseeing investigations of officials and public bodies.
Senators have six-year terms and just 35 seats are up for re-election. Most of these are currently held by Democrats, making it hard for them to make gains.
Senator Dean Heller’s election fight is an interesting one to watch. He is the only Republican senator up for re-election in a state that Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
Senator Heller’s Democratic opponent, Congresswoman Jacky Rosen, has also support from anti-Trump female voters. She is also hoping Nevada’s growing Hispanic population will help her to victory in November.
However she faces an uphill battle in encouraging voter turnout, and Republicans are relying on white rural voters to come out to support Mr Heller.
Last polls for Nevada close at 22:00 EST (03:00 GMT).
Senator Heidi Heitkamp, who is facing re-election in a state Mr Trump won by nearly 40 points in 2016, is considered the most endangered Democrat in the Senate.
Ms Heitkamp will face pressure from conservative voters if she votes against Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, as she has suggested she will. However Ms Heitkamp has touted her previous support for Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, last year.
Her opponent, Kevin Crammer, also has the backing of the president. Mr Trump headlined a fundraiser for the Republican in early September which brought in more than $1 million in donations to his campaign.
Last polls for North Dakota close at 23:00 EST (04:00 GMT).
The race between Democratic Senator Bill Nelson and his Republican challenger Rick Scott is one of the most expensive of the year. Mr Scott, Florida’s governor, has challenged Mr Nelson’s record in Washington and distanced himself from the president so as not to lose out on Puerto Rican voters.
Republicans see the seat as one of their most promising chances of picking up an extra Senate seat and have spent heavily in the race. Polls show the two almost neck and neck – an interesting race to tune into on election night.
Last polls for Florida close at 20:00 EST (01:00 GMT).
Despite being a presidential candidate in 2016, Republican Senator Ted Cruz is now fighting for his political life in Texas. His Democratic challenger – Bete O’Rourke – has brought Mr Cruz’s lead in the deeply red state down to single digits, shocking political pundits.
Mr Trump has overcome his previous animosity with the Senator to lend his support to his campaign. Donald Jnr has already been deployed to campaign for Mr Cruz and the president himself may make an appearance in a bid to bolster support.
Mr O’Rourke, a 45-year-old congressman, has campaigned on a platform of inclusion and optimism, particularly on issues such as immigration. It is a message that chimes with the state’s growing Hispanic population, which currently stands at 39 per cent.
Pollsters still predict a Cruz victory but Mr O’Rourke’s popularity and upbeat campaign rallies have left Republican operatives deeply troubled.
As the final countdown begins to Tuesday’s midterm elections, the contest is turning into a tale of two presidents. The current occupant of the White House is fighting to retain control over Congress. He is also locked in mortal combat with his immediate predecessor, who is battling to hold on to his legacy.
Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, and Barack Obama, the 44th, both took to the stump on Sunday. Their first rallies of the day were separated by 750 miles of interstate highway, but in content and vision they were lightyears apart.
Trump, addressing a crowd in Macon, Georgia, set out his now familiar dystopia of an America overrun with criminal aliens and radical socialists. He unleashed his firepower on Stacey Abrams, the Democrat seeking to become the first black woman governor of any state in the union.
“You put Stacey in there and you are going to get Georgia turn into Venezuela,” Trump said. “Stacey Abrams wants to turn your wonderful state into a giant sanctuary city for criminal aliens, putting innocent Georgia families at the mercy of hardened criminals and predators.”
Obama was in Gary, Indiana. He implied that the existential threat came from his successor himself. Though he did not mention Trump by name, he laid out a picture of today’s politics that was in its own way equally dystopian, led by a man who had no qualms about lying or about playing to people’s fears.
“What kind of politics do we want,” he asked Democrats in a state where Senator Joe Donnelly is struggling to be re-elected. “What we have not seen at least in my memory is where, right now, you’ve got politicians blatantly, repeatedly, baldly, shamelessly lying. Just making up stuff.”
As Obama spoke, his voice hoarse, he banged the podium with the passion of a politician who has seen his legacy unpicked in record time. From his signature Affordable Care Act – dubbed by Democrats with affection and Republicans with equal disdain as “Obamacare” – to his actions on climate change, immigration reform, income redistribution and the composition of the US supreme court, his achievements have been brutally assailed.
Obama ridiculed Trump’s focus in the final days of the campaign on the caravan of Central American asylum seekers making their perilous way to the US border. “Two weeks before the election they are telling us that the single greatest threat to America is a bunch of poor, impoverished, broken, hungry refugees 1,000 miles away.”
But he warned: “Sometimes these tactics of scaring people and making stuff up work.”
He painted the stakes at Tuesday’s election as no less than the future of democracy itself. “There have got to be consequences when people don’t tell the truth. When words stop meaning anything, when people can just lie with abandon, democracy can’t work. Nothing works… Society doesn’t work unless there are consequences.”
Despite their conflicting approaches, Trump and Obama shared one message: that the normally lacklustre and low-turnout midterms could not be more significant this time. As Obama put it: “America is at a crossroads. The character of our country is on the ballot.”
Here’s how Trump put the same idea: “This election will decide on whether we build on the extraordinary prospective we have created or whether we let the radical Democrats take a wrecking ball to our future.”
It seems their message is working, if the response of the electorate is an indication. Some 33 million votes have already been counted in early voting, vastly more than at this stage four years ago. Turnout is on track to be the largest in a midterm election for more than 50 years.
When polling stations open on America’s eastern seaboard at 6am on Tuesday, both main parties have much to win and lose. With all 435 seats of the House of Representatives up for grabs, the Democrats look well-placed to gain the 23 they need to take back control and put a spoke in the wheel of Trump’s ambitions.
A much tougher challenge faces the party in the Senate, where 26 Democratic seats are in play compared with only nine Republican.
The intensity of the fight,on display at the presidents’ dueling rallies, was reflected too on the Sunday political talk shows, which were dominated by disputes over race-baiting. Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told CNN’s State of the Union: “What you see in the closing argument is dog-whistle politics, appeals to racists, just the worst of America.”
The show’s host, Jake Tapper, engaged in a feisty to-and-fro with Perez’s Republican counterpart, Ronna McDaniel. He put to her a racially provocative attack ad made for the Trump campaign and shared on social media by the president last week, which accused Democrats of allowing into the US an undocumented migrant who murdered two police officers in California. In fact, Luis Bracamontes most recently entered the US during the administration of George W Bush, a Republican. The advert was widely condemned.
Tapper asked the RNC chair if she had any concerns about the flagrant inaccuracy of the ad as well as its blatant racist tone. She avoided replying directly, saying: “Regardless. We didn’t want [Bracamontes] in the country. He killed police. That’s not good.”
“Is that the Democrats’ fault?” Tapper pressed.
“It’s a systemic failure.”
When Tapper said that suggested both main parties were responsible, not just the Democrats, McDaniel replied: “Who’s the party saying, ‘Let’s fix it’? Who’s the party fixing all the problems?”
With so much riding on Tuesday night, Trump and Republican leadership have resorted to increasingly extreme language. A return to Democratic control of the House would allow liberals to block much of the president’s agenda, as well as to investigate him aggressively in committees wielding subpoena power.
In addition, 36 state governors are up for re-election and the Democrats hope to win back hundreds of seats in state legislatures.
Despite economic indicators that put unemployment at 3.7%, its lowest level in 49 years, and wage growth at its best since 2009, Trump has taken a big gamble in prioritizing his anti-immigration policies rather than a booming economy. On Friday at a rally in West Virginia, he said: “We have the greatest economy in the history of our country. But sometimes it’s not as exciting to talk about the economy.”
The president has promised in lurid terms anti-immigrant measures, from sending troops to the border with Mexico to making it harder to claim asylum and putting an end to so-called “birthright citizenship”, whereby anyone born in the US is automatically American. His incendiary talk has been matched by others in his administration.
On Saturday, agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue spoke in Lakeland, Florida. He was trying to buoy up the chances of Ron DeSantis becoming governor instead of an African American Democrat, Andrew Gillum. Even had the neck-and-neck race not involved a black candidate, Perdue’s words would have been explosive.
“Public policy matters,” he said. “Leadership matters. And that is why this election is so cotton-pickin’ important to the state of Florida. I hope you all don’t mess it up.”
Florida joined the US in 1845 as a slave state, with half its enslaved black population working on cotton and sugar plantations.
Race is also a big issue in Georgia. Abrams’ opponent, Brian Kemp, is in charge of overseeing elections as secretary of state. In that role he has been accused of attempting to prevent thousands of largely African American residents from voting.
Abrams was asked by CNN on Sunday what she thought about Perdue’s “cotton-pickin” comment. She said: “I think there is certainly a throwback element to the language coming out of the Republican party that is unfortunately disparaging to communities. It may be unintentional, but it signals a deeper misinformation about what Andrew Gillum can accomplish, what I can accomplish.”
As Trump set out from the White House for Georgia, he told reporters his recent spate of rallies, in which he has set out his dystopian view of a nation under siege from “invading” immigrants, had sparked a fire under the conservative base.
“There’s something very interesting that’s happening the level of fervor, the level of fever is very strong on the Republican side,” he said. “There’s a lot of energy out there. I think that the rallies have been the things that have caused this fervor to start. I have never seen such an enthusiastic Republican party.”
Polls continue to indicate that Democrats have a significant lead, though after the embarrassment to pollsters of 2016 any such figures must be handled with extreme caution. The last poll from the Wall Street Journal/NBC News showed the Democrats up by seven points in terms of who respondents wanted to control Congress.
Trump’s low approval rating – CNN puts it at 44% – continues to be a challenge. In 2010 Barack Obama had a rating of 46%. He lost 63 House seats.
WASHINGTON/BEIJING – US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who spoke by telephone on Thursday, expressed optimism about resolving their trade dispute ahead of a high-stakes meeting at the end of November in Argentina.
But within hours of upbeat assessment, the US Justice Department took aim at another Chinese firm it accused of unfair practices, part of an across-the-board pressure campaign by the Trump administration targeting China.
Still, investors cheered the resumption of dialogue and a report that Trump was taking steps to resolve the tariff war, with shares in Asia hitting three-week highs on Friday and the dollar softening.
Trump said on Twitter that trade discussions with China were “moving along nicely,” and that he planned to meet Xi on the sidelines of a G20 summit, in Argentina, after the two had a “very good” phone discussion.
Bloomberg, citing people familiar with the matter, later reported that Trump wants to reach a trade agreement with China at the G20 meeting and that after the call with Xi, he had asked officials to begin drafting possible terms.
The news agency said it was not clear if Trump was easing up on demands that China has resisted, and it cited one person as saying intellectual property theft was a sticking point on a possible deal.
In comments in state media, Xi said he hoped China and the United States would be able to promote a steady and healthy relationship, and that he was willing to meet Trump in Argentina.
“The two countries’ trade teams should strengthen contact and conduct consultations on issues of concern to both sides, and promote a plan that both can accept to reach a consensus on the China-US trade issue,” Xi said on CCTV state television.
Xi was quoted as saying after the call with Trump that they had hoped to expand trade cooperation.
Neither leader specified any details of possible progress in their first known direct discussion in several months.
Trump administration officials have said that trade talks with China cannot resume until it comes up with specific actions it is willing take to meet US demands for sweeping changes to policies on technology transfers, industrial subsidies and market access.
The two countries have imposed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other’s goods and Trump has threatened to put tariffs on the remainder of China’s $500 billion-plus exports to the United States if the disputes cannot be resolved.
Jacob Parker, vice president of China operations at the US-China Business Council in Beijing, said there were plenty of challenges that would require significant negotiations in advance of a meeting between Trump and Xi to ensure success.
“What negotiations have lacked to date has been that (presidential) level of engagement. If President Trump makes an agreement with President Xi, there is nobody above them to overturn it,” he said.
“We’re optimistic this is a potential off-ramp of increasingly antagonistic trade tensions and hope it leads to a pause and new negotiations,” he said.
Tu Xinquan, a trade expert at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics, said he was skeptical that the Trump administration was truly ready to deal, and that other factors, such as the mid-term congressional elections, could be driving statements from the administration.
“The best situation (from a Trump-Xi meeting) would be no further actions, temporarily. But the tariffs already imposed will not go away,” Tu said.
Intellectual property theft
Just after the upbeat readouts of the Trump-Xi call, the Justice Department announced the latest in a list of actions against what the Trump administration calls China’s cheating through intellectual property theft, unfair corporate subsidies and rules hampering US corporations in China.
A Justice Department indictment targeted two companies based in China and Taiwan and three individuals, saying they conspired to steal trade secrets from US semiconductor company Micron Technology Inc.
This week, prosecutors announced an indictment against 10 defendants, including two Chinese intelligence officers and other computer hackers and co-conspirators, who are all accused of breaking into American company computers to steal data on a turbo fan engine used in commercial jetliners.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said China was probably Washington’s biggest long-term security challenge and the United States was engaged in a “multi-pronged effort … to convince China to behave like a normal nation on commerce” and respect international law.
But Trump struck a more affable tone on Twitter after the phone call with Xi.
“Just had a long and very good conversation with President Xi Jinping of China. We talked about many subjects, with a heavy emphasis on Trade,” Trump tweeted. “Those discussions are moving along nicely with meetings being scheduled at the G-20 in Argentina. Also had good discussion on North Korea!”
Earlier this week, Trump said he thought there would be “a great deal” with China on trade, but warned that he had billions of dollars worth of new tariffs ready to go if a deal did not materialize.
The United States has imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods, with duties on $200 billion of the total set to increase to 25 percent from 10 percent on Jan. 1, 2019.
China has responded with retaliatory duties on $110 billion worth of US goods.