Both parties make final pitches on eve of midterm election

Washington Post

President Donald Trump called for voters to "unite behind our proud and righteous destiny as Americans" by supporting Republicans in Tuesday's election, a final attempt to energize his base amid signs of trouble for some GOP candidates.

Trump was upbeat Monday afternoon as he addressed the first of three final rallies in Ohio, Indiana and Missouri on the eve of the midterms. He has used apocalyptic rhetoric in recent days to describe what's at stake for the country.

"We are going to work, we are going to fight, we are going to win, win, win," he told supporters in Cleveland.

The final three-state swing focused on states that will be key to the new Senate majority. Trump has acknowledged that Democrats could win the House, where they need a net gain of 23 seats. GOP officials and strategists voiced cautious optimism Monday about keeping the Senate, where Democrats need a net gain of two seats.

At stake Tuesday is control of Congress, 36 governorships and hundreds of down-ballot races nationwide.

Earlier Monday, Trump framed the vote as a referendum on his presidency so far, pointing to several accomplishments but saying "it's all fragile."

"In a certain way, I am on the ballot," Trump said in a phone call with supporters. "Whether we consider it or not, the press is very much considering it a referendum on me and us as a movement."

Some GOP strategists said they wished Trump would talk more about the booming economy. But in recent weeks, the president has focused his messaging on illegal immigration, the caravan of roughly 4,000 migrants making its way toward the U.S.-Mexico border and the possibility of voter fraud, though there is little evidence that it exists.

At a Northern Virginia campaign rally, former president Barack Obama said the election will define the soul of America, as other Democrats accused Trump of fearmongering.

"The character of this country is on the ballot," Obama said, his voice hoarse from a flurry of campaign stops around the country. "The politics we expect is on the ballot. How we conduct ourselves in public life is on the ballot."

Both parties spent Monday closely monitoring the handful of battleground races that will determine control of the House and Senate.

In the battle for the upper chamber, GOP operatives watched nervously amid signs of a tightening race between incumbent Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, and state attorney general Josh Hawley, a Republican.

Trump is scheduled to hold his final rally on Monday night in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, in hopes of giving Hawley one more boost. With no early voting option in the state, the outcome will be decided by how voters feel Tuesday.

"The president doesn't engage in races that are surefire wins or surefire losses," one person familiar with Trump's political strategy said late last week, asking for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record. "That race is right in between . . . That race is neck and neck."

Republican leaders have been confident in flipping a Senate seat in North Dakota, where GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer has led incumbent Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in polling.

But there was far less certainty about the likely outcomes in other competitive contests. GOP operatives noted that the broader political mood in some battleground races seemed to be moving in Democrats' favor, at least marginally.

Several polls showed Democrats holding an edge, at least in their bid to retake the House.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday showed that 50 percent of registered voters prefer Democratic House candidates, compared with 43 percent for Republicans.

A NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, also released Sunday, gave Democrats a seven-point advantage on the question of which party should control the next Congress. It showed Democrats leading among women, a pivotal voting bloc this cycle, 55 percent to 37 percent.

The Justice Department announced Monday that it would deploy personnel to 35 jurisdictions in 19 states to "monitor compliance with voting rights laws," a move that was viewed with suspicion and alarm by voting rights advocates.

Trump tweeted that law enforcement has been "strongly notified" to watch for illegal voting and that anyone "caught" would be subject to the "Maximum Criminal Penalties allowed by law."

"Given Trump's past animus toward immigrants and minorities, it's certainly not a stretch to think these warnings about illegal voting along with DOJ's announcement could be intimidating to voters and scare them from the polls," said Sophia Lin Lakin, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Voting Rights Project.

On immigration, Trump has been equally aggressive, calling the migrant caravan an "invasion."

Last week, he ordered more than 7,000 active-duty troops to deploy along the border in Arizona, California and Texas, and released a campaign ad that was later pulled off the air by NBC and Fox News, which called it "racist." CNN refused to air the ad.

The 30-second television spot features images of Luis Bracamontes, an undocumented immigrant who was convicted of killing two sheriff's deputies in California in 2014, and the migrant caravan.

"Stop the caravan. Vote Republican," the ad concludes.

Cynthia Jurado, a 22-year-old political independent from Des Moines, said Monday that she's voting against Republicans in part because of this kind of rhetoric on immigration.

"Nowadays I see a lot of racism," she said. "My family experienced some of it as well. This started happening after the presidential election and I don't think people should have to fear."

Jurado said her parents and a lot of her relatives are immigrants.

"They're very nice people. It's not true that they're rapists or anything. I'm trying to get my voice out for them as well," she said.

Some areas of the country are already experiencing unprecedented turnout as the clock ticks toward Tuesday morning.

In El Paso, for instance, the 12-day early voting period that ended Friday saw 139,000 residents cast ballots - more than three times the 2014 early voting turnout. The town has historically had among the lowest turnout rates among major U.S. cities, but it is now on track to at least double its total 2014 turnout of 82,000 votes.

El Paso is home to Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke, whose challenge to Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz has drawn national attention and a cascade of cash from both parties' donors.

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Minnesota has seen a similar jump in voter numbers, with more than 539,000 ballots cast so far, a whopping 129 percent increase from 2014. Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, tweeted that the state was "on the verge of shattering the old record by surpassing the raw total for 2016."

At one of the early voting centers in Eagan, Minn., the parking lot was already full Monday morning after a weekend of long lines. Many voters said they were eager to weigh in on Minnesota's hotly contested race pitting Republican Rep. Jason Lewis against Democrat Angie Craig in the 2nd Congressional District.

Jeff Schuette, 54, a Republican stockbroker from Eagan, called the race a bellwether for the country. If Lewis wins, Schuette said, he thinks Republicans will hold the House.

"It's so close," Schuette said. "Every race is to the wire."

At the same polling place, Joe Panzarella, 42, said he saw his votes for Democrats as a check on Trump.

"No one's controlling him. He needs to be stopped," said Panzarella, adding that Trump's inflammatory rhetoric is "getting out of hand" and inciting violence.

"It's completely wrong. [He's] racist, against women, LGBT, immigrants," he said.

Both Trump and Obama have campaigned especially hard in Georgia, where the close race for governor has drawn national attention.

Democratic candidates continued to grapple with political fallout from a "hacking" investigation into their party that was launched at the last minute on Sunday by Georgia's secretary of state, who also happens to be the Republican gubernatorial candidate.

Neither Brian Kemp's office nor his campaign has provided evidence that Democrats tried to hack the voting system.

Stacey Abrams, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that her opponent's investigation of possible hacking of the state's voter registration system is an attempt "to distract voters with a desperate ploy."

Abrams also spent Monday morning addressing a racist robo-call mocking Oprah Winfrey, who campaigned for her last week.

"This is the magical Negro Oprah Winfrey asking you to make my fellow Negress Stacey Abrams the governor of Georgia," the robo-call begins, before spewing nearly 60 seconds of racism and anti-Semitism.

The Washington Post's Anne Gearan in Macon, Georgia; Robert Moore in El Paso, Texas; Felicia Sonmez in Washington; and Vanessa Williams in Augusta, Georgia, contributed to this report.

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