The most expensive midterm campaign in U.S. history raced to a finish ahead of Tuesday’s election, as both sides braced for a possible split decision that would hand the House to Democrats and leave Republicans holding onto or expanding their Senate majority.
Partisans were preparing for the unexpected, though, two years after Donald Trump stunned the nation with his surprise win. As candidates, surrogates, outside groups and the two parties frantically worked to turn out their voters, strategists for each party agreed the outcome will be determined by the composition of an electorate that’s showing signs of being larger than normal for a midterm year.
The verdict could dramatically alter the second half of Trump’s first term. If they win at least one chamber, Democrats have pledged to stifle the president’s agenda and start investigations into his finances, administration, and Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
Trump was set to spend Monday trying to protect the GOP’s Senate majority and boosting candidates for governor, with stops in Ohio, Indiana and Missouri. He’s nearing the end of a sprint to 11 rallies in eight states over six days that on Monday will also include a “telephone town hall” for voters in key districts and states.
The president’s strategy, which includes heavy emphasis on divisive issues like immigration, risks backfiring on Republican candidates in suburban swing districts that likely will determine control of the House, yet it may be effective in largely rural states where he remains popular and where many of the closest Senate races are playing out.
Republicans got good economic news Friday in a monthly jobs report that showed non-farm payrolls rose a bigger-than-expected 250,000 in October, and an unemployment rate that held at a 48-year low of 3.7 percent. The report also showed wages, a key metric for many voters, grew 3.1 percent from a year earlier.
Trump readily boasts about the economy, though it hasn’t been the focus of his closing argument to voters. Instead, he’s pushed an unsubstantiated narrative that a dangerous caravan of migrants is about to storm the southern border. It’s part of his bet that immigration, the issue that ignited his presidential campaign, will again mobilize his core supporters.
“There’s no games. Because you look at what’s marching up, that’s an invasion,” Trump said Sunday afternoon in Macon, Georgia. “We’re not letting these people invade our country.”