Tuesday’s midterm election is about many things. It’s about health care and immigration. It’s about the economy. It’s about power and who will hold it, both in Washington and in the states. Above all, it’s about something more elemental: what kind of country Americans see today and want to see in the future. That makes these midterms unlike any in the recent past.
Talk to voters almost anywhere about what this election means to them, and the answer almost invariably involves personal feelings about President Donald Trump and perceptions about the overall state of the country. This debate about America’s divisions has been underway for some time, but Trump has raised the emotional level to something not seen before.
This is an election that is being fought in individual districts and states, with traditional tools: money, advertising and boots on the ground. Television ads by Democrats hammer Republicans on this or that issue; Republican ads hammer Democrats. Money is coursing through congressional campaigns at levels not seen before. Voter mobilization is as sophisticated and robust as it has ever been. At the margins, those weapons can make a difference.
But it is the larger question about the values of the nation that has produced what we’ve seen over weeks and months. It is that unsettling, and unsettled, issue that has generated the record amounts of money raised and spent, and the remarkable outpouring of volunteers never before active who are walking precincts and making calls in these final hours – as they have been for months. It is what has motivated record numbers of people in many states to cast ballots ahead of Election Day. Together, those indicators have stamped this campaign as a once-in-a-generation event.
This is a divided country, growing more so under this president. Hostility from those in one party toward those in the other has risen. Divisions between urban and rural America have widened. Men and women are on opposites sides in assessments of the president – including in some marriages – and the gender gap has been at record levels. Education has become a new and significant fault line, dividing those with college degrees and those without.