WASHINGTON — The fierce political battle for control of Congress is entering its homestretch, and President Donald Trump is in the thick of it, holding raucous rallies and ramping up rhetoric on issues like immigration, the migrant caravan and tax cuts for the middle class.
The president’s critics say that he’s stoking familiar fears, and that talk of a tax cut is a mirage, because the House and Senate are not in session on Capitol Hill.
Republicans and Democrats believe the president — for very different reasons — is helping to energize their respective bases going into Election Day. Both sides also say the recent fight on Capitol Hill over Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court — the “Kavanaugh effect” — is motivating potential voters.
In House, poll shows a tight margin
A new Washington Post-Schar School poll released Tuesday indicates the struggle for control of the U.S. House of Representatives remains tight. The survey of voters in the 69 most-contested House districts in the country shows that 50 percent support the Democratic candidate in their district, while 47 percent back the Republican. That’s within the survey’s 3-percentage-point margin of error.
The poll also found that six in 10 likely voters from each of the political parties say they are more motivated to vote as a result of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, which included his vehement denial of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony that he sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers.
Many political observers still believe Democrats have the edge in taking the House, while the party’s chances of wresting control of the Senate from the GOP seems to be diminishing.
Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said he still believes Democrats will probably get the 23 votes they need to gain control of the House. But he doesn’t foresee an overwhelming sweep by any means.
“We have to be a little cautious about projecting that, because there are so many close races,” he said in an interview with WTOP, discussing a possible 30-seat gain for the Democrats. “If a handful of close races go the other way, maybe the Democratic gain is only 21 or 22 and that would be the difference between the House flipping and not flipping.”
He added that while Democrats are favored, they are “not overwhelmingly favored.”
‘The Senate battlefield is very favorable for Republicans’
On the Senate side, Kondik said it’s looking more likely that the Republicans will hold onto their slim 51-49 majority — and possibly even gain a few seats.
Democratic senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota are all now considered vulnerable. Trump won all of those states by double digits in 2016. The latest polls in Texas also show Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) leading Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke.
“The Senate battlefield is very favorable for Republicans. Almost all of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats are on the ballot this year,” Kondik said. “I think that Republicans are hoping that they can squirrel away an extra two or three Senate seats this year, which would insulate them from potential losses in 2020 and 2022, when they’re the ones defending the bulk of seats at play in those elections.”
Kondik also said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Senate elections turned out to be a wash, with Republicans retaining the advantage they hold now.
Whatever happens, voter interest in the midterm elections appears to be very high. A Washington Post-ABC News poll earlier this month found that 77 percent of registered voters said they are certain they will vote in November or that they had already voted. That’s up from 65 percent polled in October 2014.
The 2014 midterm election turnout was the lowest since 1942, less than 40 percent.
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