WASHINGTON — Americans are poised to head to the polls for the first time since Donald Trump was elected President. The stakes are high: the Republicans risk losing control of Congress, while Democrats remain conflicted on the best strategy to regain influence in Washington.
These are the states and storylines for Canadian observers to keep an eye on Nov. 6.
He's not on the ballot, but Trump might as well be — which is why Democrats have been focusing their campaign efforts on college-educated white women, arguably the most motivated segment of the American electorate after two years of a famously divisive and misogynist president. Add to the mix the against-all-odds confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in spite of high-school sexual assault allegations from the credible Christine Blasey Ford, and you have a powerful voting bloc capable of — and widely expected to — overturn the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Can Trump's all-out effort to mobilize his base, comprised heavily of non-college-educated men, break up the so-called Blue Wave?
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Thanks to term limits, change is coming to Michigan regardless of the outcome. Former Democratic Senate minority leader Gretchen Whitmer is battling rival Bill Schuette to succeed the term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, while some polls suggest Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, is facing a challenge from Republican challenger John James. Michigan is one of eight states bordering the Great Lakes that belong to the 2008 Great Lakes Compact, an interstate agreement with Ontario and Quebec to monitor the quality and quantity of Great Lakes water. "Usually it's a relatively bipartisan issue, but it could be impacted by who wins the gubernatorial races in particular," said Capri Cafaro, executive in residence at American University's School of Public Affairs and a former state senate Democrat in Ohio, another signatory.
Also on the ballot in Michigan — as well as another key border state, North Dakota — are measures to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana. The drug remains illegal at the federal level, which is why crossing the border has become more complicated for Canadians working or partaking in the newly legalized pot industry. But as legalization looks poised to spread to more and more states, it can only help expedite action on the federal front, which some observers, including former Trump spokesman Anthony Scaramucci, expect the president to take after the midterms.
Crossing the U.S. border has become complicated for Canadians working in legal cannabis. Story continues after video.
While midterm elections typically generate less voter interest than their presidential counterparts, 2018 is already bucking the trend. In the 37 states plus Washington, D.C., where some form of early voting is allowed, more than 31.5 million ballots had already been cast as of Saturday, with 22 states and D.C. exceeding turnout levels from 2014. In closely watched Missouri, for instance, projections anticipate turnout of 55 per cent, the highest in nearly 25 years.
One of the most critical elements of Donald Trump's remarkable 2016 victory was his ability to flip blue-collar Ohio, long a critical battleground that the Republicans won by eight points two years ago, thanks in large measure to his "America First" trade mantra. Whether Democrat challenger Richard Cordray can wrest the governorship away from opponent Mike DeWine — two-term Republican Gov. John Kasich has reached his term limit — depends largely on whether Cordray's focus on workers' rights can overthrow working-class fondness for the president.
It's not a ballot issue for Americans, who have long since moved on. But with the deal still requiring ratification in all three countries and Section 232 tariffs on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum exports still in place, there are more than enough loose ends to keep stakeholders near the edge of their seats. Few experts anticipate any problems in Congress even if the Republicans lose the House; it's less an issue of 'if' than of 'when.' And 'when' is important, given the ongoing impact of tariffs — deferred, to a degree, by a strong domestic economy — and U.S. farmers keen to have access to export markets in Mexico and Canada.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland recently spoke about lifting steel and aluminum tariffs. Story continues after video.
When Canadians contemplate all their recent NAFTA angst, the dairy-drenched border state of Wisconsin often springs to mind — and gratitude to Trump for a U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that provides better access to export markets could well play a role Tuesday. But Wisconsin is intriguing for a different issue, one near and dear to Canada's heart: health care. Republicans like Gov. Scott Walker, a Trump ally and a vociferous critic of the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, have been desperately trying to convince voters they won't eliminate Obamacare's protection for people with pre-existing conditions. Walker is in a pitched battle with Democratic rival Tony Evers.
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Deep in the heart of this traditionally Republican bastion is one of the marquee matchups of the 2018 midterms: the Canadian-born Republican senator and Trump tormentor-turned-ally Ted Cruz versus young upstart Democrat challenger Beto O'Rourke. Cruz has a fairly comfortable lead in the polls, but the very fact that O'Rourke has given Cruz a scare underscores the fact that Democrats, fuelled in part by O'Rourke's surge and energized young and Latino voters, are challenging Republicans all over in the increasingly progressive Lone Star state.
With files from HuffPost Canada
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