On eve of midterm election, Democrats, Republicans make their final pitches

Voters cast their votes during early voting at the Frederick Senior Center on October 25, 2018 in Frederick, Md. must credit: Washington post photo by Ricky Carioti

On the eve of the midterm election, Democrats and Republicans scrambled Monday to make their last-minute appeals in a campaign marked by fearful rhetoric about undocumented immigrants and a bitter debate over the divisive presidency of Donald Trump.

In rallies, Trump has talked in apocalyptic terms about the threat of a caravan of migrants slowly making its way toward the U.S. border and chaotic consequences that will occur if Democrats gain control of Congress. On Monday, Trump was scheduled to hit the Midwest with final rallies in Cleveland; Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Cape Girardeau, Mo. - a furious finish to his marathon of 11 rallies in eight states across six days.

And in a nationwide phone call meant to rally supporters Monday morning, Trump ticked off a number of accomplishments on the economy and in other areas, but said "it's all fragile."

Meanwhile, former president Barack Obama and other Democrats are making their own closing arguments, accusing Trump of fearmongering and criticizing Republicans over health care and who deserves credit for the country's recent economic gains.

At stake Tuesday is control of the House and the Senate, 36 governorships and hundreds of down-ballot races nationwide. Dueling rallies this past weekend pitted the president against his immediate predecessor as the two lashed out at each other in highly personal terms.

On Monday, voting rights and ballot security took center stage.

In an early morning tweet, Trump said: "Law Enforcement has been strongly notified to watch closely for any ILLEGAL VOTING which may take place in Tuesday's Election (or Early Voting). Anyone caught will be subject to the Maximum Criminal Penalties allowed by law."

Trump also accused CNN of airing "Fake Suppression Polls" and engaging in "false rhetoric," though he provided no evidence or explanation.

Shortly before Trump's tweets, the Justice Department announced that it would deploy personnel to 35 jurisdictions in 19 states to "monitor compliance with voting rights laws."

Those moves taken together were viewed with suspicion and alarm by some voting rights advocates.

"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.

Lakin and other voting rights advocates also expressed worries that by alleging potential illegal voting - as he has often done in the past despite little evidence it exists - Trump may be setting up a path to undermine the results of Tuesday's elections if Republicans lose.

The governor's race in Georgia continued grappling with political fallout from a "hacking" investigation into Democrats that was launched at the last minute Sunday by Georgia's secretary of state, who also happens to be the Republican gubernatorial candidate.

But neither Brian Kemp's office nor his campaign has provided evidence that Democrats tried to hack the 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."

The focus on the divisive immigration issue and the power shift at stake Tuesday have triggered unprecedented turnout in some areas for a midterm election.

In El Paso, for instance, the 12-day early voting period that ended Friday saw 139,000 El Paso 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 Senate nominee Beto O'Rourke, whose challenge to Republican incumbent Ted Cruz has drawn national attention and a cascade of cash from donors to fuel both sides.

Ilse Adame, 19, a student at the University of San Diego, said she flew back to El Paso last week to cast a ballot during early voting because she had missed the deadline to do a mail ballot.

"This was really important to me and dear to my heart because it's my first time voting and I felt that this election is one of the most important Senate races in America," she said. "People can protest and rally all they want, and that's great, but your voice doesn't really make a change unless you vote."

Fifteen percent of El Paso early voters were under 30, compared to 6 percent in 2014, according to county election data. A similar percentage had not voted in any prior El Paso election.

In a phonecall with more than 200,000 supporters Monday morning, Trump said the the media is casting the election as a referendum on him. Regardless of whether that's true, he said, "that's the way they're going to play it. If we don't have a good day, they will make it like it's the end of the world."

"Get your friends. Get everybody. Go out and vote," Trump told those who dialed into the phone call. "The election tomorrow is very vital because it really is summing up what we've done."

Over the weekend, Trump devoted much of his rallies to personal attacks on his predecessor, saying that Obama "did not tell the truth" when he told Americans that "you can keep your doctor, you can keep your plan" under his signature health-care legislation.

"He said it 28 times, and it wasn't true," Trump told the crowd Sunday in Macon, Ga.

Obama delivered a blistering critique of Trump, accusing the president and Republicans of "just making stuff up" and mocking them for claiming ownership of economic gains that began on his watch.

"The economy created more jobs in my last 21 months than it has in the 21 months since I left office," Obama said in Gary, Ind. "So, when you hear these Republicans bragging about, 'Look how good the economy is,' where do you think that started? Somebody had to clean it up. That's what a progressive agenda did."

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

Abrams spent Monday morning on a media blitz of several networks to address a racist robo-call mocking Oprah Winfrey and her opponent's investigation into hacking allegations.

Over the weekend, Peach State voters received a robo-call from a podcast that has espoused racist and anti-Semitic views in the past - and has targeted voters in contentious races featuring black candidates. The latest call mocked Winfrey, an Abrams supporter who campaigned in Georgia 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 coupled with a dash of anti-Semitism.

Abrams's campaign said the robo-call was a result of "increasing desperation" from people who "prey on people's fears." Kemp has called the robo-calls "vile," "racist" and "absolutely disgusting."

But Abrams said Monday that Kemp has been racially insensitive in the past.

"I think it's a little late for him to repudiate racist remarks given that he's stood with someone wearing an anti-Islam T-shirt," she said on CNN. "He refused to denounce the same man earlier who accused black veterans of not being people who support our country."

A flurry of polls show Democrats holding the edge 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. Democrats need to gain 23 seats to retake the House and two seats to reclaim a Senate majority.

A NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll also released Sunday had a similarly favorable forecast for Democrats, giving them a seven-percentage-point advantage on the question of which party should control the next Congress. It also showed Democrats leading among women - by 55 percent to 37 percent - in a campaign year with a record number of female congressional candidates and in which women voters are expected to be especially crucial.

And on Monday, a Quinnipiac University poll showed a seven-percentage-point lead for the Democratic candidates for governor and Senate in Florida.

In the final days of campaigning, Trump's strategy has been to focus on the highly divisive issue of immigration.

On Monday NBC said it would stop airing a television ad produced by Trump's campaign committee that focuses on immigration, calling it "insensitive."

Trump's campaign had announced late last week that it was spending $1.5 million on the 30-secondTV ad featuring images of Luis Bracamontes, an undocumented immigrant who was convicted of killing two sheriff's deputies in California in 2014, and a migrant caravan moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border.

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

CNN called the ad "racist" upon explaining its decision Saturday not to air it.

The spot appeared during the broadcast of a football game on NBC on Sunday night.

"After further review we recognize the insensitive nature of the ad and have decided to cease airing it across our properties as soon as possible," NBC said in a statement Monday.

At a rally Sunday, Trump took a particularly harsh line on the immigration issue as he vowed to cut foreign aid to Central American nations he said had done nothing to stop a group of migrants traveling toward the United States.

"How about that caravan? Do you want to let that caravan just pour in?" Trump asked in Macon, Ga., as the crowd answered with a chant of, "Build that wall."

The group of migrants now numbers about 4,000 and remains in Mexico, hundreds of miles and weeks away from the U.S. border. Trump has described the approaching caravan as "an invasion," and has ordered more than 7,000 active-duty troops to deploy along the Mexican border in Arizona, California and Texas.

A monthly jobs report Friday showed that hiring and wages grew more than they have in nearly a decade, a boon for Trump and Republicans on the verge of the election. But to the chagrin of some leading members of his party, Trump has responded by de-emphasizing the economy and stoking fears about illegal immigration among his mostly white supporters in an attempt to increase Republican turnout.

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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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