US campaigns in high gear three days before congressional elections

Campaign signs are seen outside a polling station on the last day of early voting. Photograph:( Reuters )

Reuters Washington, USA Nov 03, 2018, 10.35 PM (IST)

US congressional candidates hammered into the homestretch of a bruising campaign season on Saturday, with Democrats focused on protecting a 2010 healthcare law while President Donald Trump touted economic growth and sounded dire warnings on immigration.

Control of both houses of the US Congress, currently dominated by Republicans, and 36 governors' offices will be at stake when Americans vote in Tuesday's elections. Interest has been unusually high for a non-presidential election year, with early voting running well ahead of past cycles.

Opinion polls and nonpartisan forecasters generally show Democrats with a strong chance of taking the 23 additional seats they would need for a majority in the House of Representatives, which they could use to launch investigations into Trump's administration and block his legislative agenda.

Republicans are favoured to retain control of the Senate, whose powers include confirming Trump's nominations to lifetime seats on the Supreme Court.

Trump was due to campaign with Senate candidates in Montana and Florida, on the fourth day of an 11-rally tour largely focused on states he carried in 2016, where Republican challengers are trying to unseat Democratic incumbents.

"Heading to Montana and Florida today! Everyone is excited about the Jobs Numbers - 250,000 new jobs in October. Also, wages rising. Wow!" Trump said on Twitter early Saturday.

The Labor Department on Friday reported sharply better-than-expected job creation in October, with the unemployment rate steady at a 49-year low of 3.7 per cent and wages notching their best annual gain in almost a decade.

Republicans in many competitive suburban districts have tried to focus their campaign messages on the robust economic growth, though in his campaign appearances Trump has also focused on his hard-line immigration stance as he looks to stem the illegal and legal flow of people into the United States.

Congressional candidates campaigned in a whirlwind close across the country: in Virginia, Democrat Jennifer Wexton greeted voters in the Manassas Veterans Day parade; in New Jersey Republican Jay Webber met them in a diner, and in Minnesota Republican Pete Stauber went door to door urging people to vote.

EARLY VOTING UP SHARPLY

As of Friday night, almost 32.4 million people had cast ballots early, according to The Election Project at the University of Florida, which tracks turnout. That is up more than 50 per cent from the 20.5 million early votes cast in all of 2014, the last federal election when the White House was not at stake.

Trump on Friday appeared in West Virginia with Patrick Morrisey, who is seeking to unseat Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. That marked his third campaign appearance in that state.

His Saturday visit to Belgrade, Montana, to pump up the campaign of Matt Rosendale, the Republican state auditor challenging Democratic US Senator Jon Tester, will be his fourth to Montana.

Some analysts said the president's repeated visits to states that he won in 2016 were a signal Republicans were worried about keeping control of Congress.

"It's not a good sign for Republicans if they have to spend all these resources for a seat they shouldn't have to be fighting for," said Simon Haeder, a professor of political science at West Virginia University, in a phone interview. "That should be a solid Republican seat."

In Florida, Trump is due to campaign for Governor Rick Scott, who is trying to unseat Democratic US Senator Bill Nelson, and US Representative Ron DeSantis, who is running for governor against Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

Trump's Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, on Friday campaigned with the Florida Democrats, telling voters that only his party would defend the 2010 healthcare law that was his signature domestic achievement.

The still-energetic but visibly graying 57-year-old former president also warned against the politics of fear and criticized dishonesty in campaigning - comments directed at Trump, though Obama did not name him.

"We all - we all try to put a positive spin on things. But what we have not seen, the way we're seeing right now, is politicians just blatantly, repeatedly, baldly ... shamelessly lie," Obama said. "Just making stuff up. That's what they're doing right now, all the time."

Story highlights

Control of both houses of the US Congress, currently dominated by Republicans, and 36 governors' offices will be at stake when Americans vote in Tuesday's elections. Interest has been unusually high for a non-presidential election year, with early voting running well ahead of past cycles.