Emboldened GOP makes closing pitch, as Democrats try to head off big losses

The Japan News

A tempestuous midterm campaign in which candidates clashed over inflation, abortion, crime and other divisive issues barreled toward its conclusion Monday, with Republicans making final appeals to install new leadership in Congress and Democrats racing anxiously to try to head off large-scale losses.

As candidates for state and federal offices barnstormed across key battlegrounds, officials in both parties agreed that Republicans were in strong position to retake the House, needing to pick up just five seats to flip the chamber. The fate of the 50-50 Senate and the outcome of closely watched gubernatorial contests were more uncertain, sending both sides into a scramble to win every possible vote.

President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump hit the trail once more Monday night, as both men eyed a potential 2024 rematch. Biden, who has stuck to mostly blue states amid his low approval ratings in swing areas, continued that trend with an appearance in Maryland. Trump was in Ohio, where he campaigned for J.D. Vance, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, and other GOP candidates. There, he criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), listed grievances and said he would soon make a “very big announcement.”

In delivering their closing pitches, the candidates hewed largely to the themes they had emphasized throughout the campaign. Democrats eviscerated their GOP opponents as extremists, highlighting their opposition to abortion rights and alignment with Trump. They also issued new warnings not to let Trump and his allies distort the state of close elections that might potentially require lengthy vote counts.

“These election deniers are not only trying to deny you the right to vote, they’re trying to deny your right to have your vote counted,” Biden said at an event for Wes Moore, the Democratic nominee for governor of Maryland. “Let me tell you something, you can’t only love your country when you win.”

Republicans slammed Democrats over the high cost of gasoline and other goods and the rise in violent crime in some places on their watch. “This fundamental transformation of America is fundamentally destroying this country,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on the trail in Waukesha, Wis., after bemoaning high energy costs. “And we know it and that’s why we’re going to vote in the polls.”

Johnson, running in a race seen as key to determining Senate control, was joined by former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, a potential 2024 presidential hopeful. Together they argued that Democratic control of Washington has led the country in the wrong direction.

Johnson’s Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D), assailed the two-term Republican senator as “self-centered” and “arrogant” and said that Johnson had offered a “callous response” when he said that women could cross state lines if they object to state abortion bans.

“We’re leaving no stone unturned. It’s all gas, no brakes for the next 35 hours,” Barnes said.

In Milwaukee, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who is also in a tight race, namechecked Trump several times in his final message to voters, warning that his GOP opponent, Tim Michels, is “tied at the hip” to the former president, who has endorsed the Republican hopeful. Evers predicted Trump would mount another presidential run and urged voters not to buy in if the 45th president makes false claims about the vote count.

“Don’t let Donald Trump talk about the idea that – if it’s going late into night – that somehow somebody’s in the backroom in Milwaukee or Crandon screwing with – screwing with the deal,” Evers said. “It is not is not the case. It just takes longer to do absentee ballots. Period.”

Wisconsin was one of several states where competitive races neared the finish line on Monday. Democrats are defending hotly contested seats in Georgia, Nevada, Arizona and New Hampshire, while hoping to flip seats in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Photo for The Washington Post by Caroline Gutman
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, joined by Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Pa.), stops by a canvassing event in Philadelphia to thank volunteers. Fetterman is in a tight race with Mehmet Oz for U.S. Senate.

In Pennsylvania, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, stopped by a canvassing event in Philadelphia on an unseasonably warm morning to thank volunteers. He spoke briefly, shook hands and posed for a few photos before staff ushered him away. Fetterman, who is still recovering from a May stroke, told supporters, “I got knocked down [from] the stroke, but we’re back up and we’re taking it all across.”

In a similar fashion to Evers, Fetterman’s campaign sought to ease election night anxieties in a memo saying that smaller, more conservative counties will have results earlier than more populous, liberal ones, creating a “red mirage” that the Republicans were winning.

Polls show a close race, with Republican Mehmet Oz gaining ground on Fetterman in recent weeks as he has attacked the Democrat on crime and other issues. Nella Cottman, a Fetterman volunteer who was signing in canvassers Monday morning, said she was nervous about the election. “I don’t know what to think about the polls. It’s kind of scary. Let’s face it, the stake are higher, there’s a lot at stake.”

At an evening rally in the Philadelphia suburbs, Oz told a large crowd, “Washington is getting it wrong because there are too many extreme positions in Washington, too much out there pulling us away from where the real answers lie. I will bring balance to Washington.”

He appeared with Haley, who joined him after campaigning in Wisconsin. On Sunday, Oz campaigned with two centrist congressional Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania. But Oz also has campaigned with polarizing figures and election deniers, appearing Saturday with Trump and GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, who espouses Christian nationalist views and far-right positions.

Pennsylvania Republicans voiced confidence Monday. Bucks County Chairwoman Pat Poprik said there had been an influx of people looking for Oz and Mastriano yard signs in the past 10 days. And Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), whose retirement handed Democrats their best chance to flip a GOP-held Senate seat, predicted a good night for Republicans.

“I think most of the really close races are going to break for Republicans, undecided voters will break to Republicans, and we’re going to look back and say the dominant issue was economic anxiety due to massive inflation and concerns about security and crime,” Toomey said.

In Ohio, Vance drew together his main campaign messages on inflation, crime and border security, predicting he would prevail over Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan in the Senate race there.

“I think we’re going to win big,” Vance said to a cheer from the crowd. “When I think about what we’re fighting for tomorrow, it’s to ensure the American Dream survives into the next generation.”

Ryan, for his part, held events across the state Monday, culminating with a rally in his hometown, Youngstown.

Trump, appearing with Vance, called Pelosi “an animal,” who “impeached me twice for nothing.” For many years, Pelosi has been the target of vicious attacks from Republicans. Late last week, an assailant broke into her home allegedly looking for her and violently assaulted her husband, Paul.

Later in the rally, Trump brought Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine onstage, prompting boos from some in the crowd. DeWine, a more moderate Republican, is favored to win reelection, polls show.

After telling people close to him Monday that he might announce his 2024 presidential candidacy at the rally, Trump said toward the end of his speech that he would be making a “very big announcement” on Nov. 15 at his Mar-a-Lago home in Florida.

In Nevada, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who is in a difficult race against Republican challenger Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general, campaigned with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

“There’s people running for office that want to take away our rights, that want to roll back our protections,” Cortez Masto warned in Henderson, Nev. Buttigieg sounded similar notes, saying the election poses “the question of whether we who are alive today will turn out to be the generations that live to see the high watermark of rights and freedoms, after 250 years of expansion across America.”

Laxalt spent the eve of the election in Washoe County, on the western side of state, where he plans to vote in Reno on Tuesday morning. “We’ve run a really strong race,” Laxalt said in an interview on Fox News Channel on Monday afternoon, citing his focus on inflation and tying Cortez Masto to Biden.

In Arizona, GOP Senate candidate Blake Masters and gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake have touted Republicans’ momentum in the home stretch – reflected in Senate race polling that has narrowed to a toss-up in recent weeks.

Masters’s campaign recently sent out a fundraising appeal from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), an ideological ally who joined Masters on the trail last week. Masters “understands the threats facing our country,” the email blast attributed to Hawley reads, “and he’ll stop at nothing to make sure the Left can’t destroy the American way of life.”

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), meanwhile, has focused his closing message toward those in the middle, appealing explicitly to Republicans. On Monday he held a “Republicans for Kelly” event in Phoenix with supporters including Jack McCain, the son of the late Republican senator John McCain, who was known for working with Democrats.

“Arizona gets some headlines for being too far left or too far right, and it’s unfortunate because the real Arizona is right in the middle,” said Sharon Harper, a former campaign chair for Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey who helped lead Kelly’s transition team after his election in 2020.

In Georgia, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) used his closing pitch to slam his GOP opponent Herschel Walker for his association with controversial GOP figures who have made inflammatory, divisive comments.

“I’m saying to you that Herschel Walker is demonstrating to you what kind of senator he would be based on the company he’s keeping,” Warnock told a crowd of about 70 supporters gathered on the back patio of a local tavern, with more than 40 members of the press attending.

Meanwhile, Walker on Monday was making his closing pitch to voters at an evening rally in Kennesaw, Ga., with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ben Carson and conservative political commentator Clay Travis.

In the battle for the House, many Democrats were bracing for Republicans to seize power. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who hopes to win the Speaker’s gavel if the GOP takes over, tweeted Monday evening that Democrats were paying a political price for the covid-related restrictions they promoted.

Democrats scrambled to save vulnerable members Monday. Former president Bill Clinton visited South Texas to campaign for Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) in the border city of Laredo, followed by a rally with the Democratic candidate for 15th Congressional District, Michelle Vallejo, to the east in Edinburg.

Clinton warned the Laredo crowd that if Republicans capture the House majority, they might cut Medicare and Social Security and dismantle the Affordable Care Act. “Your future is under threat, and so is my grandchildren’s,” he said.

Photo for The Washington Post by Sergio Flores
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks to the media with congressional candidates Monica De La Cruz, Mayra Flores and Cassy Garcia at the Radisson Hotel at the Take Back The House Dinner in McAllen, Texas, on Sunday.