National News

Midterm Election Updates: Candidates Make Their Final Push to Voters

Posted November 3, 2018 7:19 p.m. EDT

After all the debates, rallies, ads and barbs, the United States is entering the final stretch of the 2018 midterm elections. On Tuesday, voters will choose the winning candidates for 435 seats in the House of Representatives and nearly three dozen seats in the Senate. Thirty-six states will elect governors this year, including in high-profile contests in Florida and Georgia.

Here are updates from the campaign trail.

— A Purple Flying Unicorn Discovered in Texas

HOUSTON — There’s a new type of voter causing varying degrees of panic and joy in Texas: Beto-Abbott voters.

Some Republican voters — no one knows how many — are supporting a Republican for governor and an underdog Democrat for U.S. Senate. It’s an unusual phenomenon that has a lot to do with Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republican incumbent facing Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas.

Cruz’s far-right attack-dog persona, failed bid for president and embrace of President Donald Trump, a former rival who has insulted him and his family, has made the senator unappealing to a subset of moderate Republicans. Gov. Greg Abbott, meanwhile, remains one of the most popular Republicans in the state.

Cruz and his supporters have been confident he will win re-election and dismiss Beto-Abbott voters as fictional creatures. “I think that’s a purple flying unicorn,” Cruz said in early October. “A media creation.”

We’d like to introduce Cruz to a bona fide purple flying unicorn: Charles N. Starnes, an economics professor at Wayland Baptist University in the West Texas city of Plainview. Starnes, 70, has been a Republican since the 1960s and voted for President Richard Nixon, President Ronald Reagan and Mitt Romney, among others. He already cast his ballot for Abbott and O’Rourke during the early voting period that ended Friday.

One moment was instrumental for Starnes. He met O’Rourke months ago, when the congressman held a town hall in the nearby town of Floydada. In red West Texas, Democratic politicians don’t hold many town halls.

“He responded well to the questions,” Starnes said. “They were all balanced responses and thoughtful responses rather than political dogma. I want somebody who will think through the issues. I don’t think Cruz pays any attention to what the state of Texas needs. He’s part of the Washington establishment.”

Starnes hasn’t been bashful about his vote. He’s got a Beto sign in his front yard.

— Manny Fernandez and Mitchell Ferman

— Racist Calls Target Stacey Abrams

ATLANTA — Hours before Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who is vying to become the first black woman elected governor anywhere in the United States, took the stage with former President Barack Obama on Friday night, phones began to ring in Georgia.

If people answered, they heard a minute-long stream of racist vitriol, including that Oprah Winfrey, who campaigned with Abrams on Thursday, was “the magical Negro” trying to elevate her “fellow Negress.” The call said it was the work of a white supremacist website that also claimed responsibility for an incendiary call about Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor of Florida.

The calls are among the most strident examples of how issues of race have coursed through two of the most high-profile contests this election season. Abrams and Gillum are essentially tied in their campaigns to become the first black governors in their respective states.

“I think desperation is one of the hallmarks of some campaigns, and while I’m not saying this has anything to do with my opponent, I think that there’s an atmosphere that has been created that signals that that type of attack is allowed,” Abrams said after shaking scores of hands near Atlanta on Saturday afternoon. “I don’t think it is, but my response is to do what I’ve always done.”

Brian Kemp, the Republican who is running against Abrams, denounced the call as “absolutely disgusting.”

“We unequivocally condemn this group and their horrible actions,” he said.

The call targeting Abrams followed a series of messages intended to malign Gillum, including one last week in which a man impersonated Gillum in a minstrel accent, with monkey sounds in the background.

The campaign of Ron DeSantis, Gillum’s Republican rival, has also disavowed the calls and said it had no connection to them.

— Alan Blinder and Patricia Mazzei

— Star power in the final push for Nevada

LAS VEGAS — Nevada saw a surge of star power the final weekend before Election Day as celebrities and political personalities took to the stump here.

In the Las Vegas Arts District, the late-night host Jimmy Kimmel used his comedy chops to roast Republican Sen. Dean Heller while making a case that Rep. Jacky Rosen, the Democratic challenger, would take on Trump if elected.

“Why should you vote? Well, I’ll tell you why. Because the last time a lot of people didn’t vote, Donald Trump became the president of the United States. Sorry if you’re hearing this for the first time,” said Kimmel, whose hometown is Las Vegas. “Voting is not enough anymore. You also have to get your stupid friends to vote, too; that is the key to this.”

Brandon Flowers, frontman for The Killers and a Las Vegas native son, performed the state song, “Home Means Nevada,” before introducing Rosen.

At a Heller campaign field office in Reno on Thursday, Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, praised the senator for his help passing the Republican tax reform bill this year, including expanding the child tax credit. “He’s doing a tremendous job in the Senate,” Trump told those who gathered, according to The Associated Press. “In politics, I’ve learned there are talkers and there are doers. He is definitely a doer.”

Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, also made appearances across the state Friday, attending a get-out-the-vote event in Reno and later delivering remarks at a political rally in Las Vegas alongside Republican congressional candidate Danny Tarkanian.

— Jose A. Del Real

— ‘This is the closest congressional race’

LOS LUNAS, N.M. — A conservative-leaning House seat in rural New Mexico could be a harbinger of the national political tide, hopeful Democrats predicted at a curbside rally here Saturday morning.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat who is expected to win re-election Tuesday, said the race between Xochitl Torres Small, a Democratic water-use lawyer, and Yvette Herrell, a Republican state legislator, would signal the direction of the battle for control of Congress.

“As CD2 goes, goes the nation,” Heinrich declared to a sweater- and windbreaker-clad crowd dotted with cowboy hats, using jargon to refer to New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District.

The seat is an unlikely bellwether: a huge, sparsely populated district that sits on the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump carried it easily over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

But the race is emblematic of how Democrats have made incursions into conservative areas, and strategists in both parties say the contest is as close as they come.

Torres Small has run to the right of her national party on issues like guns and border security, while Herrell has been hobbled less by Trump’s national unpopularity than by ethics-themed attacks on her time in Santa Fe.

Torres Small said she believed Trump’s late drive to raise fears about immigration was falling flat as an obvious “political ploy.”

“We’re seeing people use these issues, that are our lives, as a political ploy, rather than talking about a long-term solution,” she said.

— Alex Burns

— In Florida, voters wonder if history will be made

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The shoving began shortly after “We Are the World.”

It was an outdoor rally earlier this week for Andrew Gillum, the Democrat who, if he defeats Ron DeSantis on Tuesday, would be Florida’s first black governor. And — initially, at least — kumbaya spirits were high. People swayed to Michael Jackson and company. Signs bopped in the open-air parking lot: “Caribbean Americans for Gillum” and “Bring It Home” — the candidate’s slogan.

Then a man with a National Rifle Association poster moved in, standing sentinel in the crowd. Gillum’s fans surrounded the man, attempting to block his message from view. A small scuffle broke out. Officers swarmed. Fingers pointed.

In front of them, a roster of speakers on stage spoke of “civility” in politics. Behind them, another heckler with a bullhorn — and ties to the conspiracy-mongering site Infowars — tried to drown them out.

“Bring it home,” Gillum shouted, leading a chant.

“With violence,” the man cried.

“Bring it home.”

“With violence.”

Florida in election season. Never dull.

Days before another characteristically significant election here — with tight races for governor, Senate and several contested House seats — the state has resumed its status as the consummate, unruly purple corner of the electoral map.

Canvassers are canvassing. Rallygoers are rally-going. Emissaries are descending.

The president wants in. “This is my state also,” Trump reminded a Republican crowd outside Fort Myers at a recent rally, alluding to his second home at Mar-a-Lago.

The former president wants in. “The character of our country is on the ballot,” President Barack Obama said in Miami on Friday, stumping for Gillum and Sen. Bill Nelson, who is running for re-election.

Democrats have said they find the recent tumult galvanizing — days after the arrest of a Florida man accused of sending mail bombs to Trump’s opponents — sharpening their resolve to elect the state’s first black governor.

“It’s time,” said Delores Thompson, 65, from Sunrise, Florida.

It’s time, at least, to find out.

— Matt Flegenheimer

— Small donors, big donors, everyone’s spending

Wonder why you’re seeing so many campaign ads on TV?

Follow the money.

The 2018 midterms are being called the $5 billion election. Not only are this year’s House and Senate elections expected to set a spending record, they are also expected to surpass previous records by nearly $1 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The money is coming from both ends of the financial spectrum.

About 100 extremely wealthy donors (think former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg) are spending $1 million or more — and, in at least one case, more than $100 million — to push their preferred candidates.

Then, there are more than 6 million regular people who are giving tiny amounts — $5 here, $10 there — or an average of about $40 each.

“I feel like this is a powerful statement from small-dollar donors that they want to have a meaningful voice in democracy,” said Erin Hill, who runs a nonprofit portal called ActBlue that donors use to send money to progressive candidates.

The portal has already collected a record $1.5 billion this cycle, a figure that also includes money for local and state races, all of it for Democrats.

Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute in Washington, said the big story is how small donors are sending money across state lines.

“If you’re in the middle of a safe district but you care about control of Congress, it’s relatively easy now,” he said.

The top beneficiary appears to be Beto O’Rourke, the Texas Democrat who is hoping to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz. O’Rourke’s campaign has raised more than $69 million. The average donation in the last quarter was less than $50.

That Senate race alone is expected to cost more than $100 million, also a record.

— Stephanie Saul and Rachel Shorey