‘Boogeyman’ Trump plays to voters’ fears to stoke turnout
By CATHERINE LUCEY and ZEKE MILLER and JONATHAN LEMIRE
Wednesday, October 24
WASHINGTON (AP) — Mob rule. A socialist takeover. Terrorists marching on the U.S. border.
As President Donald Trump embraces the role of electoral boogeyman, he’s making closing arguments to midterm voters that increasingly resemble a Halloween horror story.
The candidate who won the White House in part by harnessing many Americans’ anxieties is offering dire warnings about what life would look like if Democrats gain control of Congress.
Using racially charged language and sometimes questionable information, Trump argues that Democrats will plunge the country into socialism, imperil the social safety net, raise taxes and welcome millions of people pouring into the U.S illegally.
“At stake in this election is whether we continue the extraordinary prosperity that we’ve all achieved, or whether we let the radical Democrat mob take a giant wrecking ball and destroy our country and our economy,” Trump said at a rally in Houston on Monday night. He’s warning of Democratic “mob rule” and predicting a stock market crash if Democrats retake control on Capitol Hill.
Trump’s doomsday predictions come as Republicans seek to counter months of rising Democratic enthusiasm. The GOP has seen its own increase in energy since the politically charged confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Party leaders now believe they can increase their majority in the Senate, although control of the House remains within Democratic reach. Trump is looking to minimize any losses with a pitch that echoes his dark 2016 campaign rhetoric.
In a post-Labor Day election briefing, GOP pollster Neil Newhouse warned the White House about an enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans. He suggested that the GOP emphasize to voters the potential consequences of Democratic control of Congress on issues like abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Trump has taken that message to heart in recent weeks, White House aides say.
The scare tactics run the risk of motivating Democrats or turning off moderates in the suburban races that could decide the House majority. But the White House sees the fear factor as a winning strategy.
“We want to talk about national security, border enforcement and justices. It’s the themes and policy points that will drive people out,” said former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg. “These are stark choices. We have to provide stark choices.”
In a recent Associated Press interview, Trump projected confidence about the upcoming elections, declaring: “It feels to me very much like ‘16,” referring to his presidential win.
At rallies and on Twitter in recent days, he has focused on Central American migrants making their way to the southern U.S. border. The caravan is a “gift” to Republicans, Trump believes. He’s told confidants that it is the party’s best closing argument heading into the midterms, according to a Republican close to the White House who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.
Trump believes the images of the caravan that have become a fixture on cable news networks — and particularly Fox News, the preferred network of his most loyal supporters — are riling up the same voters who turned out for him two years ago.
He has further heated up his rhetoric by suggesting, without presenting evidence, that the Democrats are behind the caravan and claiming that Middle Easterners — an apparent allusion to terrorists — are also in the traveling mass of migrants.
Vice President Mike Pence sought to bolster Trump’s claims Tuesday, saying at a Washington Post event that it “is inconceivable that there are not people of Middle Eastern descent in a crowd of more than 7,000 people advancing toward our border.”
Trump later denied he was using the caravan to stoke electoral fear. “No, not at all,” he said. “I’m a very nonpolitical person, and that’s why I got elected president.”
Trump’s White House is reinforcing the president’s dark view of life under Democratic leadership. On Tuesday, his Council of Economic Advisers issued a report on the costs of socialism that said the “Medicare for All” plan being promoted by some Democrats would harm economic growth.
The report highlights the severe troubles of Venezuela amid hyper-inflation and shortages of basic goods — one of the president’s preferred examples for criticizing Democrats despite that oil-dependent nation’s clear differences with the U.S. economy. Kevin Hassett, chairman of the council, said his team decided to craft the report this summer because “socialism is something that we’re reading about in the news.”
At a recent campaign stop, Trump said: “Democrats support a socialist takeover of health care that would totally obliterate Medicare.”
Seeking to emphasize his “America First” approach to foreign policy, Trump went a step further than usual this week, condemning so-called globalists, and embracing the politically fraught term of “nationalist.”
“You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, OK? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Nothing wrong. Use that word. Use that word,” Trump said.
Don’t expect the alarmist campaign to stop on Election Day.
Trump told the AP that his themes will be central as he looks ahead to his own battle for re-election, under the slogan “Keep America Great.”
“The wrong person coming in after me sitting right at this desk can destroy it very quickly,” Trump said.
AP Writers Josh Boak and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.
Ballot initiatives buck legislatures in GOP-leaning states
By DAVID CRARY
AP National Writer
Wednesday, October 24
Marijuana legalization. An increase in the minimum wage. Expansion of Medicaid. Come Election Day, voters in a batch of Republican-dominated states will weigh in on these and other liberal or centrist proposals that reached the ballot after bypassing state legislatures.
Pushed forward via signature-gathering campaigns, these measures offer a chance for voters to do things their GOP-run legislatures oppose. Many are considered to have a good chance of passage.
In four of the states — Florida, Missouri, Montana and North Dakota — the ballot measures might have some effect on closely contested U.S. Senate races. Even a slight boost in turnout among liberal-leaning voters could help Bill Nelson, Claire McCaskill, Jon Tester and Heidi Heitkamp, the endangered Democratic incumbents in those states.
Missouri is notable this year for having three left-leaning proposals on its ballot — raising the minimum wage, legalizing marijuana for medical purposes and changing the congressional redistricting process so that it is potentially less partisan.
The minimum-wage measure might have special appeal to low-income voters from Kansas City and St. Louis, where efforts to raise pay locally were thwarted by the Legislature last year.
Among those dismayed by the Legislature’s move was the Rev. Starsky Wilson, who heads a social services foundation in St. Louis. He also co-chaired a commission that investigated economic and social inequality after the racial unrest provoked by the 2014 killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson.
“When the Legislature pre-empted, it showed what lengths folks will go to thwart the will of the people,” Wilson said. “These were unfortunate actions of some legislators who don’t seem to care about the poor and also don’t seem to care about democracy.”
Most of the financing for the minimum wage campaign has come from a Washington-based liberal organization, the Sixteen Thirty Fund, which has backed campaigns in other states.
The wage increase is opposed by Associated Industries of Missouri and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which say it will raise the cost of doing business and possibly reduce the number of entry-level jobs. However, more than 350 Missouri businesses have announced support for the increase.
The measure would gradually raise the state’s $7.85 minimum wage to $12 an hour, starting with a boost to $8.60 in January.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said that the current wage is not high enough and that even the bump in January might not do much for many minimum-wage workers. “But it’s a move in the right direction,” she said.
St. Louis had raised its minimum to $10 an hour before the legislature banned local governments from setting wages that were higher than the state’s.
Dave Robertson, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said the ballot measures might have only a marginal effect on turnout.
“That said, the marginal votes could make a huge difference in the Senate race because everyone expects it to be dead even,” he said, referring to McCaskill’s effort to repel a strong challenge from Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley.
Aside from Missouri, other GOP-controlled states with liberal- or centrist-backed measures on the ballot include:
— Arkansas, to raise the state minimum wage from $8.50 an hour to $11 by 2021.
— Idaho, Nebraska and Utah, to expand Medicaid coverage to more residents.
— Montana, to raise tobacco taxes to extend an existing Medicaid expansion.
— North Dakota and Michigan, to legalize recreational use of marijuana, a step already taken by nine other states.
— Utah, to legalize medical use of marijuana.
— Michigan and Utah, to change the redistricting process, an issue also on the ballot in swing-state Colorado.
— Florida, to restore the right to vote for most people with felony convictions upon completion of their sentences. The proposed constitutional amendment needs the support of 60 percent of voters to prevail; if that happens, an estimated 1.4 million Floridians could regain the right to vote.
The Democrats in Florida’s two highest-profile election contests support the amendment — gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and Bill Nelson, who is seeking a fourth term in the U.S. Senate. Nelson’s GOP opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, opposes the amendment, as does Ron DeSantis, the Republican seeking to succeed Scott as governor.
Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political science professor, said public support for the amendment appears to be strong, possibly providing a modest boost to Gillum and Nelson.
“It’s not going to help the Republicans at all,” Smith said. “Will it help the Democrats? It could, at the margins.”
The partisan pattern is reversed in two Democratic-leaning states, Oregon and Massachusetts, where conservatives are using the initiative process in a bid to overturn existing state policy.
The target in Massachusetts is a 2016 law extending nondiscrimination protections to transgender people in their use of public accommodations.
Conservatives in Oregon are targeting two policies — one that allows use of state funds to pay for low-income women’s abortions, the other forbidding law enforcement agencies from using state resources or personnel to arrest people whose only crime is being in the U.S. illegally.
Craig Burnett, a political science professor at Hofstra University, views the initiative process as a valuable tool for citizens disenchanted with their legislature.
“If it’s legislating much too far from where the people are in any direction — conservative or liberal — the initiative is one way to move it back to where the people are,” he said.
In all, there will be 157 measures on the Nov. 6 ballot in 37 states. As usual, most of the measures were placed on the ballot by state legislatures; there are 65 measures resulting from citizen campaigns.
In some states, initiatives have met with strong resistance, either from the legislature or powerful interest groups.
In Arizona, after a six-day strike by tens of thousands of teachers, they and their allies gathered enough signatures to place a measure on the ballot that would boost school funding by raising taxes on the wealthy. The Arizona Supreme Court blocked the initiative after the state’s Chamber of Commerce and others said the tax hike would harm the economy.
In South Dakota, voters decided in 2016 to create an independent government ethics commission. Lawmakers repealed the measure just months later, but supporters have come back this year with an even stronger measure on the ballot.
Follow David Crary at https://twitter.com/CraryAP
Trump turns focus to Wisconsin’s races for Senate, governor
By SCOTT BAUER
Wednesday, October 24
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — President Donald Trump makes a campaign visit to Wisconsin with Republicans growing increasingly nervous about the prospects of holding onto the governor’s office, let alone picking up a Senate seat held by a well-positioned Democratic incumbent.
Trump on Wednesday will return to a rural part of the state he easily won by double digits in 2016. It is far from the conservative Milwaukee suburbs where his support is weaker, but it’s in an area where Gov. Scott Walker and GOP Senate candidate Leah Vukmir will need to do well.
The question is whether Trump’s presence in the tiny central Wisconsin city of Mosinee (population 4,000) will provide enough of a boost to energize Republican voters to matter for Walker and Vukmir less than two weeks before the election.
Vukmir is counting on it as she challenges Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
“These are the people we want to be sure to come out to vote,” Vukmir said in an interview Tuesday.
Vukmir, who is from a conservative Milwaukee suburb in Waukesha County, said it was “far better” for Trump to campaign in central Wisconsin than her part of the state. Vukmir didn’t do well in northern Wisconsin in her primary win, which was fueled by strong support in southeast Wisconsin.
“This is the heart of Trump country,” said Vukmir, who was campaigning in the area on Tuesday with Rep. Sean Duffy. “This is the part of the state, central Wisconsin and northern, that came through for him and advocates for him.”
Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point, but he carried the county where he’s appearing Wednesday 56 percent to 38 percent. He won the mostly rural congressional district by 21 points — the widest margin of any congressional district in the state.
Getting out the GOP base in areas that went big for Trump will be important for both Vukmir and Walker. Polls show the race between Walker and Democratic challenger Tony Evers, the state schools superintendent, is a tossup. Baldwin, who is running for a second term, has consistently led Vukmir, a state senator, in fundraising and in polls.
Walker on Tuesday released a new television ad attacking Evers over his support for in-state tuition for children of people living in the U.S. illegally and of issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants here illegally. The spot ends with the line: “Tony Evers: special treatment for illegals, higher taxes for you.”
Evers decried the ad as a desperate move to mimic Trump, who has been using campaign rallies to increase his anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Trump has a complicated history with both Walker and Vukmir. Walker ran against Trump for president, winning support from Vukmir and most other Wisconsin Republicans. Walker has since become a consistent Trump supporter, although not as vocal as Vukmir.
“My relationship with the president is straightforward,” Walker said this month. “When he does things that are good for the state of Wisconsin, I praise him for it. When he does things I disagree with, that I think are detrimental to the state of Wisconsin, I call him up or the vice president up or call someone else and do something about it.”
Trump has put Walker in difficult positions, including when he called for a boycott of Milwaukee-based motorcycle-maker Harley-Davidson amid a tariff dispute. But Walker has stood with Trump on some of his most divisive policies, including supporting building the Mexico-U.S. border wall. He ran ads on Facebook in support of sending National Guard troops to defend the southern border.
Vukmir’s GOP primary opponent called her loyalty to Trump into question after footage of Vukmir from 2016 emerged in which she said Trump is “offensive to everyone.” Vukmir said there are no lingering questions about her support of Trump.
“Oh goodness, no,” she said. “There weren’t even questions back then. It was kind of silly.”
As Trump heads to central Wisconsin, Democrats are focusing their efforts this week on Milwaukee, the state’s largest city.
Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders attracted about 1,000 people to a Monday rally at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, while former President Barack Obama is holding an event in the city Friday.
While the Trump visit is designed to excite the Republican base, Democrats say it’s also galvanizing their supporters.
Trump’s visit “just reinforces Walker’s racist, sexist, xenophobic record,” said Analiese Eicher, program director for the liberal group One Wisconsin Now. “It’s doubling down on the policies that divide us.”
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Weakened Hawaii Republicans try to slowly boost their ranks
By AUDREY McAVOY
Wednesday, October 24
MILILANI, Hawaii (AP) — Val Okimoto, a mother of two, may be the Republican Party’s best hope in Democrat-dominant Hawaii.
The former special education teacher is spending long days knocking on doors in the suburban Honolulu town of Mililani, listening to voters fret about the high cost of living and their rising expenses. She believes they’re ready to elect someone like her to the state House. “There’s been a disconnect between the people who represent us and what I call ‘us normal people’ that live in the community,” Okimoto said in a recent interview.
The Republican Party currently has just five representatives in the 51-member state House. All 25 state senators are Democrats, as is the governor and the entire congressional delegation. Shirlene Ostrov, the party’s chairwoman, is bringing in experienced staffers from the mainland to professionalize local campaigns, and is working to build its donor base and recruit candidates.
There’s still a long way to go. Republicans are contesting just 5 of the 13 state Senate seats next month and only 17 of the 51 House seats. Ostrov said the party is focusing on candidate quality, not quantity.
“We targeted districts we could win and recruited candidates that would help us win some seats. We know that if we do that every time we can slowly increase our numbers,” she said.
The GOP in Hawaii has struggled since the 1950s, as labor unions increasingly organized workers in once numerous sugar and pineapple plantations. Democrats first swept into power that decade ushered in a minimum hourly wage and more spending on education. In later decades they pursued reforms that boosted middle class land ownership and mandates for employer-provided health insurance.
The GOP became associated with an era before statehood when white plantation owners dominated Hawaii’s economy and government. It was a time when the U.S. territory’s mostly non-white workers struggled for fair wages, education and career opportunities and things like getting loans from banks.
Of the seven governors elected since Hawaii became a state 1959, only one has been a Republican. In recent years, electoral losses and multiple defections by elected Republican lawmakers to the Democratic Party have whittled the party’s numbers further.
Last year, Republicans in the state House demanded the resignation of their minority leader, Beth Fukumoto, after she criticized misogynistic remarks by President Donald Trump. She quit the party soon after and joined the Democrats, leaving House Republicans with just five members.
Neal Milner, a retired University of Hawaii professor of political science, said the party has multiple challenges, including finding candidates with significant political experience and name recognition.
Bob McDermott, a Republican state representative from suburban Ewa Beach, says the future of the party lies in socially conservative voters in suburbs and rural areas west of Honolulu. But, he said, the party has to find candidates that match the demographics of their district.
Ostrov said the party has pulled in a broad cross-section of Hawaii’s people.
“This is not your Hawaii Republican Party of yesterday. It’s a very diverse party. It represents all demographics of our islands,” said Ostrov, who is Filipino. She notes its 17-member executive committee includes a Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, African-American and Caucasian.
Okimoto, who is seeking a vacant state House seat, is part Filipino, Japanese and Caucasian. She grew up on the island of Kauai and believes her background as a teacher resonates with voters.
Okimoto is opposed to “excessive taxation” and abortion. She supports the rights of gay people, but opposes redefining marriage. Hawaii was one of the first states to legalize abortion, in 1970, three years before Roe v. Wade. It legalized same-sex marriage in 2013.
Fukumoto represented the area as both a Republican and then a Democrat.
Okimoto’s opponent, Marilyn Lee — a mother of four and a grandmother of eight — represented the area until Fukumoto ousted her in 2012.
She said an Okimoto win would send “a very conservative woman” to the Legislature at a time when Republican control of the White House, potentially Congress and a new conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court may mean Hawaii will have to do more to protect women’s access to health care.
“Even though we have a Democratic majority, I think we need women who are really strongly willing to fight for these things,” Lee said.
Ostrov said the party’s strategy toward winning is simply logical and pragmatic.
“What the Republican Party is focused on is making incremental changes in order to provide the state of Hawaii a choice, in that we would provide a viable two-party system,” Ostrov said.