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America’s midterm malaise

Commentators in the US are unsure what the future holds in politics. These bizarre midterms won't shine any light on the issue

Image: The New European

The only word to describe the upcoming US midterms is “weird”. No one can really call them.

Midterms are considered a referendum on the party of the sitting president. That party usually gets wiped out in the midterms and the president finds himself/herself governing without their own party being in charge of Congress. Really bad news for legislation and the overall agenda.

Losing a midterm is always game-changing. Barack Obama in 2010 suffered a net loss of 63 seats in the House. This was the biggest election shift since 1948, when the Democrats took both chambers from the Republicans.

Obama called the wipeout a “shellacking” and you might have thought the next presidential election would finish him off, too. But in spite of the fact that he had been drowned in that red wave by the Republicans, he beat Mitt Romney by four percentage points and 126 electoral college votes.

In 2018, in the middle of Donald Trump’s term, the Democrats took back control of the House of Representatives, mainly by making the midterms a referendum on the character of Trump. This work came to fruition in 2020 when Joe Biden defeated Don The Con.

2022 is a car crash in which pollsters are shaking in their boots as to whether they are getting it right. Tipped a few months ago to lose control of both bodies in Congress, the Dems now are favoured to tighten their grip on the Senate but to lose the House. Democrats are favoured to win most of the governors’ races, where the matter of abortion will be one of the main arenas of contention.

The other arenas of contention in these midterms will be immigration and 2020 election denial. The showcase of both marquee issues is the diverse state of Arizona.

There are election deniers running in almost every state of the Union at these midterms. And then there is Kari Lake.

A popular news anchor in Tucson, she decided to run for governor in 2022. Once a Democrat, she switched parties, citing Ronald Reagan and Trump himself as examples of Dems who “wised up” and became Republicans.

Lake, a boisterous TV personality, won her nomination on what is known as “The Big Lie” – that Trump was the real winner in 2020. Her nomination was seen as a victory over what can be called conventional Republicans such as Liz Cheney. And it also shows the control that Trump still has over most of his party.

Cheney, who is seemingly making it her life’s work to ensure that Trump never holds office again, has said that she will campaign against her fellow Republican in Arizona.

Arizona is considered a “purple” state, divided between Republican Party “red” and Democratic Party blue. Sitting less boisterously between the two is secretary of state Katie Hobbs, a Democrat and Lake’s opponent.

They are neck-and-neck.

The candidates for the Senate are Mark Kelly, who is standing for election in his own right, after winning the special election to fill the seat of the late John McCain. His opponent is Trump-endorsed Blake Masters, who used to be associated with billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel, one of the founders of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook. These races are also neck-and-neck.

Who and what are they really about?

In Arizona it could be the economy; or, like many states, immigration. This issue has recently been brought to the fore by Florida governor Ron DeSantis flying asylum-seeking Venezuelans from his own state of Florida to Martha’s Vineyard, that retreat of the artistic and the posh and the good, off the coast of Massachusetts.

His stance – complete with what can only be described as frat boy antics – could be the one to bring delighted Trumpers and appalled Democrats to the polls.

“Choice” might be the main motivator and will be in the Arizona governor race, too, and here is why: abortion is mostly totally illegal in Arizona.

Only the supreme court’s Roe v Wade decision stayed a draconian law from the 19th century that banned abortion in most cases. Now that Roe is gone, Arizona women may be dragged backwards. Right back to the status of women at the time of the legendary Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which happened in Arizona at a time when women died from carrying out abortions on themselves.

Hobbs is struggling against Lake, whose rallying cry is around election fraud and immigration, called “border security” for those in the centre.

Hobbs has brought up her own miscarriage and how she needed a medical procedure, one now denied in Arizona. She defended the result of the 2020 election in which Joe Biden won her state and for that she has received death threats, but this has not stopped her.

For the Senate race, Trumplican Republican Blake Masters has smarted up his music and ads, making them look and sound less apocalyptic. He scrubbed his website of his more right wing views. This is for the swing voters.

But they don’t seem to want to be swayed. He is the underdog in the race against Kelly.

But he is largely being nice. This is to match up with the fact that Kelly, whose wife is former politician Gabby Giffords, survivor of an assassination attempt and now a fierce advocate for gun control, is a favourite in Arizona.

Kari Blake uses her broadcaster’s expertise to attack Hobbs and patronisingly addresses her by her first name: Katie.

Lake’s addresses are given in front of howling, red-meat-hunting Trump mobs. Hobbs’s rallies are a much smaller, quieter shape. The Democrats aren’t happy. It is feared that what is called her “Joe Biden approach” – running ads and not out pressing the flesh – may hurt her.

She and Kelly are running in a state where many are in lock-step with The Great Lie and other kinds of realities of Donald Trump.

Soon ballots will be mailed out. Democrats cite democracy, their fears for it, and abortion rights as their main concerns.

Republicans are looking at border security; the cost of food and rent. They are afraid that more and more people will cross into the United States at Arizona’s southern border.

There is the rising price of petrol and inflation. But there is a hidden factor in these midterms. The American electorate is getting younger, and it is getting more Hispanic.

No one knows which way the wind in the future will blow.

These weird midterms will not be shining any light on that.

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