WASHINGTON - In five weeks, U.S. voters head to the polls to elect a new Congress and the outcome will have a profound impact on the next two years of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Intensity is building for the Nov. 6 election, especially among opposition Democrats seeking to win back control of the House of Representatives. But both parties could become energized, depending on the outcome of the polarizing confirmation battle over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
During the weekend, President Trump was on the campaign trail in West Virginia, whipping up support for Kavanaugh and blasting Democrats.
“I’m not running, but I’m really running and that is why I am all over the place fighting for great candidates,” Trump told the crowd in Wheeling, West Virginia. “You see what is going on, you see those horrible, horrible, radical group of Democrats and you see it happening right now.”
The fight over Kavanaugh has animated those in favor of the judge and those opposed in the wake of a sexual assault allegation made by California professor Christine Blasey Ford.
Ford detailed the alleged assault in emotional and riveting testimony last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Brett’s assault on me drastically altered my life. For a very long time, I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone the details.”
Supporters have rallied around Kavanaugh after the judge issued a combative denial later in the hearing.
“This confirmation process has become a national disgrace. You have replaced advice and consent with search and destroy.”
A final Senate vote on Kavanaugh is on hold until the FBI completes an investigation related to the allegations aired in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Trump said Monday he wants a “comprehensive investigation” but he also added, “I’d like it to go quickly.”
A new Quinnipiac University poll found that 48 percent of Americans surveyed oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation, while 42 percent are in favor. Women voters in particular oppose Kavanaugh’s appointment by a margin of 55 to 37 percent. Men support the judge, 49 to 40 percent.
Amid the furor over Kavanaugh, Trump is making a furious push around the country to help Republicans hold their narrow majority in the Senate.
“Promise me, you have to get out for the midterms,” Trump implored supporters during a recent rally in Las Vegas, Nevada. “Don’t be complacent. You have got to get out for the midterms. You have got to vote.”
Many Democrats seem cautiously optimistic about their chances in November of flipping the House of Representatives back under their control.
But even House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi says the party still has to follow through by turning out voters. “Seeing the urgency and willing to take responsibility for what happens, understanding that you have to vote. If you don’t vote, everything else is a conversation.”
And Democrats are also taking advantage of some star power of their own to rev up the party base including Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.
Obama recently rallied Democrats in Pennsylvania, targeting those who have skipped voting in past midterm elections.
“They will say, ‘Well, I am going to wait until the presidential election.’ This one is actually more important. This is actually more important than any election that we have seen in a long time.”
Trump as motivator
For both sides, there is little doubt that Trump will be the central figure in next month’s election.
“He has been out there endorsing people and working in a way that many thought when he was elected he would not be or working within the Republican Party and with other candidates,” said John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.
“So he is fully in, for better or worse, and he will certainly help some candidates in Republican places, but may turn off people in others.” Fortier is a frequent guest on VOA's "Encounter."
Democrats have been turning out in big numbers in special elections and in primaries since last year, and that is a positive sign for the opposition, said Jim Kessler, a senior vice president for policy at Third Way, a center-left policy research group.
“I expect Democrats to take the House. I now even think they might take the Senate, even though the map is so difficult out there. The excitement among Democratic voters is very, very high. Republican voters are turning out too, but Democratic voters are really turning out,” said Kessler.
Many experts predict a Democratic takeover of the House would stop President Trump’s agenda in its tracks and put the White House on the defensive. Some Democrats have talked about trying to impeach Trump.
In short, there is little likelihood of looking for common ground, according to George Washington University analyst Lara Brown.
“The truth is, we are just not in the 90s anymore, and by that I mean that there really is not an appetite on either side for compromise.
Trump is expected to stay busy on the campaign trail right up until Election Day, hopeful of blunting a Democratic surge that not only jeopardizes Republican control of both the House and Senate, but also could place severe constraints on his presidency.