WASHINGTON - In less than three months, U.S. voters will cast ballots in midterm congressional elections that could alter the course of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Results from recent primary and special elections reveal a political landscape highlighted by energized Democrats, dedicated Trump supporters and a sense in both parties that a polarized country is headed for a combustible showdown in November.
Though the election is still a few months away, voter enthusiasm is high. A new Morning Consult-Politico poll found that 66 percent of voters said they are very motivated to vote in the November midterms, while 9 percent said they are not.
The survey found that Democrats seem to be a bit more energized about the November vote. Fifty-one percent of Democrats said they were “very motivated” to vote, while 43 percent of Republicans said the same.
Democratic enthusiasm can be found in the results of recent primary and special elections around the country, and the midterm campaign among Democratic candidates has taken on a distinct anti-Trump message.
People are standing up, they are fighting back, and they are going together to transform this country politically and economically,” said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at a recent campaign rally in Kansas.
In addition to fighting Democratic energy, Republicans are also fighting history. Traditionally, the party that holds the White House loses congressional seats in the first midterm election during a president’s term, especially if the president’s approval rating is below 50 percent in the polls.
The latest Gallup weekly poll had Trump at 39 percent approval, 56 percent disapproval, one of several recent surveys that showed a slight dip for the president.
The president has been busy trying to motivate Republican voters ahead of the midterms, including during a recent visit to Ohio.
“America is respected again, and America is winning again because we are finally putting America first,” Trump said to cheers at a recent rally in Ohio.
But analysts caution that even an activated Trump may not be enough to blunt a possible Democratic wave.
“Republicans are also somewhat motivated, so I think they will get some of their voters out,” said John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. “But I think it will be hard to overcome the enthusiasm on the Democratic side. So, there is a very good chance that the Democrats will take the House of Representatives, or if not, they will gain quite a number of seats.”
Trump has left his imprint on recent Republican primaries, reinforcing the belief that he is succeeding in remaking the party in his own image.
Trump’s endorsement may have helped Kris Kobach emerge victorious as the Republican nominee for governor in Kansas, even though Kobach may have trouble winning over moderate voters in November.
Trump also helped Jeff Johnson win the Republican primary for governor in Minnesota. Johnson defeated former two-term governor Tim Pawlenty, who famously blasted Trump as “unhinged and unfit” to be president during the late stages of the 2016 presidential campaign.
After conceding defeat, Pawlenty told reporters that his party has shifted in recent years.
“It is the era of Trump, and I’m just not a Trump-like politician,” he said.
But no matter how influential Trump may be within the Republican Party, there are warning signs on the horizon that he could be a drag on the party in November. Experts note that the president motivates Democrats to get out and vote against him as much as he helps to energize Republicans.
“In many races throughout the country, the president’s input is likely to be more harmful than good for a Republican candidate, and the president would be best served to be wary about which districts and states he goes into,” said Brookings Institution scholar John Hudak.
Polls show that while Trump still holds sway with many working-class voters, many women and suburban voters have turned away from the Republicans and Trump in the recent primaries and special elections.
Conservative pundit Michael Barone said that could spell trouble for the president in November.
“In the House, it is clear that a lot of, what shall we say, high education, upscale voters have got very strong negative feelings about Donald Trump and the Republican Party. They are eager to vote.”
Democrats need a gain of about two dozen seats to win back control of the House of Representatives, and a net gain of two seats to retake a majority in the Senate.
Two new polls give Democrats an advantage in their quest to take back one or both chambers of Congress in November. Fifty-one percent of voters said they would back a Democrat if the election were held today in the latest Quinnipiac University poll, while 42 percent said they would support a Republican.
Democrats hold a 52 to 41 percent edge on the same question in the latest CNN poll.
The surveys also show Americans are most concerned about issues such as the economy, health care, immigration and guns in November. But activists in both parties agree that Trump and his style of governing will be a major factor for many voters, making the midterms effectively a national referendum on the Trump presidency.