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US midterm elections 2018

Midterms are part of the battle for Trump’s vision of America, say supporters

  • They’re voting to protect a leader they see as under siege and whose inflammatory rhetoric is necessary to usher in his era of change
PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 November, 2018, 8:26pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 November, 2018, 8:26pm

For many Americans, Tuesday’s congressional midterm elections are a referendum on President Donald Trump’s divisive persona, hardline policies and pugnacious politics.

But at a Trump rally on Sunday in Macon, Georgia – and other such events – the elections are a far different proposition: a vote to protect a leader supporters see as under siege, whose inflammatory rhetoric is a necessary price for a norm-shattering era of change.

“He is putting people back to work,” said Barbara Peacock, 58, a retired postwoman from Macon, Georgia, as she perused Trump 2020 merchandise. “He is telling it like it is.”

At rallies overflowing with people in red hats, she and many other Trump supporters credit the president with making the country – and their lives – better.

Rallying together, wearing Trump T-shirts and waving “Make America Great Again” and “Finish the Wall” signs, they hope to make the president’s ideas the dominant force in American political life for decades to come.

They face a strong headwind. About 52 per cent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s performance. More people say they would vote for a Democrat than a Republican in Tuesday’s congressional elections, a Reuters/Ipsos poll shows.

But pro-Trump Republicans are eager to defy expectations, just as the president did with his 2016 victory.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, pro-Trump activist Ben Hirschmann, 23, sees Tuesday’s elections as decisive for Trump’s vision of America.

“Trump’s not on the ballot, but he is on the ballot,” he said at the local Republican headquarters. “Everything we voted for in 2016 is on the line in 2018.”

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Hirschmann is part of a group that organises flash mobs at busy intersections in the Grand Rapids area, drawing 30 to 40 people about twice a week to hold campaign signs for Republican Senate candidate John James.

Trump has a clear strategy: drive Republican turnout by focusing on illegal immigration, as a caravan of migrants moves through Mexico towards the US border, while playing up gains in the economy and casting his Democratic opponents as an angry and dangerous “mob”.

It is unclear if the strategy will work.

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At a rally in Johnson City, Tennessee, in early October, Jessica Lotz, 33, and her fiancé, Chad Lavery, said Trump’s immigration policies resonated with them. During the 2008 economic downturn, Lotz and Lavery said they saw construction, landscaping and house painting jobs go to illegal immigrants while they struggled financially.

As the economy rebounded, so did their fortunes.

“Now we’re living good,” Lavery said, crediting their ability to find work and better wages to Trump, who inherited a recovering economy and gave it an additional boost with tax cuts.

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Brenda Webb and her friends had joined protests against former president Barack Obama in St Louis in 2009 that were part of the broader conservative “tea party” movement, which called for smaller government, lower taxes and fewer regulations.

Now the group becomes animated talking about how Trump had given new focus to those early tea party goals of reclaiming government for ordinary citizens, not just the “elites” in Washington.

“We feel like he’s working to resolve all the problems that we are so frustrated by,” Webb said.

At a rally in September in Springfield, Missouri, Brian Whorton, who drove a few hours to see the president, confessed he voted for Obama twice before becoming a Republican.

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“I was not politically aware and awake. I thought, oh he’s cool and he’s a good speaker and an African-American guy,” Whorton said. Trump’s policies, he said, were making a difference for him: He said his factory manager had credited Trump tariffs with raising profits at his plant.

In Ohio, Republican National Committee spokeswoman Mandi Merritt referred to pro-Trump enthusiasts as a “grass roots army” that could be harnessed and dispatched to boost Republican voter turnout.

On a sunny day in October, Trump supporter Kimmy Kolkovich joined a friend on the pavement at a busy junction near the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus to urge people to register and vote.

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“Even if I’m registering people who are going to vote for the other party, they’re seeing us out here in our hats and that’s what’s important, all the little interactions and conversations we’re having,” Kolkovich said.