Keep an eye on these key battlegrounds in the US midterms

The U.S. midterm elections take place on November 6. We asked four grassroots activists, all currently canvassing to get out the vote, to tell us which candidates they are backing and what their elections might mean for US politics.

November 5, 2018
10 min read

Make the Road Action NYC canvassing for Liuba

On Tuesday 6 November, U.S. citizens will cast their votes in the first midterm elections of the Trump administration. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives will be contested, along with 35 out of 100 Senate seats, the two houses that make up the U.S. Congress. At the local level, over six thousand legislative elections will also be decided next week.

The elections arrive at a volatile time in the United States. The past month alone has seen mass protests waged against Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court, a postal bombing campaign target critics of the president, and a series of anti-Black and anti-semitic shootings. Last week, Trump ordered over 5,000 troops to “harden” the Southern border against the arrival of a migrant caravan from Central America. These events are likely to be playing on voters minds, and the overall outcome of the midterms will shape political agendas across the country. At the federal level, they will dictate Trump’s ability to push through new laws, policies, and political appointees over the next two years. To date, this ability has been strengthened by a Republican Party Senate majority–which has seen unprecedentedly narrow vote margins become the norm–and outright control of the House of Representatives.

A number of exciting and politically important local races risk being overshadowed as attention swirls around Trump. In addition to an unprecedented number of “historic” candidates, erstwhile “outsiders” running on left-wing platforms have been making waves–which they now intend to turn into electoral gains. Red Pepper asked four grassroots organisers on the campaign trail why they are backing these candidates, and what their election would mean for U.S. politics.

The Florida Gubernatorial Race

Andrea Cristina Mercado, Executive Director of New Florida Majority, on Andrew Gillum

Gillum is a people’s candidate for Governor. He comes from a working class family, and his policies reflect what working people need–access to healthcare, investing in public education, raising teacher salaries, and raising wages. The energy on the ground here is electrifying. People are excited to elect the first Black Governor in the South, an honour he will hopefully share with other candidates this cycle. His song is Walk it Like I Talk it, and his authenticity and track record is motivating people who usually stay home in the midterm elections, and we believe that’s what will take us to victory. Florida races are won or lost by razor thin margins. As little as one percent can make a difference–that’s approximately 66,000 votes in a state with over 20 million people. It’s a state that has decided several presidential elections. Because of that, Democrats tend to run centrist candidates in Florida. If Gillum wins on an apologetic people’s platform, it indicates that the party needs to expand the electorate by running on bolder people’s platforms, not trying to capture the ever-elusive middle.

Texas’ Senate Race

Jasmin Martinez, a leader with United We Dream Action, on Beto O’Rourke

We’ve had enough of [incumbent and Republican] Ted Cruz, who hasn’t done anything for Texas in his six years in the Senate. I believe Beto has what it takes to have a positive impact on our lives in Texas. He’s traveled to every county, seen what people need and listened to our voices. He’s not out there like his opponent Cruz saying DACA recipients should be deported. Right now, people with DACA–and all immigrants–are living with uncertainty, not knowing what the future holds for them or their families. I’m excited that Beto is making immigrant youth a priority. He wants to fight so they can live to their full potential and he wants to protect them from deportation. Beto also knows education is important for every child, and he is for education not deportation—this would be a major step for Texas.

Some folks are strong proponents of Beto’s policies, but there are still opponents too. We see lots of Beto signs around town, and I feel he will win, but I have heard concerning things from people of colour who are still willing to vote for Republicans, and who support deportations. I think people are actually really divided. If Beto wins, it would show that there’s space for the progressive movement in Texas and that people are sick and tired of the disgusting tactics of the far right–tired of lies–and are ready for a change.

New York’s Congressional Race (NY District 02)

Daniel Altschuler, Managing Director of Make The Road Action, on Liuba Grechen Shirley

People here are fired up about Liuba. Many community members know her as a leading voice in the efforts to resist the Trump administration’s attacks on our health care system and against immigrants and communities of colour since they began in 2016. They are still excited about her message. They know she holds progressive values in her bones, and will be a champion for working-class people, people of colour, and immigrants across Long Island. She is a strong voice for health care for all, and is taking on someone who voted to gut the Affordable Care Act. Her campaign is entirely fueled by ordinary people–she is not taking a dime from large corporations, while her opponent is in the pocket of large corporate interests. As a working mother, she also made history by getting the Federal Election Commission to allow candidates to use campaign funds to cover child care costs.

In a district with among the largest concentrations of Salvadoran immigrants in the country, if elected, Liuba will stand up against the Republicans’ child separation and immigration detention policies in order to keep families together. She is taking on Peter King, a Republican who has continuously attacked Muslims, immigrants, and people of colour: he convened “Muslim Radicalization hearings“, told immigrants they should be grateful for the immigration authorities tearing families apart, and welcomed Trump to Long Island with a platform to spread dangerous lies about immigrants. Liuba would bring hugely needed change to this district, and her victory would be an enormous victory for progressives. Defeating King, who has held his position for decades and developed a national media platform, would be a major shock to the local and national political establishment. It would send a strong signal that, in the suburbs, our communities are standing up for respect and dignity for all.

Georgia’s Gubernatorial Race

Ai-jen Poo, Strategic Advisor for Care in Action, on Stacey Abrams

Stacey Abrams is on track to become the first Black woman governor in U.S. history. And, domestic workers in Georgia believe she will be the best governor the state has ever known. The Abrams agenda — expanding access to health care and education, economic justice and good jobs — includes issues that domestic workers and women of colour throughout the state struggle with every day. Her vision for governance is one that seeks to create opportunity for everyone in Georgia, without exception or exclusion. That is why Care in Action, the policy and advocacy organization of the domestic workers movement, endorsed Abrams as their first ever candidate, and have established the largest independent voter engagement program in the state.

Care in Action has deployed more than 300 canvassers to knock on doors, make phone calls, send text messages, and talk to voters throughout the state every single day. We have organized 500 volunteers to text reminders to vote. We have toured beauty salons and barbershops to reach voters in the final stratech. And by election day, we will have engaged in half a million conversations, including with every registered woman of colour voter in the state, 50,000 of whom haven’t voted in the last three elections.

Women of colour, especially Black women, are the most reliable voters in the Democratic Party. But the Party hasn’t prioritized or invested in them as voters, organisers or candidates. With this election cycle, we will prove that the investments in women of colour pay off. Like in Virginia’s gubernatorial race and Alabama’s special Senate election in 2017, here in Georgia we’re proving that when Black women and women of colour show up, we win. This year’s election in Georgia will usher in a new era of women of colour-led politics. The women who are already achieving so much at the grassroots level will finally take their seat at the table to shape the future.

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