| AspenTimes.com

Outdoor retailers group claims first foray into elections a success

DENVER — An outdoor industry retailers group says its first venture into electoral politics was a success.

The political director of the Outdoor Industry Association, Alex Boian, said Thursday the group endorsed 23 candidates for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House or governor in the mid-term elections, and 20 won.

The association also made campaign contributions through its political action committee but the amounts weren’t immediately available.

Fifteen of the candidates the group endorsed were Democrats and eight were Republicans.

Boian says President Donald Trump’s decision to shrink the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah helped spur the association to jump into politics.

The association says its industry generates $887 billion a year and is responsible for 7.6 million jobs nationwide.

Democrats knock holes in Republican wall of state control

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Republican wall that has stood in state capitols for much of the past decade now has a few holes in it.

Democrats flipped control of seven gubernatorial offices, marking their greatest gains in several decades, and picked up hundreds of state legislative seats in Tuesday’s first midterm elections of President Donald Trump’s tenure.

Yet those victories didn’t quite reach the lofty goals of an anticipated blue wave, leaving both major parties with reason for hope on Wednesday as they look ahead to another pivotal battle in 2020.

Some of the biggest wins for Democrats came in the Midwest, where Republicans had virtually wiped them out in prior elections. Democrats defeated Republican Govs. Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Bruce Rauner in Illinois while picking up open seats previously held by Republican governors in Michigan and Kansas.

Democrats also flipped control of governors’ offices being vacated by Republicans in Maine, Nevada and New Mexico.

The Democratic Governors Association said it was their greatest number of pickups since 1982, the first midterm election of Republican President Ronald Reagan. The Democratic group’s chairman, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, called it “a broad-based win” and a historically big rejection of the president’s party.

“For those who were troubled by the results of 2016 in the Midwest, we have proved that the Democrats can run and win,” Inslee said.

Yet Republicans held on to the governor’s office in other key swing states targeted by Democrats, including Florida, Ohio and Iowa. Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp also was leading in Georgia’s gubernatorial race, though Democrat Stacey Abrams held out hope that absentee and the provisional ballots remaining to be counted could push Kemp’s percentage below 50 percent and force a runoff.

Republicans entered Tuesday’s election controlling 33 governors’ offices and two-thirds of the 99 state legislative chambers. The Democratic gubernatorial victories will push that closer to an even split. But Republicans will still control at least three-fifths of the state legislative chambers, even after Democrats flipped about a half-dozen chambers.

The gubernatorial and legislative gains appeared to give Democrats new trifectas of power in Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico and New York. Democrats also broke up existing Republican trifectas in Kansas, Michigan, New Hampshire and Wisconsin.

Democrats ended a Republican legislative supermajority in North Carolina, making it harder for the GOP to override vetoes by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

Yet even after Tuesday’s victories, Democrats still will have full control of the governor’s office and legislature in about one-third fewer states than Republicans.

The Democratic gains amount to a mere “ripple” in Republican legislative control, said Matt Walter, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee.

“It is not a wave, and I would say it’s a far cry short of what they should have done” during a midterm election in which Republicans had to defend far more seats, Walter said.

During the first midterm election of Democratic President Barack Obama’s tenure in 2010, Republicans picked up about 725 state legislative seats while flipping control of 21 chambers. Republicans then used that enhanced power in many states to redraw legislative districts to their favor after the 2010 Census.

Tuesday’s shift of about a half-dozen chambers for Democrats is well below the average of 12 chamber changes per election cycle dating back 1900, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Whereas “Obama’s first midterm was a wipeout for Democrats,” the Republican losses Tuesday are “relatively modest,” said NCSL elections analyst Tim Storey.

That’s partly because Democrats are still “running on mostly Republican-drawn maps,” he said.

Both Democrats and Republicans were trying to put themselves in a strong position for the elections in two years, which will determine which party will have the upper hand in redrawing congressional and state legislative districts after the 2020 Census. But that jostling for power will matter less in some states as a result of Tuesday’s elections.

Voters in Colorado, Michigan and Missouri approved ballot measures overhauling the redistricting process in ways that are intended to reduce the likelihood of partisan gerrymandering by either major party. The Colorado and Michigan measures set up independent commissions to handle the task instead of leaving it to lawmakers and the governor.

The Missouri measure keeps in place an existing bipartisan commission for state legislative districts but creates a new position of nonpartisan state demographer to draft maps that prioritize “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness.”

States setting early turnout records ahead of Election Day

ATLANTA (AP) — More than 30 million Americans have cast early ballots ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections, eclipsing the 2014 early totals nationally and suggesting a high overall turnout for contests that could define the final two years of President Donald Trump’s term.

At least 28 states have surpassed their 2014 early votes. And perhaps even more indicative of the unusual enthusiasm this midterm cycle, some states are approaching their early turnout from the 2016 presidential election.

Here’s a look at some highlights:

MASSIVE TURNOUT

The 30.6 million ballots includes data from 48 states, with several of those still collecting absentee ballots and welcoming in-person early voters. The total early vote in 2014 was 28.3 million in an election where more than 83 million Americans voted. That was a low turnout (about 36 percent) even by usual standards of a midterm, when there’s an expected drop off from presidential elections.

Forecasters aren’t predicting that overall turnout this year will hit 2016 levels (137.5 million; more than 60 percent of the electorate), but Democratic and Republican analysts, along with independent political scientists, say turnout could approach 50 percent, levels not seen for a midterm since the turbulent 1960s.

BOOMS IN STATES NOT USED TO EXCITING MIDTERMS

It’s one thing to see Virginia more than doubling its 2014 early turnout. Voters there showed their intensity last year in their governor’s race, with record absentee ballot requests and returns and a solid turnout for both parties.

But then there’s Tennessee. The state has settled firmly into Republican-dominated territory. In 2014, there wasn’t a single statewide race that received national attention or a truly competitive House election.

But with an open Senate seat thanks to the retirement of Republican Bob Corker, voters are more than eager this year. Through Thursday, early turnout was 217 percent of what it was in 2014. It’s even approaching early turnout from 2016, at more than 80 percent of that presidential-year mark.

Several other states with competitive Senate or governor’s races — Texas, Nevada, Georgia, among others — are nearing double the 2014 early totals.

DEMOCRATS EDGING REPUBLICANS NATIONALLY

In states that require party registration, Democrats have cast 41 percent of the early ballots, compared to 36 percent for Republicans. Party strategists on both sides say they are far exceeding their usual numbers in key locales — urban strongholds for Democrats and more rural counties for Republicans.

A word of caution from prognosticators: The party analysis isn’t always an indicator of final outcomes. There are crossover voters, even in this hyperpartisan era. And there are independents and third-party voters, as well. For the record, those latter groups account for about 23 percent of the ballots in party registration states.

For the scorekeepers, though, Virginia, among the states that doesn’t have party registration, is replicating its 2017 voting boom — and Democrats swept the top offices last year even amid strong GOP turnout.

YOUNG VOTERS IN FLORIDA

Trends in Florida’s early voting suggest a surge in young voters, a group that historically has low turnout in midterm cycles.

Of the 124,000 Floridians aged 18 to 29 who had voted in person at early polling stations as of Thursday, nearly a third did not vote in the presidential election in 2016, according to analysis by University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith. About half of those new voters were newly registered.

“There are newly energized voters who sat out in 2016, or have registered since then, who are turning out. There’s no question about that,” Smith said.

In contrast, for people 65 and older who had voted early and in person, about 7 percent didn’t vote in 2016.

NEW VOTERS IN GEORGIA

It cannot be said enough: It’s the voters who don’t often participate in midterms who can make the big difference. There’s plenty of evidence that both major parties’ bases are enthusiastic, but a frequent Election Day voter being so excited that they vote early doesn’t change the math.

So candidates like Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp in the Georgia governor’s race are keeping their eye on how many non-2014 voters have cast ballots.

An analysis by Georgia-based data analyst Ryan Anderson finds that 36 percent of the 1.8 million early votes in Georgia are new voters. If that held through Election Day, it would be a huge number. Abrams’ campaign believes it would benefit them, though Republicans nationally note that President Donald Trump brought many new voters to the polls in 2016 — and those voters are still “new” midterm voters.

That said, at least in Georgia, the racial and gender breakdown of the new voters bodes well for Abrams, who is trying to spike turnout among nonwhites, women and millennials.

Anderson’s analysis finds that barely more than half of the new voters are white in a state where the GOP wants the white share of the electorate to be push toward the mid-60s. Among the other findings: new female voters outnumber men by more than 70,000.

The bright spot for Kemp: More than half of early votes come from voters over 65 (though that total includes all races), and there is intense turnout in many of the state’s most conservative areas beyond metro Atlanta.

America’s gender, racial divides on display in House races

WASHINGTON (AP) — Perhaps nowhere is the choice facing voters next Tuesday more vividly on display than in the battle for control of the U.S. House. Democrats are fielding more women and minority candidates than ever, while Republicans are trying to hold their majority with mostly white men.

The disparity highlights a trend that has been amplified under President Donald Trump, with the two parties increasingly polarized along gender and racial lines as much as by issues. The result is that, in an election season playing out against the backdrop of bomb threats, violence and a charged immigration debate, the parties are presenting voters starkly different pictures of American leadership.

Democrats have nominated more than 180 female candidates for the House, which sets a record. But while voters could send more than 100 of them to victory, Republicans could have fewer women than now in their ranks next year due to retirements and tough races, according to election analysts. Overall, nearly 9 in 10 House Republicans will be white men when the new Congress convenes in January.

The racial divide is even starker. House Republicans now count just over a dozen minority members, a number that’s not expected to change much after the election. The lack of minorities in the conference comes into sharp visual focus when House Republicans gather in a large group, as they did last December when they celebrated the passage of tax cuts with Trump at the White House.

Meanwhile, African-American, Latino and Asian-American lawmakers make up almost half the House Democratic caucus. And for the first time, less than half the Democratic candidates for the House are white men, and the Democrats are poised to send the first Native American and Muslim-American women to the House. It’s what the Reflective Democracy Campaign calls a “historic shift.”

After Tuesday’s election, it’s likely that 87 percent of Republicans in the House will be white men, compared to just 37 percent for Democrats, said David Wasserman, who analyzes races for the Cook Political Report.

Marc Hetherington, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the trend began long before this year’s election. “There’s a relatively easy explanation — the Republican Party over the past 20 years has become the party of white men,” he said. At the same time, “Democrats have come to be seen as the party of minorities.”

Political scientists have been debating whether Congress’ low approval rating — now 21 percent — has something to do with lawmakers not seeming to reflect the country they represent, said Matt Barreto, a professor at UCLA who is also a pollster working to mobilize Latino voters this cycle. Overall, while the House is closer to reflecting the makeup of the country, which is still majority white, the representation is lopsided between the parties.

“Everyone wants a representative from their community to stand up for their issues,” Barreto said. For the House, he said, “It’s the entire point: They’re representatives.”

Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to win back the House in the election on Tuesday. Enthusiasm has seemed to be on their side, especially in fundraising, but it’s unclear if that energy will be enough to win districts that swung to Trump in 2016 or have traditionally favored Republicans.

The outcome could hinge on the suburbs, where Democrats are hoping that a voter backlash against Trump and GOP policies will help carry their candidates to victory.

One closely watched race is outside of Richmond, Virginia, where Republican Rep. Dave Brat, a one-time tea party favorite, is facing a stiff challenge from political newcomer Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA operative.

Brat was campaigning over the weekend at the Innsbrook Pumpkin Palooza, pausing to watch a pumpkin catapult as he mingled with voters. Trump supporter Jen Dodge from nearby Glen Ellen said she’s all for bringing more diversity to Congress. But as an employment recruiter, she said she also wants the best candidate for the job. And she said she appreciates what the president and the Republican Congress have done for the economy, especially by passing tax cuts.

“We really need people in the Congress who are going to speak the best for the people,” she said. Brat, she said, “does what he says he’s going to do.”

Down the road at a community forum with Spanberger, optometrist Lisa Bennett said she wants lawmakers who listen to voters.

“American people are frustrated,” she said, recalling the protesters who confronted senators on Capitol Hill over Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. “You shouldn’t have to stand in an elevator and yell at your representative.”

The diversity gap between the parties has been growing since the civil rights battles of the 1960s, when white voters shifted toward Republicans and the party’s support from African-Americans plummeted.

Republicans set out to attract more votes from minorities and particularly Latinos after their election losses in 2012, but Trump turned that political strategy on its head in 2016, showing they could win by pulling white voters away from Democrats. Now the president’s coalition is being put to the test.

After conducting a poll of 72 competitive House districts, the Cook Political Report and LSU Manship School said this year’s election “feels like 2010, in reverse.” Almost half of Americans, 49 percent “feel frustrated” about Trump’s presidency. That’s the same share who said they felt frustrated about President Barack Obama during that year’s midterm elections, when Democrats lost the majority in a wave election fueled by conservative newcomers eager to confront the White House.

Thousands of Native voters in North Dakota getting free IDs

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Efforts by American Indian tribes in North Dakota to provide free identification with street addresses to thousands of members in advance of Tuesday’s election are cutting into the number of Native Americans who could potentially be turned away at the polls for lack of a proper ID under recently tightened state rules.

The free programs launched with the help of groups including the Lakota People’s Law Project and the Four Directions nonprofit so far have provided more than 2,000 voters on four reservations with the proper credentials. The effort to ensure a strong Native American vote comes amid uproar over what some believe is an attempt to suppress their votes.

“We’re at our best in crisis,” said Phyllis Young, an organizer on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation for the Lakota People’s Law Project, adding that the issue “is only making us more aware of our rights, more energized, and more likely to vote this November.”

Stricter voter ID rules are taking effect after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this month allowed the state to continue requiring street addresses, as opposed to other addresses such as post office boxes. Street addresses have never been important in the Native American culture, and many tribal members aren’t aware of their address, don’t have a provable one because they’re homeless or stay with friends or relatives, or can’t afford to get an updated ID with a street address assigned through the statewide 911 system.

A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Spirit Lake Sioux also alleges that the 911 system on reservations is “characterized by disarray, errors, confusion, and missing or conflicting addresses.” It seeks to have the residential address requirement ruled unconstitutional as it applies to Native American voters, and asks for an emergency order while the lawsuit proceeds barring the state from enforcing the requirement on Native Americans on or near reservations or who are at risk of disenfranchisement.

The nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice notes the lawsuit seeks a more limited injunction, something an appeals court indicated in an earlier lawsuit might be a more successful tactic.

State officials say not requiring street addresses could lead to people voting in the wrong district and to fraud.

The Supreme Court ruling in a lawsuit filed by Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa members in 2016 sent tribes scrambling to make sure tribal members’ voices will be heard , especially in the high profile U.S. Senate race between Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer and Democratic incumbent Heidi Heitkamp.

Changes to North Dakota’s voter ID laws came just months after Heitkamp’s win by fewer than 3,000 votes with the help of Native Americans in 2012, though Republicans say that had nothing to do with updates aimed at guarding against voter fraud. American Indians make up about 5 percent of North Dakota’s population.

The Turtle Mountain Chippewa, Standing Rock Sioux, Spirit Lake Sioux and Three Affiliated Tribes all have launched programs to provide free IDs with street address to tribal members in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.

As of Tuesday, the programs had provided 1,050 IDs on the Turtle Mountain Reservation, more than 380 on the Spirit Lake Sioux Reservation and 440 on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The Three Affiliated Tribes had provided only 140, but the program had just been launched the day before.

The total of more than 2,000 IDs is approaching half of the roughly 5,000 Native Americans that U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland has said don’t possess a qualifying voter ID under state rules. He based the figure on research by UCLA and University of New Mexico professors who have been expert witnesses in several voter ID cases across the country.

Tribes believe the number is much higher, perhaps even double the judge’s estimate, though they base it in part on anecdotal evidence. They plan to continue issuing free IDs through Election Day, including stationing people at the polls to help those without qualifying ID on at least two of the four reservations.

The effort is largely being financed through donations. The Native American Rights Fund has given the four tribes a total of $50,000, and a GoFundMe site set up by the Standing Rock Sioux had raised more than $200,000 from more than 4,300 donors as of mid-day Wednesday.

Alexis Davis, 19, chairwoman of the Turtle Mountain Youth Council, has an ID with a residential street address but said many of her friends do not. The voter ID issue has made them more resolved to be a part of the election process, she said.

“It’s like, oh you want to make this harder for me? Oh, you want to take away my rights?” she said. “It’s like, no, now I’m going to fight that, and I’m going to be more resilient, and I’m going to make sure that I’m going to go vote.”

Rare drop in NRA election spending as gun-limit groups rise

WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Rifle Association — long seen as a kingmaker in Republican politics — is taking a lower profile in this year’s high-stakes midterm campaign, a sign of the shifting dynamics of the gun debate as the GOP fights to maintain its grip on Congress.

The NRA has put $11 million into midterm races this year — less than half what it spent four years ago in a campaign that gave Republicans full control of Congress. This year’s totals are also far below the $54 million the group spent in 2016 on both the presidential and congressional races.

The shift comes as spending to support tougher gun control measures has surged. Everytown for Gun Safety, a group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, pledged $30 million for this year’s election, and has continued to put new money into competitive races in the final days. A political action committee formed by Gabby Giffords, the former congresswoman wounded in a shooting, is spending nearly $5 million.

It’s the first time under current campaign finance laws that the NRA might be outspent by gun control groups, though the organization often ramps up spending late in the campaign. That money won’t show up in federal financial reports until after Election Day.

It all underscore a changing political landscape on guns after a series of election year mass shootings, including the February massacre at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 people dead, and Saturday’s deadly attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

“The politics of guns has changed,” said Jim Kessler, the senior vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist think tank. “The groups supporting more gun safety restrictions are smarter than in the past and have more resources, both in terms of people and money, than in the past.”

With polls showing that the majority of Americans now support at least some tightening of gun laws, the issue is no longer taboo in swing districts, particularly the suburban areas that could determine which party controls the House next year. Everytown and Giffords’ group are on the air in competitive districts in Texas, Virginia, Kansas and elsewhere.

After the Pittsburgh shooting, a Bloomberg aide said Everytown bought another $700,000 in advertisements aimed at ousting Rep. Mike Coffman, a vulnerable Republican who represents a suburban Denver district — a significant sum to spend on a single House race in one week.

The group has also spent about $4 million in the Atlanta suburbs to back Democrat and gun control advocate Lucy McBath, whose son was shot and killed in 2012.

Despite the public polling, there are no guarantees that sending more pro-gun control lawmakers to Washington would result in tougher legislation. Modest measures have repeatedly been blocked in Congress, even as Americans have grown more supportive of steps like banning assault weapons and tightening background checks.

Bloomberg, who is weighing a run for president as a Democrat in 2020, promises to keep up the pressure on lawmakers and candidates he’s backing if they end up on Capitol Hill.

“I’ve put an awful lot of my money and an awful lot of my time into this,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I’m not going to forget it. I’m not going to walk away.”

He continued: “The nice thing about the House, it may be a stupidly designed system but if they don’t do what they said they were going to do, you get another crack at deciding to support them or somebody else two years from now.”

An NRA spokeswoman would not comment on the group’s election spending compared to organizations pushing for stricter gun laws.

Bloomberg, who is spending $120 million on the midterms, has helped pro-gun control groups level a playing field long dominated by the NRA.

The organization was riding high after the 2016 election, with a strong supporter in the White House and Republicans in charge of both the House and Senate.

But 2018 has proved to be a tumultuous year for the NRA, which has been faced with boycotts from parts of corporate America in the wake of mass shootings and an investigation into what federal authorities allege were covert Russian agents seeking to influence the 2016 election to benefit Trump by courting NRA officials and funneling money through the group.

Publicly, the NRA has portrayed itself as being in financial distress because of deep-pocketed liberal opposition to guns and what it calls the mainstream media “spewing toxic lies” about the group. Over the summer, the organization raised its annual dues fees from $40 to $45 — the second increase in two years.

NRA watchers dismiss the notion that the organization is in trouble and say it’s more of a ploy to energize its ardent supporters, which in turn could help bring in more donations.

“It’s in the NRA’s interests to exaggerate how much trouble it’s in,” said Robert J. Spitzer, chairman of political science at the State University of New York at Cortland and an expert on guns and the Second Amendment.

Indeed, the group’s political fundraising is up this year compared to the last midterm election. According to data provided by an NRA official, the group’s Political Victory Fund has raised more than $12 million this year compared to nearly $11 million at this same point in the 2014 midterms.

While the NRA is not pumping the same levels of money into this year’s elections, it still has much at its disposal to try to sway campaigns: its NRATV media arm, social media and an ability to mobilize its millions of members to get them to the polls.

The NRA’s membership rolls and finances are not public, but the organization has said it has about 6 million in its ranks. Those who closely watch the group believe its membership is closer to 4 million.

Both the NRA and groups such as Everytown can also quietly influence elections with money that doesn’t have to be reported in publicly available campaign finance reports.

More than 20 states have never had a woman as governor

ATLANTA (AP) — The last time a historic wave of women ran for office, in 1992, California became the first state to send two women to the U.S. Senate.

A quarter century after setting that milestone, the state known for its progressive politics is still waiting for its first female governor. This year’s candidates are two white men.

Other populous states, including New York, Florida and Illinois, also have never elected a woman as governor.

On this, one of the most progressive states may be a surprise — Kansas.

The reliably conservative state in the nation’s heartland has elected two female governors and could elect a third, Democrat Laura Kelly, on Nov. 6.

“In some ways, it is part of the culture of the state,” said former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat. “There’s been a long tradition of women doing their part, holding their own, being in responsible positions.”

Another conservative state, Arizona, has had four women serve as governor — the most of any state. Texas has had two.

In all, 39 women in 28 states have served as governor, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

Delaine Eastin, a former state schools superintendent who finished sixth this year in California’s open gubernatorial primary, said it’s difficult to break through in a large state.

The former lawmaker said it’s hard to raise money and be taken seriously running for statewide office where there is a long line of veteran male politicians waiting for their chance.

During her recent campaign, Eastin recalled meeting with a labor group whose representative later told her she was the best interview of all the candidates for governor. But the union would not be endorsing her because it could not see her path to victory.

“There is a tendency to look past us or underestimate us,” Eastin said.

Even name recognition and party bona fides are no guarantee of success. Gwen Graham, a congresswoman and daughter of a former governor, lost her bid for Florida governor in this year’s Democratic primary despite outraising the eventual winner, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

In New York, actress Cynthia Nixon lost her Democratic primary battle against incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a formidable incumbent expert at working the levers of the party machinery. His campaign repeatedly dismissed Nixon’s campaign as the frivolous work of an amateur.

The losing experiences of female candidates this year in California, Florida and New York show why there is no clear answer about why women have struggled running for governor in some states.

“There are so many factors that are influential in both who becomes a candidate and who becomes the ultimate winner, it’s hard to isolate gender in these races,” said Kelly Dittmar, a Rutgers University professor who studies gender and politics.

Candidates sidestep Trump in midterm closing message

POINT PLEASANT, N.J. (AP) — Tom MacArthur is doing something that’s familiar to dozens of candidates in the most fiercely contested congressional races: Tiptoeing around President Donald Trump.

The Republican congressman has done more than anyone in New Jersey to help Trump. He was the only member of his delegation to vote for Trump’s tax cuts. And he personally authored a provision that briefly resurrected Trump’s health care plan.

But on the eve of the election, he might be mistaken for a member of the Trump resistance.

“I’ve worked with Democrats to get things done that matter to South Jersey,” MacArthur told The Associated Press after addressing hundreds of veterans at an American Legion weekend celebration without mentioning the president’s name. “I work with the president when I can, and when I think he’s doing something that’s bad for Jersey, I resist that, I push back on that.”

In an election that hinges on Trump’s standing, candidates from both parties are struggling to find the right balance when it comes to Trump. While liberals demand Trump’s impeachment, many Democratic candidates are focused on health care. Republicans in Washington, meanwhile, are all in for Trump, but the party’s most important House candidates are spending their final days attacking Democrats for resisting — without saying much about the president who’s being resisted.

In an interview, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel suggested the midterm elections are not a referendum on Trump.

“I don’t see it,” she said. “The candidates that we have that are doing better are the candidates that are focused on district specific issues and not nationalizing the race.”

“Democrats don’t talk about results because they have none to stand on,” McDaniel added. “I’ve never seen this level of obstruction.”

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez downplays Trump’s impact on the midterms as well.

“Health care is on the ballot,” he said in an interview. “They want to take it away, we want to preserve it.”

Perez said his party’s closing message addresses Trump only in that Democrats would provide a check on Trump’s policies on health care, the economy and the ethical lapses in his administration.

“The rule of law has been replaced by the rule of Trump,” Perez said. “We need guardrails in Washington.”

Voters will decide whether the president’s party will maintain control of the House and Senate on Nov. 6. A setback in either chamber would almost certainly derail Trump’s agenda. It would also give Democrats subpoena power to probe the president’s many personal and professional controversies — in addition to giving them an opportunity to pursue impeachment.

In the fight for the Senate, Republicans running in states where Trump remains popular are eager to make the president the centerpiece of their closing messages. Trump and his favorite policies are featured in final-days campaign ads for Republican candidates in Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, Tennessee and West Virginia.

But in the high-stakes battle for the House, which is playing out among a more suburban and educated electorate, candidates on both sides are handling Trump with great care.

Republican Rep. David Young is locked in a dead heat with Democrat Cindy Axne in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District.

Young steered clear of the president as he chatted with voters strolling through Des Moines’ farmer’s market over the weekend. After one woman proclaimed her devotion to Trump, Young ignored the president and thanked her for the support.

“We’re running on our record of delivering solutions for Iowans and, on the broad scope of things, the economy,” Young later said when asked about his closing message.

He’s stressing his effort to avoid partisan national debates, focusing instead on local issues like expanded renewable fuel sales, a $190-million ethanol plant in western Iowa and farm measures aimed at protecting soil and water. Nowhere in Young’s closing argument does he mention the president, except to say he disagrees with the administration’s imposition of tariffs that threaten Iowa’s export-heavy agricultural economy.

Nor does Young address health care, even though it’s the centerpiece of his Democratic opponent’s message against him.

“We need to send people out to Washington who understand how important it is to protect people with pre-existing conditions,” Axne said after rallying volunteers over the weekend.

The Democrat is not attacking Trump directly either. She hints at a climate of intolerance coming from the administration by calling her candidacy “a choice that will represent every voice in this district, no matter what color you are.”

In Kentucky’s 6th District, it’s easy to find Democrats who want to attack Trump. But at least one Democratic volunteer backing Amy McGrath against Republican Rep. Andy Barr knows not to mention the president’s name.

McGrath, a former Marine, has alternated between condemning Trump’s more controversial statements and supporting some of his policies.

“I’m not somebody who is this total anti-Trumper,” McGrath said in a weekend interview. “I think his style and his leadership traits are not the traits that I have learned of what good leaders are supposed to be. I think he divides more than he unites Americans.”

But, she continued, “if Donald Trump has a good idea, I’ll be with him.”

It’s much the same dynamic in Minnesota’s 1st District, one of the few GOP pickup opportunities this cycle.

Democratic candidate Dan Feehan described America in “a moment of chaos” as he rallied around 100 volunteers Sunday morning. “There is something out there that is dark, that is filled with hate,” said the Army veteran, not once mentioning the president’s name in his remarks.

In a subsequent interview, Feehan said his message has been focused on the need for independent voices in Washington to counter its dysfunction. As for Trump, Feehan said his biggest hope is that Congress becomes a functional co-equal branch of government to serve as a check and balance.

“That means working with President Trump when it makes sense for southern Minnesota, but having the independence again to stand up to him when it does not,” he said.

In Michigan’s 8th District, Democrat Elissa Slotkin is emphasizing her work for both Republican and Democratic presidents and three tours in Iraq in her quest to defeat Republican incumbent Rep. Mike Bishop. She’s particularly focused on health care while decrying “the tone and tenor” of the nation’s political climate.

Just don’t ask her to blame Trump — as many Democratic activists do.

“To me, it’s not any one person, though leadership climate is certainly set from the top,” Slotkin told The AP. “For me, it’s just more than one person.”

Back in New Jersey, Republican MacArthur said Trump is a factor in virtually every other race in the nation. He acknowledged he has done more to help the president than any other member of his state’s delegation.

“I’m certainly not running away from it,” MacArthur said.

He reinforces the point in a TV ad running across the region in the campaign’s final days: “Andy Kim is running to protest Trump,” he says of his Democratic opponent. “I’m running to represent you whether you like Trump or not.”

AP-NORC Poll: Most Americans see a sharply divided nation

WASHINGTON (AP) — With just two weeks to go until the critical midterm elections, an overwhelming majority of Americans say the United States is greatly divided, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll. Few Americans believe those stark divisions will get better anytime soon.

The newly released survey found that more than 8 in 10 Americans think the country is greatly divided about important values. Just 20 percent of Americans say they think the country will become less divided over the next few years, and 39 percent think things will get worse. A strong majority of Americans, 77 percent, say they are dissatisfied with the state of politics in the country.

The poll was conducted Oct. 11-14 in the final sprint to the midterm elections, in which President Donald Trump has been rallying his supporters to turn out to vote in November. Overall, 59 percent of Americans disapprove of how Trump, a Republican, is handling his job as president, while 40 percent of Americans approve.

How Americans view Trump divides along partisan lines, according to the poll. While 83 percent of Republicans approve of how Trump is handling his job, 92 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of independents say they do not approve.

According to the poll, nearly half of Americans say they aren’t hearing enough from campaigns about the issues that matter most to them. Fifty-four percent of Democrats and 44 percent of Republicans say they are hearing too little about key issues.

Overall, top issues for Americans include health care, education, economic growth, Social Security and crime, each of which was called very important by at least three-quarters of Americans.

Fifty-eight percent of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country, compared with 25 percent who say they are satisfied. But Americans are slightly more likely to be satisfied with the way things are going in their state or in their local community.

Majorities of Americans also say that they are dissatisfied with the gap between the rich and the poor, race relations and environmental conditions. But there are partisan splits. Eighty-three percent of Democrats are dissatisfied with the gap between the wealthy and the poor, compared with 43 percent of Republicans. Of environmental conditions, 75 percent of Democrats and 32 percent of Republicans say they are dissatisfied. And while 77 percent of Democrats say they’re dissatisfied with race relations, about 50 percent of Republicans say the same.

Democrats and Republicans also are divided on how important they consider each of those issues to be. About 8 in 10 Democrats but no more than a third of Republicans call income inequality, environmental issues or racism very important.

The past year has seen the United States reckon with accusations of sexual misconduct that ranged from inappropriate comments to rape and with a slew of high-profile men forced to resign or be fired. Overall, about 6 in 10 Americans said the issue of misconduct was important to them. But 73 percent of women said the issue was very important, compared with 51 percent of men. Democrats were much more likely than Republicans to call sexual misconduct important, 79 percent to 39 percent.

According to the poll, 43 percent of Americans somewhat or strongly disapprove of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court after a bruising confirmation fight that included allegations of excessive drinking and an accusation of sexual assault dating back to Kavanaugh’s teenage years. Thirty-five percent of Americans said they strongly or somewhat strongly approved of Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Overall, 59 percent of Americans said Supreme Court appointments are very important now, which is similar to the percentage who said that in 2016. But two years ago, Democrats and Republicans were more similar in how important they saw these nominations. Now, there is a 20 percentage point gap: 73 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Republicans say Supreme Court appointments are very important to them.

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The AP-NORC poll of 1,152 adults was conducted Oct. 11-14 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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Online:

AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research: http://www.apnorc.org

Trump again stoking anger at Democrats, media at Friday rally

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — President Donald Trump is again stoking his supporters’ anger at “Crooked Hillary,” other Democrats and the news media, barely missing a beat after mail bombs were sent to some of the most frequent targets of his derision.

Trump set aside some of his usual name-calling at a rally in Wisconsin earlier in the week and made a short-lived plea for unity as authorities pressed ahead with an investigation and intercepted more than a dozen pipe bombs meant for former President Barack Obama, Trump’s 2016 rival Hillary Clinton, other prominent Democrats and CNN.

But after the arrest in Florida of a Trump supporter now charged in the attacks, Trump was back in familiar form at a Charlotte rally Friday night. His reference to “Crooked Hillary Clinton” prompted chants of “Lock her up” and a joke from the president: “Oh boy, they’re going to be reporting about you tonight.”

He assailed the media at length, accusing reporters of trying “to use the sinister actions of one individual to score political points” against him. The crowd broke into frequent chants of “CNN sucks!”

California Rep. Maxine Waters, frequently dubbed “low IQ” by Trump, earned a mention as well. She was one of the targets of the pipe bomber. None of the intercepted bombs exploded and no one was hurt.

Trump is on a rally blitz, hoping to help vulnerable Republicans in the Nov. 6 elections that will determine which party controls Congress. He’s planning at least 10 rallies over the five-day stretch before Election Day.

He was set to speak Saturday at the annual convention of the Future Farmers of America in Indiana before rallying in southern Illinois for Rep. Mike Bost, who’s in a tight re-election race in a once reliably Democratic district that supported Trump in 2016. The Indiana stop is a nod to farmers, who strongly support the president, though the relationship has been tested during Trump’s trade conflict with China.

Trump told reporters as he left Washington on Friday not to expect toned-down rhetoric. “I could really tone it up,” he said, “because, as you know, the media has been extremely unfair to me and to the Republican Party.”