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A week before US elections, sharp divide persists

By HENG WEILI in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-11-01 10:43

FILE PHOTO: Birds fly near the US Capitol at sunrise, on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, February 8, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

With a week to go before the US midterm elections, the outcome of fierce partisan contests could determine the near-term path of American politics.

At stake in the Nov 8 elections will be control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, with both chambers currently run by Democrats, along with governor's offices in some key states.

The current make-up of the 435-member House is 220 Democrats and 212 Republicans, with three vacant seats. If the Republicans gain control, which would require a pickup of six seats, some members have vowed to impeach President Joe Biden.

All 435 House seats are up for election (the seats are for two-year terms), and one-third of the Senate seats are in play.

The Senate is split 50-50 along voting lines, with Vice-President Kamala Harris casting the deciding vote so far 26 times, when legislation drew no Republican support, according to ballotpedia.com. Harris' most recent tie-breaking vote was on Aug 7, for the Inflation Reduction Act.

In the states, 36 of the 50 governor's offices will be decided, including those in populous, high-profile states such as Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.

The influence of former president Donald Trump will be on the ballot indirectly, as he has endorsed several candidates across the country. The results of those contests could provide a window into the 2024 presidential lineup.

A 'Vote' sign is posted at the Orange County Registrar of Voters less than two weeks before midterms Election Day on Oct 27, 2022 in Santa Ana, California. [Photo/Agencies]

Nationally, Republicans have emphasized four-decade-high inflation, increased gasoline prices and record migration at the US southern border.

Democrats have seized on the overturning of Roe vs Wade by the Supreme Court in June, a landmark 1973 ruling that provided a federal right to abortion. The decision has left the regulation of abortion to the states, which have widely divergent laws. They also frequently highlight the Jan 6, 2021, storming of the US Capitol by supporters of Trump.

The contest for US Senate in Georgia between two black candidates features incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock against Republican Herschel Walker, a former football star.

A poll published Monday by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which was conducted by the University of Georgia's School of International and Public Affairs, shows the election, which has cast the personal lives of the candidates into the public eye, as basically a dead heat.

Highlighting the importance of the Georgia contest, former US president Barack Obama made a campaign stop for Warnock on Friday.

Another factor in the Senate races is Biden's approval rating, according to New York Times/Siena College polling. The president's approval rating is 36 percent in Arizona, 39 percent in Georgia, and 42 percent in Pennsylvania.

In the statehouse battles, in New York, Republican Lee Zeldin, a US congressman, is challenging incumbent Democrat Kathy Hochul. Zeldin has emphasized crime, particularly in New York City, as his main issue. He has railed against the state's lenient bail laws and promised to fire Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg if he wins.

Hochul, who became the Empire State's first woman governor in August 2021 when Andrew Cuomo resigned amid harassment allegations by staff members, has emphasized abortion rights and has linked Zeldin to Trump in ads.

In a rematch in Georgia, Republican Governor Brian Kemp leads Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams by 51 percent to 44 percent, according to the Atlanta newspaper poll.

In a debate Sunday, the two clashed over abortion and voting rights.

Abrams said women “should not be worried about the knock on the door — is the sheriff coming to ask them if they have had an illegal abortion”.

On voting rights, Kemp said he's made it “easy to vote and hard to cheat”, adding that early vote totals in the state have already reached 1.6 million, far ahead of 2018.

A key race for the governor's mansion also will take place in Pennsylvania between Democrat Josh Shapiro, the current attorney general, and conservative Republican Doug Mastriano, who has focused on rising crime in cities such as Philadelphia and supports stringent abortion rules. Shapiro has portrayed Mastriano as extremist.

In Arizona, a state that has had numerous disputes involving presidential election procedures in 2020, Democrat Katie Hobbs, currently Arizona secretary of state, faces Republican Kari Lake, a former TV anchorwoman in Phoenix.

Lake, who has the support of Trump, has supported his contention of the 2020 election results. She also has frequently singled out for criticism reporters covering her campaign.

Hobbs, who has declined to debate Lake, said: “It's a choice between sanity or chaos. Election denial is the core of that chaos.”

In Texas, incumbent Republican Greg Abbott faces Democrat Beto O'Rourke. The sprawling, influential state has seen tens of millions of dollars pour into the race, with O'Rourke seeing a late boost from billionaire George Soros and from celebrities such as talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel.

O'Rourke's campaign reported on Oct 11 that it had received $27 million in donations, mostly made online, from 511,000 individuals from late February through June, setting a Texas state record, according to thewrap.com.

Abbott's campaign reported $25 million in donations from nearly 45,000 contributors during the same time, the website said. But the incumbent has the overall larger war chest, thanks to political action committee (PAC) money — $94 million to $64 million.

In Oregon, a staunchly Democratic state, polls have shown the governor's race in a dead heat between Democrat Tina Kotek and Republican Christine Drazan. Independent Betsy Johnson is also running. Rising crime and homelessness in Portland, the state's largest city, have become campaign topics.

What makes the race intriguing is that the state's richest person, Nike co-founder Phil Knight, has given $1 million to Drazan after first backing Johnson, who has lagged in polling, with a $3.75 million donation. Nike has taken a progressive stance on social justice issues, although Knight, currently the multinational sports apparel giant's chairman emeritus, has donated to Republicans before.

A contentious campaign issue in Oregon is the state's 2020 measure that decriminalized methamphetamine, crack cocaine and heroin. The Pacific Northwest state saw a 40 percent rise in fatal overdoses in 2021.

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