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Trump Ballon in LA vor den Mid-Term Wahlen

Mark RALSTON / AFP

interview

What’s at stake on 6th November?

An explanation of what’s important and why, from Linda Feldman, veteran White House correspondent and Washington Bureau Chief of the Christian Science Monitor.

By Joanna Bostock

In the vote for the Senate, the upper chamber in Congress, the Republicans are seen as having the stronger hand – why?

They are seen as having the stronger hand because of the map, and by that I mean the seats that are up for election in this cycle. There are a hundred seats in the Senate, and every two years one third of those seats are up for re-election. This time the vast majority of those seats are currently held by Democrats, including ten seats that are in states that were won in 2016 by Donald Trump. Some of those Democrats are going to win, but several will probably not, and that will put out of reach the Democrat hopes of winning over the Senate. The Republicans control the Senate by a very narrow margin of 51 to 49, so it looks tantalisingly close for the Democrats, but I think that it’s probably not doable.

The elections for the lower chamber, the House of Representatives is different, because there all the seats are up for grabs. Here the Democrats have a better chance of doing well, so what is working in their favour?

Linda Feldman

Linda Feldman

The first thing that’s working in their favour is history. The history of mid-term elections, particularly the first mid-term elections for a new president, is that the “out” party, this time the Democrats, has an advantage. A lot of voters like to see a little bit of a check on the president. It’s also an opportunity for people who were upset by the election of Donald Trump – and there are a lot of people, some who may not even have voted in the last election – it’s a chance for them to turn out and vote, essentially against Donald Trump as a proxy figure. We’ve seen a lot of Republicans retire this cycle, and there are 72 seats that are seen as “in play”. The Democrats only need a net gain of 23 to retake the House. That’s not to say they’re going to succeed, but the chances are very good.

Early voting has started in states across the country and – initially at least – it seems that turnout is high. Does that tend to favour one party over the other?

You know, everybody is looking very intently at those early voting numbers and people should not read too much into those, think it’s too soon to say if these early voting numbers give us anything. What I do know is that both parties are working very hard to get the turnout of “their” voters up. They need to get their base supporters to turn out because a lot of voters don’t vote in mid-terms, they’re really only interested in presidential elections.

Congress is dominated by white men, old white men, but a record 257 women are running – why is that?

This is a direct reaction first to the election of Donald Trump and then to the #MeToo movement. So there’s been this massive wave of female empowerment and a sense that it’s ridiculous to have such low female representation in Congress, and women are deciding to step up. It’s extraordinary: we’re seeing very young women, women who are not married, who’ve not had children, women who’ve actually just had children, women with many children, and they’re not allowing that to limit their horizons. This is a really significant movement because the Congress is not representative of the public. This also applies to minorities, and we’re seeing this long pent-up demand for a Congress that looks more like the nation.

Democrats are focusing a lot of attention on elections at individual state level – why is this so important?

The American federal system gives a lot of power to states and so state legislatures are extremely important. They’re currently predominantly controlled by Republicans. Under Barack Obama for eight years the Democrats lost about a thousand state legislative seats so this their opportunity to perhaps take over some state legislatures. It also creates a “farm team” for new political talent – you see a lot of state legislators who later will try to move up the ladder and run for Congress or Senate or governor. For the Democrats this election is extremely important, not only for the current races but also for building for the future.

Many people think the elections for state governors are particularly important and this has to do with the redrawing of the electoral districts in a few years’ time – can you explain this please?

With the governorships the math favours the Democrats. Some states have elections for governor in presidential years, and some even do it in odd number years, so not every governor’s seat is open this time, but there are a lot, and a lot of them are currently held by Republicans, there are several states that are almost certain to flip to the other party, including some key battleground states like Michigan. In the governor’s race there it’s looking like the Democrat candidate, Gretchen Whitmer, is likely to win. This matters because the 2020 census is coming up, and that’s followed by redistricting*. Most governors have a say in the how the districts are drawn, if only to sign or veto the legislation of the new legislative maps for those states for both state legislatures and for US congressional seats. This is also a reason why the elections to the state legislatures are so important to the Democrats, and why political activists are trying to this clear to voters.

[*redistricting is a process to re-draw the boundaries of electoral districts, ostensibly to account for population shifts, but which it’s claimed state officials have in the past manipulated to give their party an advantage].

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