Why are the midterm elections in the US so important?

The stakes could not be higher in the upcoming US midterm elections, as a battle is being waged to decide which vision of America will prevail – that of President Donald Trump or that of his opposition.

Control of state houses, the US House of Representatives and the Senate are at stake. Political observers on both sides of the spectrum are calling on people to go out and vote because this could be the most important election in our lifetimes, if not in US history. 

On the national and state levels, the Republican Party promotes policies that heighten racial and economic injustice and entrench social division. Their regressive stance on a variety of socioeconomic issues has served as a catalyst for the opposition – mobilising women, people of colour, the youth, and others and making space for dynamic, progressive candidates with bold alternative programmes to run for office

On the one hand, states such as Republican-controlled North Carolina, ground zero for the war on voting rights, have enacted strict voter suppression measures to bar voters of colour from exercising their rights.

A federal court has ordered state officials to redraw its illegally-drawn congressional districts, which were designed to benefit Republican politicians. A restrictive voter ID law in Wisconsin suppressed 200,000 black and Democratic voters in the state, which Trump won by 22,748 votes.

On the other hand, voters outraged by the current political climate are energised and poised to make change – and make history. Three states will have the opportunity to elect their first African American governors – a historic precedent.

In Maryland, civil rights leader and former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Ben Jealous, a Democrat, seeks to unseat Republican incumbent Governor Larry Hogan with a progressive platform of criminal justice reform, marijuana legalisation and a state-funded, single-payer healthcare system.

Former Georgia state representative and house minority leader Stacey Abrams is challenging Republican Brian Kemp in her bid to become the nation’s first black woman governor. As Georgia secretary of state, Kemp, who enjoys Trump’s support, has purged 591,548 names from the state voter rolls, and is accused in a lawsuit of failing to secure Georgia’s voting system, exposing the records of 6 million voters.

Parroting Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric, Kemp has vowed to use his Ford pick-up truck “just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself”.

In Florida, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum won the Democratic primaries to become the state’s first African American gubernatorial nominee, mobilising support among young people, liberals and progressives, and white, Latino and black voters.

Gillum promotes gun control and a repeal of Florida’s deadly “stand your ground” self-defence law, a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for all, corporate tax increases to pay for public education, and the abolishment of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Republican, Trump-endorsed governor candidate, Ron DeSantis, stirred controversy by using a racial slur in reference to Gillum’s politics.

This, as the current governor Rick Scott – a climate-change denier and darling of the pro-gun lobby who made Florida the “Gunshine State” due to its lax firearm laws – runs for the US Senate. Scott has received Trump’s blessing but attempted to distance himself from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and from the president, also pandering to Latino voters with a Spanish-language ad conveying the message that he is not Trump.

Latino voters, representing the fastest growing segment of the US population, are poised to influence elections in a number of states. In light of the deaths of nearly 3,000 people last year in Puerto Rico due to government inaction following the devastation of Hurricane Maria, mobilised and displaced Puerto Rican voters in Florida, New York and New Jersey could tip the balance in the midterms.

Meanwhile, the separation of nearly 3,000 undocumented migrant children from their families due to a white supremacist “zero tolerance” policy at the Mexican border, and the revocation of citizenship and passports of Hispanic American citizens, are issues impacting Latinos in the border state of Texas.

With its minority-white, non-Latino population still under Republican control, Texas is about to send its first two Latina legislators to Congress, Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar. Further, Democrat Beto O’Rourke could unseat conservative Senator Ted Cruz.

Hailed as the Left’s answer to Trump, O’Rourke has attacked the US president for his immigration policy and defended American football players who “take a knee” in protest of police violence. 

Amid the Islamophobic policies of the Trump administration, including travel bans on people from Muslim countries, Congress prepares to welcome its first Muslim-American women members – Rashida Tlaib , a daughter of Palestinian immigrants from Michigan, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Somali-American who fled the Somali civil war and lived in a Kenyan refugee camp.

The prospect of more inclusion in Congress – and the presence of legislators such as these dynamic Muslim women in a legislative body dominated by white Christian men – is more than mere symbolism, and stands to change the tenor and tone of Washington.

President Trump, facing a Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and fearing impeachment if the Democrats take control of Congress, has suggested there will be violence if his party loses the midterms. The Republican Party is also facing an internal crisis, struggling with Trump’s divisive politics.

The future of US governance hangs in the balance as the US president wages assaults on the rule of law and government institutions, on democratic norms, national security and the media. A Democratic win at the upcoming midterm elections could upset his bid for re-election in 2020.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance. 

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