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Trump closes out a campaign built on fear, anger and division
[CAPE GIRARDEAU] US President Donald Trump on Monday closed out an us-against-them midterm election campaign that was built on dark themes of fear, nationalism and racial animosity in an effort to salvage Republican control of Congress for the remaining two years of his term.
Mr Trump's fiery, invective-filled campaigning produced what may be the most polarised midterm contest in modern times as he played to tribal rifts in American society in a way that no president has done since before the civil rights era. The divisions exposed and expanded over the past few weeks seem certain to last well beyond Election Day.
On Tuesday, voters will choose a new House, decide one-third of the seats in the Senate and select new governors for battleground states that will be critical to the 2020 presidential campaign. On the line for the president will be his ability to legislate, build his promised border wall, appoint new judges and ultimately set the stage to run for a second term.
More than most midterms, this election became a referendum on Mr Trump, as he himself has told his audiences it would be. The president's energetic rallies appear to have bolstered Republicans who were trying to match Democratic fervour, rooted in antipathy for Mr Trump. Even before Election Day, 36 million ballots were cast, with early voting higher than four years ago in 25 states and the District of Columbia.
Democrats appeared poised to recapture control of the House and governors' mansions in key Midwestern states, but Republicans were confident they would hold onto their razor-thin 51-49 majority in the Senate and possibly even build on it. A split decision could set the stage for two years of partisan warfare led by subpoena-powered Democratic committee leaders intent on investigating everything from his taxes to Russia's involvement in the 2016 election.
The president spent Monday barnstorming the Midwest on behalf of allies in close races, drawing loud and enthusiastic crowds of thousands. At rallies in Cleveland; Fort Wayne, Indiana; and finally here in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, his remarks were laced with his usual, acerbic attacks on his adversaries - "radical," "left-wing socialists," "corrupt," "the Democrat mob" - and accusations that Democrats would raise taxes, destroy Medicare and take over the American health care system.
"The Democrat agenda will deliver a socialist nightmare," Mr Trump said in Fort Wayne.
But he again reserved his most vitriolic language for immigration, repeatedly prompting loud boos as he warned that if Democrats win, they would invite murderers to come into the United States to kill men, women and children.
"Democrats are inviting caravan after caravan, illegal immigrants to flood into our country," Mr Trump boomed in Cleveland. He falsely said that Democrats want to give health care benefits to unauthorised immigrants and are openly encouraging undocumented immigrants to vote.
Led by ex-president Barack Obama, who has attacked his successor in a sharper, more sustained way than any former president in decades, Democrats sought to make the vote not just a decision on immigration, health care and other issues, but a test of the nation's values.
"The character of this country is on the ballot," Mr Obama, his voice hoarse from days of campaigning, said during an appearance Monday in Virginia on behalf of senators Tim Kaine and Jennifer Wexton, a top House prospect.
"Who we are is on the ballot," Mr Obama said. "What kind of politics we expect is on the ballot. How we conduct ourselves in public life is on the ballot. How we treat other people is on the ballot."
Asked by reporters Monday if the elections were turning as much on his style of leadership as anything else, the president said, "I don't think so, but, I mean, I'm willing to accept that."
He made no effort to distance himself from the harshness of his campaign, including an advertisement it produced that was deemed racist and was ultimately rejected by several networks, including his favorite, Fox News, as too offensive to air. "A lot of things are offensive," Mr Trump said. "Your questions are offensive a lot of times."
In an interview released later in the day, however, Mr Trump expressed some regret for the tenor of his two years in office. "I would like to have a much softer tone," he told Sinclair Broadcasting, attributing his no-holds-barred style to a desire to get things done.
He suggested he could change after the midterm. "I would love to get along, and I think after the election, a lot of things can happen," he said. "But right now they are in their mode and we are in our mode. And you know, if you're criticised, you have to hit back, or you should."
Mr Trump used the final day of the campaign to raise the possibility of voter fraud. "Law Enforcement has been strongly notified to watch closely for any ILLEGAL VOTING which may take place in Tuesday's Election (or Early Voting)," he wrote on Twitter. "Anyone caught will be subject to the Maximum Criminal Penalties allowed by law."
The president offered no basis for suggesting large-scale fraud was likely. "There are a lot of people, a lot of people, in my opinion and based on proof, that try and get in illegally and actually vote illegally," he said.
But the invocation of voter fraud could foreshadow Mr Trump's reaction if Democrats win the House. After he lost the popular vote in 2016, he explained it away by asserting, without any foundation, that 3 million unauthorised immigrants voted.