Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

What does Tuesday's outcome mean for the 2020 presidential election?

Midterm results announced with positives for Democrats and warnings for Republicans

In her attempt to win a Senate seat in Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema hatched a plan. A Democratic congresswoman during two rancourous years under Donald Trump in Washington, Ms Sinema chose not to attack the president. Instead, she pointed out that she had supported him 62 per cent of the time when voting in the House of Representatives. This political paradox led to her being dubbed a purple candidate rather than a blue one.

On Wednesday it looked like her gamble might not be enough to end the Republican chokehold in her home state. Ms Sinema, a 42-year-old tipped for the top in Democratic politics, was one per cent behind her Republican rival Martha McSally, with 75 per cent of votes in and possibly days of counting to go.

The vote remained split. Non-affiliated independents could still tip the balance her way but although the middle ground, offend-no-one strategy she adopted has taken her close, it - just as in other Republican-held states - was not a game changer.

Texas (lost), Indiana (lost) and Florida (too close to call) proved that playing the anti-Trump card is not enough for Democrats. Republican candidates managed to hold on to Senate seats in states that the president won in 2016. What's more, Mr Trump's appearances and endorsements on the campaign trail for those soon to be sworn in were widely credited with taking them over the victory line.


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There lies last night's warning for Democrats as they head into the 2020 presidential election cycle: in an age of identity politics Mr Trump has cornered the market. His personality appeals to core Republican voters. He could repeat the narrow path he took to victory two years ago in the electoral college. And instead of selecting purple candidates who seemed to stand for little – Ms Sinema was accused of vagueness, assumed a low profile and went to great lengths to avoid reporters' questions, all a bit resonant of Hillary Clinton in 2016 - the Democrats need a candidate with personality who can cash in on, rather than just talk about, Mr Trump's least admiral traits and deeds. The early names are out there – Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Andrew Cuomo, Deval Patrick, even maybe Joe Biden or Michael Bloomberg – but are any of them going to take on Mr Trump? When I visited a heavily Republican area on Sunday the name that a former Democratic Party member brought up was Bill Clinton. “He had that southern charm and gift of the gab. The Democrats need someone like that to take on Trump,” the man said.

Although they failed to land their Senate targets there were some positives for the Democrats and warnings for Republicans. In Ohio, a rustbelt state that Mr Trump won in 2016, Sherrod Brown, a champion of workers' rights and financial regulation on Capitol Hill, was re-elected. Mr Trump could not have become president if he had not won Ohio. His stump speech in Cleveland on Monday didn't move the needle for Republicans this time around. But it is in Pennsylvania that Democrats might take most heart and see a harbinger of what their 2020 campaign strategy should look like.

In their taking back of the House of Representatives people turned out in droves in traditionally blue collar cities like Philadelphia to vote Democratic. White, educated urban voters – once the preserve of the Republicans – now sway toward Democrats while lower educated citizens pick Mr Trump, as do those living in rural areas. That blue red split only got bigger last night. It was the rural surge that doomed the Democrats' effort to take back the Senate while an urban voter uptick took them so close in Texas. Driven by unusually strong voter turnout, the midterms elections produced blue and red waves. It just depended on which map you were looking at.

Updated: November 7, 2018 09:49 PM