President Donald Trump acknowledges the crowd as he leaves a rally Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. With voter turnout in the U.S. expected to test record levels Tuesday, women are expected to vote in the midterm elections en masse, energized by widespread anger towards Donald Trump. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

States and storylines to follow as U.S. voters head to polls

Americans head to the polls for midterm elections

States and storylines for Canadian observers to keep an eye on Tuesday as voters in the U.S. head to the polls for midterm elections:

WOMEN: He’s not on the ballot, but Donald Trump might as well be — which is why Democrats have been focusing their campaigns on college-educated white women, arguably the most motivated segment of the American electorate after two years of a famously divisive and misogynist president. Add to the mix the against-all-odds confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in spite of high-school sexual-assault allegations from psychologist Christine Blasey Ford, and you have a powerful voting bloc capable of — and widely expected to — overturn the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Can Trump’s all-out effort to mobilize his base, comprised heavily of non-college-educated men, break up the so-called Blue Wave?

READ MORE: Not all women are mobilized against Trump

MICHIGAN: Thanks to term limits, change is coming to Michigan regardless of the outcome. Former Democratic Senate minority leader Gretchen Whitmer is battling rival Bill Schuette to succeed Republican Gov. Rick Snyder (barred from running again by a term limit), while some polls suggest Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, is facing a challenge from Republican challenger John James. Michigan is one of eight states that belong to the 2008 Great Lakes Compact, an agreement with Ontario and Quebec to monitor the quality and quantity of Great Lakes water. “Usually it’s a relatively bipartisan issue, but it could be impacted by who wins the gubernatorial races in particular,” said Capri Cafaro, executive in residence at American University’s School of Public Affairs and a former state-senate Democrat in Ohio, another member state.

MARIJUANA: Also on the ballot in Michigan — as well as another key border state, North Dakota — are measures to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana. The drug remains illegal at the federal level, which is why crossing the border has become more complicated for Canadians working or partaking in the newly legalized pot industry. But as legalization looks poised to spread to more and more states, it can only help expedite action on the federal front, which some observers, including former Trump spokesman Anthony Scaramucci, expect the president to take after the midterms.

TURNOUT: While midterm elections typically generate less voter interest than their presidential counterparts, 2018 is bucking the trend in a big way. In the 37 states plus Washington, D.C., where some form of early voting is allowed, 36 million ballots had already been cast as of Monday, with 25 states and D.C. exceeding turnout levels from 2014. Indeed, in Utah, Texas, Arizona and Nevada the advance ballots cast to date exceed the total number of midterm ballots cast four years ago.

READ MORE: Facebook find ‘sophisticated’ efforts to disrupt U.S. elections

OHIO: One of the most critical elements of Donald Trump’s remarkable 2016 victory was his ability to flip blue-collar Ohio, long a critical battleground that the Republicans won by eight points two years ago, thanks in large measure to his “America First” trade mantra. Whether Democrat challenger Richard Cordray can wrest the governorship away from opponent Mike DeWine — two-term Gov. John Kasich, a moderate Republican, has reached his term limit — depends largely on whether Cordray’s focus on workers’ rights can top working-class fondness for the president.

NAFTA/USMCA: It’s not a ballot issue for Americans, who have long since moved on. But with the deal still requiring ratification in all three member countries and Section 232 tariffs on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum exports still in place, there are more than enough loose ends to keep stakeholders near the edges of their seats. Few experts anticipate any problems in Congress even if the Republicans lose the House; approval is less an issue of ‘if’ than of ‘when.’ And ‘when’ is important, given the ongoing impact of tariffs — hidden, to a degree, by a strong domestic economy — and U.S. farmers keen to have access to export markets in Mexico and Canada.

WISCONSIN: When Canadians contemplate all their recent NAFTA angst, the dairy-drenched border state of Wisconsin often springs to mind — and gratitude to Trump for a U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that provides better access to export markets could well play a role Tuesday. But Wisconsin is intriguing for a different issue, one near and dear to Canada’s heart: health care. Republicans like Gov. Scott Walker, a Trump ally and a vociferous critic of the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, have been desperately trying to convince voters they won’t eliminate Obamacare’s protection for people with pre-existing health conditions. Walker is in a pitched battle with Democratic rival Tony Evers.

FLORIDA: Always central to America’s political narrative, Florida will again be in the spotlight Tuesday. With a number of districts where the Democrats hope to make gains, experts say the gubernatorial campaign by Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a black Democrat, has helped to mobilize young and minority voices. The Democrats are counting on those voters to help Bill Nelson, the incumbent senator facing a considerable challenge from Rick Scott, the state’s outgoing Republican governor.

READ MORE: Midterm battles heat up as U.S. campaigns near the end

TEXAS: This traditionally Republican bastion has one of the marquee matchups of the 2018 midterms: the Canadian-born Republican senator and Trump tormentor-turned-ally Ted Cruz versus upstart Democrat challenger Beto O’Rourke. Cruz has consistently led in the polls but not by a huge margin, and the very fact that O’Rourke has given Cruz a scare underscores the fact that Democrats, fuelled in part by O’Rourke’s surge and energized young and Latino voters, are challenging Republicans all over in the increasingly progressive Lone Star state.

GEORGIA: In addition to a number of key House races, Democrat Stacey Abrams is mounting a high-profile effort to become America’s first black female governor as she battles Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

VIRGINIA: The state slogan may be “Virginia is for lovers” but there’s no love lost here between Republicans and Democrats, who are eyeing a number of districts as ripe for the taking — most notably that of Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Trump ally who is trying to fend off a strong challenger in Democrat Jennifer Wexton.

The Canadian Press

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