TEMPE, Ariz. – The Republican, Rep. Martha McSally, wore a maroon-and-gold Arizona State University T-shirt and jeans as she belted out the national anthem at the school’s homecoming game Saturday. The Democrat, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, wore a canary-yellow dress and 4-inch platform shoes with cactus applique as she presided over the coin toss.
But the crowd of 46,000 greeted both U.S. Senate candidates the same way: with a mix of cheers and boos.
It was a fitting kickoff to the final weekend before the 2018 midterms , a campaign that seemingly launched the day after Donald Trump was elected president two years ago that is climaxing in the shadow of a bomb plot targeting Democratic leaders and the worst anti-Semitic shooting in U.S. history. Each side is doing everything it can to mobilize voters, warning of the dire consequences of failure.
Democrats are counting on wresting control of the House from Republicans and hoping for a long-shot series of wins to take back the Senate as well. But Republicans are optimistic they can gain seats in a Senate map heavy on red states and haven’t given up on holding the House.
Neither side wanted to leave anything on the field in the final weekend. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $650,000 in the final stretch on advertising on African-American radio stations to mobilize black voters.
Voters in both parties said they were paying attention.
“I’ve never been so sleepless, so restless as I have been” since Trump was elected, Sudi Farokhnia, a risk manager in Orange County, California, said before leaving a rally to volunteer for Democratic congressional candidate Katie Porter, who is challenging Republican Rep. Mimi Walters.
Brandon Evans, 36, was cleaning out his parents’ storage room in the Salt Lake City suburb of West Jordan on Saturday when he got an unexpected visit from his Republican congresswoman, Mia Love. Love, who faces a tough re-election challenge, traveled through her largely suburban district in an orange-and-blue modified motor scooter, knocking on every door she could.
Evans assured her she had his vote because of gun rights. “I feel like they’re under attack more than they’ve ever been,” Evans said.
Campaigns pulled out the heavy hitters. Trump continued to hopscotch the nation, holding a rally in Montana for GOP Senate candidate Matt Rosendale, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, and another rally for GOP candidates in Florida. Vice President Mike Pence traveled from Kansas to Wisconsin to Florida getting out the vote for Republicans.
At a Pence event outside Kansas City on Friday, Ronald Solomon, a 59-year-old investment banker from Las Vegas who sells Trump memorabilia, was incredulous that the GOP could lose seats, given the economy.
“There are better jobs. There are more jobs. People are getting bonuses – they’re getting raises,” Solomon said.
At a Pence rally Saturday on behalf of Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Sue Hodgson, of River Falls, said she was “nervous more than excited.” The group around Hodgson, who was sporting a star-spangled, down-filled jacket, nodded.
“We’re here to show our support,” Hodgson said. “I just hope it’s enough.”
In the Democratic stronghold of Madison, about 250 miles away, the smell of barbecue pervaded a labor hall where Democratic volunteers spent Saturday night phoning voters. Eighteen-year-old Katherine Morgan let out a squeak of joy when she learned that not only had the man she called already voted, but he also had a sign for Tony Evers, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, in his front yard.
“I want to be changing things day in and day out,” the University of Wisconsin freshman said. “You can’t complain if you don’t contribute.”
In West Palm Beach, Florida, just a few miles from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, legendary singer Jimmy Buffett tried to fire up Democrats for gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and Sen. Bill Nelson. He tweaked the words to some of his old favorites.
“Come Tuesday, things will change,” Buffett sang, swapping the date in his famous song “Come Monday.” “Come Tuesday, we’re making a change. It’s been two insane years and it’s time to really switch gears …”
It was a different tune but the same idea in Kansas City’s jazz district, where Glenn Jones performed his hit song “We’ve Only Just Begun” and danced down the aisles of the Gem Theater to fire up a predominantly African-American crowd for Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
Andre Lockett, 48, said he’s been trying to talk to younger people about the importance of showing up for Tuesday’s elections.
“My mother and grandmother didn’t live to see the first African-American president, and they would have been proud,” he said. “But now it looks like we’re going backwards, and I’m ashamed of where we’re at in this country right now.”
In Arizona, the Senate race has dominated the state. McSally, a former combat pilot, has accused Sinema of “treason” for comments about the Afghanistan War in 2002 while Democrats have been hammering McSally over her vote to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Lately, as Trump has tried to raise fear of a caravan of Central American migrants trying to cross Mexico on foot to reach the U.S. border, McSally has taken to slamming Sinema on immigration. Those thoughts were on the mind of Stephen Ovanessoff, a retired church deacon and pathologist, at a church visited by Republican Rep. David Schweikert as part of the congressman’s own get-out-the-vote efforts Saturday.
“There should definitively be a strong border, especially for a country like the United States,” said Ovanessoff, who emigrated from Iraq. “Because if you go outside to other countries, there are millions and millions of people everywhere that want to come and live in this country.”
In Tempe, outside Sun Devil Stadium, where thousands gathered wearing the team’s bright yellow colors, Sinema was mobbed by well-wishers asking for hugs and selfies. Sinema teaches two courses on social work at the university and has multiple degrees from the school, and was widely recognized, even by ticket scalpers.
One student gushed to Sinema, “I’ve heard your ads on Spotify.” One man confided to her: “You’re the most qualified candidate, but I can’t vote for you – I’m a Republican, my wife would kill me.” A scalper wished Sinema luck, leading the delighted candidate to cry: “We’ve got the scalper vote!”
Gina Kilker was making her way through the crowd when she cried out, “Oh, my God, that’s Kyrsten Sinema.” Soon the candidate was posing with Kilker, her husband, daughter and son-in-law.
“We did not expect to see her,” Kilker said. She tried to sum up her emotions about the last two years and boiled it down to: “We’re hoping and praying for a blue wave.”
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.