By Jeff Mason and Maria Caspani
PENSACOLA, Fl./ATLANTA (Reuters) – President Donald Trump touted U.S. economic growth and painted a grim picture on immigration in rallies with Republican candidates before Tuesday’s elections as Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden urged voters to reject division.
In the latest injection of racial tensions into the campaigns, a wave of automated calls using racist and anti-Semitic language went out to voters in Georgia, where a Democratic candidate is vying to become the first black female governor in the United States.
Control of both houses of the U.S. Congress, currently dominated by Republicans, and 36 governors’ offices will be at stake when Americans vote on Tuesday. Interest has been unusually high for a non-presidential election year, with early voting running well ahead of past cycles.
Opinion polls and nonpartisan forecasters generally show Democrats with a strong chance of taking the 23 additional seats they would need for a majority in the House of Representatives, which they could use to launch investigations into Trump’s administration and block his legislative agenda.
Republicans are favoured to retain control of the Senate, whose powers include confirming Trump’s nominations to lifetime seats on the Supreme Court.
“America is booming. Republicans passed a massive tax cut for working families and we will soon follow it up with another 10 percent tax cut for the middle class,” Trump said, standing in a Belgrade, Montana, airfield with Air Force One as a backdrop.
Last December, Trump signed into law the largest tax overhaul since the 1980s, which slashed the corporate rate to 21 percent from 35 percent and temporarily reduced the tax burden for most individuals as well.
The appearance was intended to boost the campaign of Matt Rosendale, the Republican state auditor challenging Democratic U.S. Senator Jon Tester. Trump called out Tester for his vote against his most recent Supreme Court nominee, saying “what he did was terrible.”
Republicans in many competitive suburban districts have tried to focus their campaign messages on the robust economic growth, though in his campaign appearances Trump has also focused on his hard-line immigration stance as he looks to stem the illegal and legal flow of people into the United States.
“The Democrats want to invite caravan after caravan to flood your communities, depleting our resources and flooding our nation,” Trump told the Montana crowd. “We don’t want that.”
Biden campaigned in Ohio on Saturday in support of Democrats U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown and gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray.
“We’re in a battle for America’s soul,” Biden, his voice faint and scratchy, told a crowd at a high school south of Cleveland. “We Democrats have to make it clear who we are. We choose hope over fear, we choose unity over division, we choose our allies over our enemies and we choose truth over lies.”
A wave of robocalls using racist language went out in Georgia in recent days apparently targeted at undermining the campaign of former state lawmaker Stacey Abrams, who is running to become the first black female governor in the United States, according to her and her rival’s campaign.
The calls impersonated media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who earlier this week campaigned with Abrams, and also featured anti-Semitic language, according to audio of the call heard by Reuters.
Both Abrams and her rival, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, denounced the calls, with the Republican calling them “absolutely disgusting.”
“It just shows the desperation,” said Ivory Watts, a 36-year-old activist who formerly lived in Georgia who received one of the calls.
The issue of voter suppression has been central to the race in Georgia, where Kemp is the state’s top election overseer.
Two federal courts on Friday issued rulings ordering the state to allow some 3,000 naturalized U.S. citizens to vote in Tuesday’s elections and prevent the state from throwing out some absentee ballots.
A similarly racist round of calls went out in August in Florida, targeting Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum, who is black.
As of Friday night, almost 32.4 million people had cast ballots early across the United States, according to The Election Project at the University of Florida, which tracks turnout. That is up more than 50 percent from the 20.5 million early votes cast in all of 2014, the last federal election when the White House was not at stake.
Trump on Friday appeared in West Virginia with Patrick Morrisey, who is seeking to unseat Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. They marked his third campaign appearance in West Virginia and fourth in Montana.
In Florida, Trump campaigned for Governor Rick Scott, who is trying to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, and U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis, who is running for governor against Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor.
If the Democrats won, Trump told the crowd at an aircraft hangar in Pensacola, they would impose socialism on Florida.
“Welcome to Venezuela,” he said. “And they’ll erase America’s border. We have to have a border if we are going to have a great country.”
For all Reuters election coverage, click: https://www.reuters.com/politics/election2018
Graphic: For a look at battleground states – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ELECTION-TOSSUP-SEATS/010080SV1K9/index.html
Graphic: Can Democrats regain control of the House? – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ELECTION-BLUEWAVE/010080J912P/index.html
(Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by James Dalgleish and Grant McCool)