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They love Trump but will they vote in November if hes not running

Democrats were clobbered in two midterm elections under President Obama when indifferent supporters stayed home. Will the pattern repeat in November with the GOP in control, costing Republicans their majority on Capitol Hill?
Issued: 2018-03-05

Dan Karr had little use for politics until Donald Trump came along and captivated the small-business owner with his wrecking-ball candidacy.

Karr has grown even more supportive since Trump became president. "He's actually doing what he said he would do, which is unusual," the rangy 57-year-old marveled. Things like cutting taxes and rolling back government regulations.

But Karr's enthusiasm doesn't translate into excitement over November's midterm election — he may or may not vote — and that's a problem for Republicans fighting to keep their majorities on Capitol Hill.

Republican faithful reliably cast their ballots, noted Stuart Elway, a Seattle pollster who has spent decades sampling public opinion in Washington state. But will Trump voters who aren't as politically engaged turn out for an election with no Trump on the ballot?

"Where are they going to be?" Elway asked. "That's the million-dollar question."

The answer could very well determine control of Congress.

The halfway point of a president's first term is typically a rough one for the party in the White House. The last two midterm elections, under President Obama, were terrible for Democrats, who lost scores of seats along with their majorities in the House and Senate.

One big reason was indifference: Voters who surged to the polls to vote for the nation's first black president stayed home in 2010 and again in 2014 when Obama wasn't running.

Republicans, mindful of political history, say they have built the most extensive voter contact and persuasion operation ever, to ensure no potential GOP backer sits out November and to shield incumbents like the local congresswoman, Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

"We know who they are and we have the army of volunteers to be able to get out there, find them and bring them to the polls," said Rick Gorka, a national Republican Party spokesman. "We know which buttons to push, what's needed to motivate them."

America First Action, a pro-Trump organization, hopes to raise $100 million to help coax the president's supporters to the polls nationwide. "It's not just about an election," said the group's president, Brian O. Walsh. "It's about the agenda and keeping people engaged in the fight."

But mobilizing voters turned off by politics, who supported Trump precisely because he's so outside the norm, who may not like Congress regardless of which party has control, will be a challenge.

We know which buttons to push, what’s needed to motivate them.

For Karr, campaigns below the presidential level never seem to matter much.

The eastern half of Washington, where he makes his living remodeling homes, is rural, conservative and routinely outvoted by left-leaning Seattle and its far more crowded environs. "We're helpless," Karr said. "We get this stuff shoved down our throats, even though we don't want it."

McMorris Rodgers, 48, would normally be a shoo-in for reelection. She's rooted in agriculture, one of eastern Washington's biggest industries, having grown up on an apple orchard, and hasn't faced a serious challenge since she was first elected in 2004.

But the president's unpopularity — his national approval hovers around a limp 40% — has compounded the difficulties facing Republicans of every stripe; few have yoked themselves as closely to Trump as the ambitious seven-term congresswoman.

She not only votes the president's way nearly 100% of the time but vigorously promotes his policies as the No. 4 Republican in the House leadership, becoming, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer described her, "the face of the Trump administration in Washington state."

While Trump carried McMorris Rodgers' district, he did so with just 50% support. Now even some Trump voters say the seven-term congresswoman has become too partisan.

"I think she doesn't think for herself. I think she votes the party line too often," said Republican Jeff Holland, 46, who sells farm equipment in Spokane.

He backed Trump for the sole purpose of preserving a conservative majority on the Supreme Court and, now that Neil Gorsuch is seated, doesn't much care about November, figuring Congress "is pretty much a stalemate" regardless of which party runs the place.

Pausing at the recent Spokane Ag Expo, Holland expressed a view others shared: McMorris Rodgers has grown out of touch.

"I don't think she comes back and talks to us enough," he said, amid a shiny display of giant tractors, combines and sprayers. "What's happening on the ground is a lot different from Washington."


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