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Jimmy Buffett and ‘MAGA’ Hats: Scenes From the U.S. Just Before a Tight Election

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© Audra Melton for The New York Times


By THE NEW YORK TIMES
, The New York Times

It’s Jimmy Buffett: Florida campaign closer.

Days before the election, Mr. Buffett, the state’s quintessential beach strummer, had come to rally a lawn full of Democrats here with a message of peace, love and shakers of salt.

“Salt! Salt! Salt!” the people chanted through the amphitheater, for the chorus of “Margaritaville.”

The politicians were also there: Andrew Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor running for governor, and Senator Bill Nelson. So was Norman Lear, the 96-year-old progressive activist and television producer whose group, People for the American Way, counts Mr. Gillum among its alumni.

“This man is the epitome of the American way,” Mr. Gillum said, embracing Mr. Lear on stage.

Mr. Lear took the microphone for a moment. “My God,” he said, feigning shock as he sized up Mr. Gillum, “he’s black.” The joke killed.

And then the crowd settled in for a proper concert. Younger guests sang along. Older ones nodded knowingly. A couple sat on the grass munching on a bruschetta plate they’d brought for the occasion. Mr. Lear stayed on stage to watch well after the candidates left.

Near the back, a woman tried to focus her daughter’s attention.

“Your mom,” she conceded, “takes you to the silliest things.”

— Matt Flegenheimer

A purple flying unicorn discovered in Texas

HOUSTON — There’s a new type of voter causing varying degrees of panic and joy in Texas: Beto-Abbott voters.

Some Republican voters — no one knows how many — are supporting a Republican for governor and an underdog Democrat for U.S. Senate. It’s an unusual phenomenon that has a lot to do with Senator Ted Cruz, the Republican incumbent facing Representative Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat.

Mr. Cruz’s far-right attack-dog persona, failed bid for president and his embrace of President Trump, a former rival who has insulted him and his family, has made the senator unappealing to a subset of moderate Republicans. Gov. Greg Abbott, meanwhile, remains one of the most popular Republicans in the state.

Mr. Cruz and his supporters have been confident he will win re-election and dismiss Beto-Abbott voters as fictional creatures. “I think that’s a purple flying unicorn,” Mr. Cruz said in early October. “A media creation.”

We’d like to introduce Mr. Cruz to a bona fide purple flying unicorn: Charles N. Starnes, an economics professor at Wayland Baptist University in the West Texas city of Plainview. Professor Starnes, 70, has been a Republican since the 1960s and voted for Nixon, Reagan and Romney, among others. He already cast his ballot for Mr. Abbott and Mr. O’Rourke during the early voting period that ended Friday.

One moment was instrumental for Professor Starnes. He met Mr. O’Rourke months ago, when the congressman held a town hall in the nearby town of Floydada. In red West Texas, Democratic politicians don’t hold many town halls.

“He responded well to the questions,” he said. “They were all balanced responses and thoughtful responses rather than political dogma.”

Professor Starnes hasn’t been bashful about his vote. He’s got a Beto sign in his front yard.

— Manny Fernandez and Mitchell Ferman

Where Republicans see signs of hope

WHITESTOWN, Ind. — Mike Braun stood in a parking lot beneath a crisp blue sky Saturday afternoon, greeting Hoosiers as they arrived to vote early. It was stop 23 of 28 in the Republican Party’s statewide get-out-the-vote bus tour, and the Republican candidate hoping to oust Senator Joe Donnelly was reminding the several dozen people gathered of the left’s “ugly” actions during the Kavanaugh hearings.

“I’m running on family values,” Mr. Braun said, adding that he would “put emphasis on your local system,” instead of “the broken system way out east.”

With three days left, social conservative leaders are feeling cautiously optimistic not just about the tight Senate races in Indiana, but also in places like North Dakota, Florida and Missouri. Behind the scenes, some even are saying they feel increasingly confident that Republicans may hold the House, even if their majority shrinks, because they see possible wins in tight races in Virginia, Florida and California about which the Democrats have been hopeful.

“We’ve got a narrow window,” Mr. Braun said in a brief interview. “We have the next two years, and four years after that. We’ve got to show how our principles work for Middle America.”

Austin Lehman, 36, who had just voted, said he felt Mr. Braun would help his own business, in health insurance for churches and nonprofits.

“I love the idea of someone coming out of a business background helping us innovate,” he said, with his daughter on his shoulders, and his baby in his arms.

— Elizabeth Dias

Racist calls target Stacey Abrams

ATLANTA — Hours before Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who is vying to become the first black woman elected governor anywhere in the United States, took the stage with former President Barack Obama on Friday night, phones began to ring in Georgia.

If people answered, they heard a minute-long stream of racist vitriol, including that Oprah Winfrey, who campaigned with Ms. Abrams on Thursday, was “the magical Negro” trying to elevate her “fellow Negress.” The call said it was the work of a white supremacist website that also claimed responsibility for an incendiary call about Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor of Florida.

The calls are among the most strident examples of how issues of race have coursed through two of the most high-profile contests this election season.

“I think desperation is one of the hallmarks of some campaigns, and while I’m not saying this has anything to do with my opponent, I think that there’s an atmosphere that has been created that signals that that type of attack is allowed,” Ms. Abrams said. “I don’t think it is, but my response is to do what I’ve always done.”

Brian Kemp, the Republican who is running against Ms. Abrams, denounced the call as “absolutely disgusting.”

The call targeting Ms. Abrams followed a series of messages intended to malign Mr. Gillum, including one last week in which a man impersonated Mr. Gillum in a minstrel accent, with monkey sounds in the background.

The campaign of Ron DeSantis, Mr. Gillum’s Republican rival, has also disavowed the calls and said it had no connection to them.

— Alan Blinder and Patricia Mazzei

Arizona Senate race tightens

PHOENIX — The candidates in the Arizona senate race are leaving it all on the field in the final days of their neck-and-neck race.

Representatives Martha McSally, the Republican Senate nominee, and Kyrsten Sinema, the Democrat in the race, made appearances at the Arizona State University’s homecoming game against Utah on Saturday.

Ms. McSally sang the national anthem, a duty she’s assumed at previous sporting events in the state. Ms Sinema conducted the pregame coin toss. She called tails, winning the toss for Arizona, and posed for pictures with the school’s mascot.

There were no plans for a debate at halftime.

Democrats have tightened the Senate race in the final days, leaving the two women locked in a close race in the run-up to Election Day. Early voting ended on Friday.

— Lisa Lerer

Star power in the final push for Nevada

LAS VEGAS
— Nevada saw a surge of star power the final weekend before Election Day as celebrities and political personalities took to the stump here.

The late-night host Jimmy Kimmel used his comedy chops to roast Republican Senator Dean Heller while making a case that Representative Jacky Rosen, the Democratic challenger, would take on President Trump if elected. (Read more about Ms. Rosen here.)

“Why should you vote? Well, I’ll tell you why. Because the last time a lot of people didn’t vote, Donald Trump became the president of the United States. Sorry if you’re hearing this for the first time,” said Mr. Kimmel, whose hometown is Las Vegas. “Voting is not enough anymore. You also have to get your stupid friends to vote too; that is the key to this.”

At a Heller campaign field office in Reno on Thursday, Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, praised the senator for his help passing the Republican tax reform bill this year. “In politics, I’ve learned there are talkers and there are doers,” Ms. Trump told those who gathered, according to The Associated Press. He is definitely a doer.”

Donald Trump Jr. also made appearances across the state on Friday, attending a get-out-the-vote event in Reno and delivering remarks at political rally in Las Vegas alongside the Republican congressional candidate Danny Tarkanian.

— Jose A. Del Real

And star power in Georgia, too

EAST POINT, Ga.
— Andrew Wilson was leaning back in a leather chair at his barbership in Atlanta when the star of one of his favorite TV shows swept in, urging everyone to get out and vote.

“The dude looks like Hollywood,” Mr. Wilson said, looking at Omar J. Dorsey, who plays a lead in “Queen Sugar,” a show created by Ava DuVernay that follows families running a sugarcane farm in the South. He and Mr. Dorsey exchanged bear hugs and selfies, and Mr. Wilson told him not to worry — he had already cast his vote early for Stacey Abrams, after waiting in line more than an hour and half.

“I feel good about it, but we got to knock it out of the park,” Mr. Wilson said.

The “Queen Sugar” actors were deployed by Care in Action, which has fielded hundreds of canvassers, many of them child care workers, home health aides or housecleaners, to reach voters of color. They gathered Saturday morning at a roller-skating rink and spent all day knocking on doors as well as dropping in on barbershops and beauty salons.

Next stop, a few doors down, was the House of HHC Beauty Lounge. Latitia Lamkin-Brooks, getting her hair done, was giddy at the sight of Mr. Dorsey’s co-star, Dawn-Lyen Gardner.

Ms. Lamkin-Brooks tried to coax details about next season’s plot, but gave her word: she’d show up on Tuesday.

— Susan Chira

President Trump returns to Montana

Greetings from Belgrade, Mont., where the Bridger Mountains serve as what might be the most picturesque backdrop of a “Make America Great Again” rally to date. The president spent an hour here on Saturday afternoon delivering his closing midterm argument to residents of Big Sky Country.

While President Trump stuck to his usual themes — castigating immigration policies, Democrats and Democratic immigration policies — he was less fired up than he was at his appearance in Missoula just over two weeks ago, when he praised the Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte for body-slamming a reporter.

(Read a fact-check of Mr. Trump’s speech in Montana.)

Still, this time, his visit here was personal: The president reserved several minutes of special attention in his efforts to put a pin in the campaign of Jon Tester, the Democratic incumbent struggling to fend off a challenge from Matt Rosendale, whom Mr. Trump was here to support.

He zeroed in on Mr. Tester’s lack of support for Admiral Ronny Jackson, the president’s initial pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, whom Mr. Trump said the senator “tried to destroy.”

“I’ve never forgotten it,” Mr. Trump said, “and it’s honestly one of the reasons I’m here so much.”

— Katie Rogers

In Florida, voters wonder if history will be made

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA
— The shoving began shortly after “We Are the World.”

It was an outdoor rally earlier this week for Andrew Gillum, the Democrat who, if he defeats Ron DeSantis on Tuesday, would be the state’s first black governor. And — initially, at least — kumbaya spirits were high. People swayed to Michael Jackson and company. Signs bopped in the open-air parking lot: “Caribbean Americans for Gillum” and “Bring It Home” — the candidate’s slogan.

Then a man with an National Rifle Association poster moved in, standing sentinel in the crowd. Mr. Gillum’s fans surrounded the man, attempting to block his message from view. A small scuffle broke out. Officers swarmed. Fingers pointed.

In front of them, a roster of speakers on stage spoke of “civility” in politics. Behind them, another heckler with a bullhorn — and ties to the conspiracy-mongering site Infowars — tried to drown them out.

“Bring it home,” Mr. Gillum shouted, leading a chant.

“With violence,” the man cried.

“Bring it home.”

“With violence.”

Florida in election season. Never dull.

Days before another characteristically significant election here — with tight races for governor, Senate and several contested House seats — the state has resumed its status as the consummate, unruly purple corner of the electoral map.

Canvassers are canvassing. Rally-goers are rally-going. Emissaries are descending.

The president wants in. “This is my state also,” President Trump reminded a Republican crowd outside Fort Myers at a recent rally, alluding to his second home at Mar-a-Lago.

The former president wants in. “The character of our country is on the ballot,” Barack Obama said in Miami on Friday, stumping for Mr. Gillum and Senator Bill Nelson, who is running for re-election.

Democrats have said they find the recent tumult galvanizing — days after the arrest of a Florida man accused of sending mail bombs to Mr. Trump’s opponents — sharpening their resolve to elect the state’s first black governor.

“It’s time,” said Delores Thompson, 65.

It’s time, at least, to find out.

— Matt Flegenheimer

Small donors, big donors, everyone’s spending

Wonder why you’re seeing so many campaign ads on TV?

Follow the money.

The 2018 midterms are being called the $5 billion election. Not only are this year’s House and Senate elections expected to set a spending record, they’re also expected to surpass previous records by nearly $1 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The money is coming from both ends of the financial spectrum.

About 100 extremely wealthy donors (think former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg) are spending $1 million or more — and, in at least one case, more than $100 million — to push their preferred candidates.

Then, there are more than six million regular people who are giving tiny amounts — $5 here, $10 there — or an average of about $40 each.

Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute in Washington, said the big story is how small donors are sending money across state lines.

“If you’re in the middle of safe district but you care about control of Congress, it’s relatively easy now,” he said.

The top beneficiary appears to be Beto O’Rourke, the Texas Democrat who is hoping to unseat Senator Ted Cruz. Mr. O’Rourke’s campaign has raised more than $69 million. The average donation in the last quarter was less than $50.

That Senate race alone is expected to cost more than $100 million, also a record.

— Stephanie Saul and Rachel Shorey

Immigration on the minds of Midwest Republicans

HUDSON, Wis
. — Vice President Mike Pence was running about an hour late for his rally with Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, one of the country’s most endangered Republicans.

And that delay on Saturday afternoon gave Jacquie Niccum, who was waiting patiently in her red “Make America Great Again” cap, a lot of time to ponder what Tuesday’s midterm elections meant to her. Not that she needed it.

“Right now, it’s very important to me that we get a handle on this immigration,” said Ms. Niccum.

Like many people interviewed across the Midwest over the last two weeks — from Iowa to Missouri to Minnesota and here in Wisconsin — many Republican-leaning voters took mere seconds to before mentioning immigration as a top-of-mind concern.

The reasons they cite for why they see it as such a threat have several common threads. Even though the southern border — and the caravan of Latin American migrants that so many of them cite — is distant in a physical sense, it is very close in their minds. Immigration troubles them because, they say, it adds too much debt. It is a security issue because they say the government can’t possibly know everything about everyone who comes in.

And many of them, as Ms. Niccum put it, “don’t want the United States to be changing, transformed.”

She added, “We need to keep our values, our principles that make this country great.”

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Politics - U.S. Daily News: Jimmy Buffett and ‘MAGA’ Hats: Scenes From the U.S. Just Before a Tight Election
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