Early votes could push midterm turnout above 50 perc

WASHINGTON (UPI) — More than 35 million people cast an early vote or absentee vote for the 2018 elections, an increase of more than 58 percent from 2014, preliminary data indicates.

The midterm elections are seeing an unusually high number of early voters — early voting in 27 states alone total more than totaled early votes nationwide for 2014 — which likely means a historic boost to overall voter turnout for 2018.

Midterm elections have historically low turnout numbers, rarely reaching above 50 percent of eligible voters. Presidential election years typically draw more voters.

“In the last three decades, we’ve had about 40 percent of those eligible to vote participating in midterm elections. If we get in the upper end of that range, if we can beat the 1966 49 percent turnout rate, you’d have to go all the way back to 1914 to get a turnout rate above 50 percent,” Michael McDonald, a University of Florida associate professor who heads the Election Project, told CBS News.

He predicts there could be between a 45 percent and 50 percent voter turnout factoring in both early voting and Election Day totals. In 2014, the United States had its lowest voter turnout since 1942 with 36.4 percent of eligible voters casting a ballot. Turnout was 59 percent in 2018 when President Donald Trump was elected.

Some states have seen sharp increases in early voting and absentee votes, most featuring highly competitive races that could influence control of Congress.

In Tennessee, where Rep. Marsha Blackburn is seeking to keep retiring Sen. Bob Corker‘s seat red in a tight race against Gov. Phil Bredesen, there’s been a 282 percent increase in early voting, data analytics firm TargetSmart indicate. There was a 148 percent increase in early voting in the Texas battle between incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

In Georgia, a hotly contested race for governor between Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican, and Stacey Abrams could be behind a 122 percent boost in early voting.

There has been a boost among young voters, too, with a 663 percent increase in early voting for people ages 18 to 29 in Tennessee, 462 percent in Texas and 362 percent in Georgia. The increasing interest of younger voters has Democrats banking on a so-called “blue wave” to take key seats from Republicans.

Conservatives agitate for change after GOP loses the House

WASHINGTON (AP) — As Nancy Pelosi wrangles votes in her bid for House speaker, another leadership battle is playing out on the Republican side, where Kevin McCarthy faces a challenge from conservative Freedom Caucus co-founder Jim Jordan to lead the new GOP minority.

Republicans lost the House majority in this week’s midterm elections, and conservatives are blaming the GOP establishment and angling for changes. McCarthy burned up the phone lines Thursday shoring up his support. And down ballot, the GOP will add a familiar name to the leadership lineup — Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney who announced her bid for the No. 3 GOP leadership spot.

But the bigger battle continues to play out on the other side, where Democrats hold a slim majority, now at 225 seats. That leaves Pelosi little room for error as she rounds up the 218 votes needed to become the first woman to reclaim the speaker’s gavel.

Pelosi’s opponents said they were mobilizing Thursday and discussing writing a letter to show there are enough votes to block her from becoming speaker. Foes have tried to oust Pelosi before. But this time, they say their effort could show some two dozen new and returning House Democrats who won’t give her their vote. On the campaign trail, several candidates said they’d oppose her.

“We have enough,” said Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., one of those who described the effort.

The group was still deciding whether to draft the letter or state their case in person to Pelosi when House Democrats meet privately in the days ahead, he said. “If you add in all the recently elected members who have said they’re not voting for Pelosi in our opening salvo, the math isn’t there. She doesn’t have the votes,” Schrader said.

Pelosi’s allies quickly swatted back the claim as exaggerated. She said this week she’s confident she’ll be speaker, and even got a boost from President Donald Trump, who said he’d like to work with her. Several House races remain undecided, and her hold on the majority could grow if other Democrats are elected.

“Leader Pelosi is confident in her support,” said spokesman Drew Hammill.

Allies point out her opponents actually lost ground Thursday in a separate effort to challenge her leadership by revising the caucus rules for House Democrats.

Congress returns next week to begin sorting out new leadership after eight years of Republican power. Closed-door sessions of voting for leadership positions will set the stage for the speaker’s election in January, when the new members of Congress take their first votes.

On the GOP side, McCarthy, the House majority leader who is close to Trump, is favored for the top spot in the minority, but he has struggled to shore up support from the GOP’s right flank of lawmakers. They have been skeptical of the California Republican and questioned his conservative bonafides. Some would prefer to elect a street fighter who will confront Pelosi’s Democrats in the new House majority.

Trump signaled he’d be happy with McCarthy, but he’s also promoted Jordan, the Ohio Republican, who is a regular on Fox News and popular with conservative groups beyond Washington.

On Thursday, McCarthy was calling colleagues, pledging to fight Democrats and win back the majority.

McCarthy promised “to use every tool at our disposal to deliberately challenge House Democrats” and protect Trump’s agenda. In a letter to colleagues, he acknowledged losing the majority was “difficult” and said the road ahead would be hard. “I expect us to win back the House.”

To become minority leader, McCarthy would need support from half the Republicans in the House. Their tally now stands at 197, but some races remain undecided. Jordan is expected to pick up support from dozens of members.

Jordan’s bid remains a longshot, but he’s making inroads into leadership for the Freedom Caucus, whose members want a seat at the table. His supporters outside the Capitol are revving up to support him.

“Are you going to elect the same people who lost the election, or are you going to elect someone new?” asked Adam Brandon, president of the conservative group FreedomWorks, which announced its support Thursday for Jordan.

If McCarthy and Jordan both fall short, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the GOP whip who was seriously wounded in last year’s shooting at a congressional baseball team practice, could swoop in. For now, he’s running to keep his position as vote counter.

While Jordan, a former college wrestling champ, is seen as the brawler needed, his bid may be complicated by allegations this summer that, as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University years ago, he did not do enough to counter claims of sexual abuse by the team doctor, who has since died. Jordan has denied knowing of any allegations of wrongdoing.

He’s not the only Republican leader with baggage. Scalise has had to distance himself from an appearance in Lousiana by a group with ties to David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Scalise has said he was unaware of the link.

Cheney, meanwhile, will run for conference chair, now held by Washington GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who will not seek another leadership position.