One week out from the midterm elections, voters around the country decried recent acts of politically tinged violence, but it does not appear likely to be a major factor in how they vote.
In interviews with dozens of Democrats and Republicans in Texas and the Midwest, almost none brought up the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue or mail bombs sent to Democratic figures as a top concern for their vote.
Instead, they cited the staple issues of health care, immigration and the economy, regardless of party.
When asked, they tended to retreat to partisan positions, with Democrats laying some blame for the violence at the increasingly heated rhetoric of President Donald Trump, while Republicans argued that he was being unfairly criticized and said that liberals were also to blame for ratcheting up political hostility.
For George Shake, a 49-year-old lawyer in Texas, his vote was for Democratic House candidate Colin Allred was based on education, health care, criminal justice reform and women’s rights, but it was also about adding a check on Trump.
“It’s what he doesn’t stand for,” Shake says as he waited for Allred to arrive for a Sunday-afternoon campaign stop. “He’s not going to empower an insane president. His vitriol keeps getting worse. The attacks keep coming.”
He shook his head in disgust. “The more hate we express in public is bad for our country. It’s bad for all of us. The president keeps ratcheting up the vitriol and hate in a way I’ve never seen before. It’s insane.”
Nearby, John and Kirsten Schorsch were waiting for Allred, too. “I never thought we’d be at this point,” John said, leaning against the bar in the
lobby. His wife, a 51-year-old educator, says of Trump: “This extreme demagoguery, why is it being accepted? He’s pouring gasoline on everything. I worry what’s going to happen at his rallies some times.”
John, a 58-year-old lawyer, said he worries about rebuilding. “I don’t know how we get back to normal.”
A couple hours later, at an early voting location north of there, Jason Alpers was casting his vote for the Republican ticket to have Trump’s
back. The 36-year-old military veteran says he would prefer Trump tone down his anti-media rhetoric, which he likens to a drumbeat. He calls the tweets “hiccups.”
But he appreciates Trump’s efforts to de-escalate tensions with Russia and his work on trade deals. “There’s still a lot of love for him,” he said. “He’s not political. There’s a lot of questions about what a President should be, but Donald Trump doesn’t care. He’s playing the long game, and that’s not always shown in a positive light. He’s all about shock and awe, and most people don’t get that. But Donald Trump understands how to shift the focus.”
At an early voting location in Urbandale, Iowa, a quiet neighborhood in the suburbs of Des Moines, the recent violence seemed as far away as a cable news show. Voters listed their top issues as health care, water and the strength of the Iowa economy, but their response to it fell along partisan lines.
Sharon Marturello, a 72-year-old Democrat, blamed the president for creating a climate that enabled such violence. “I lay it at the feet of president Trump,” she said, “And the way he conducted himself in the election.” Evan Abbey, a 42-year-old program administrator, said “the president’s rhetoric is contributing to turbulence and the view that violence is justifiable.” Both said they voted for Democrat Cindy Axne for Congress, who is running to replace Republican Rep. David Young.
But Lyle Pohlman, 87, a retired underground utility locator, said he continues to support the president and voted for Republicans in the midterms, insisting that any connection between the president’s rhetoric and the political violence is “not viable.”
Cheryl Laird, a 71-year-old retired school kitchen nutrition manager, said that the political leanings of the man who sent pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and media organizations was irrelevant to the crime. “This man has definitely got mental issues,” she said. “And just because he supported Trump, I don’t think that has a lot to do with it, I think he had other problems.” Both said they voted to re-elect Young.
“I think it’s the political rhetoric on both sides,” Laird continued. “The Republicans are to blame, so are the Democrats, everybody is just so upset about Trump’s presidency and it’s just out of control, all this name-calling, to say that Trump is to blame for all these shootings.”