Washington | Donald Trump has honed his final campaign pitch on America’s roaring economy after grumbling from top Republicans that his focus on illegal immigration may have alienated more moderate GOP voters.
With polling pointing to a win for Democrats across battleground House of Representatives districts, concern has grown that Mr Trump’s heated rhetoric on a caravan of migrants moving north through Mexico towards the US may have overshadowed what should be the Republican Party’s strongest suit – a 50-year low unemployment rate and the best wages growth in nine years.
Americans are passing judgment on Mr Trump’s first tumultuous two years in the White House, with the first polls closing across eastern states from 10am on Wednesday (AEDT), followed by the midwest from 1pm onwards and the west coast at 3pm.
Signs that Democrats may win more than the extra 23 seats needed to clinch a 218-seat majority in the House include Mr Trump’s low approval rating, record Democrat fundraising numbers and early turnout.
But Mr Trump has run a frenetic and lengthy campaign, holding more than 30 rallies to sell-out crowds over the past three months, including three on the final day.
While he has focused heavily on immigration for the past month, Mr Trump appeared to react to the criticism on Monday (Tuesday AEDT).
“Republicans have created the best economy in the HISTORY of our Country – and the hottest jobs market on planet earth,” he wrote in a Tweet. “The Democrat Agenda is a Socialist Nightmare.”
‘Best economy in history’
Speaking to supporters in Indiana, he continued: “Optimism is skyrocketing and more Americans are working today than ever in our history.
“This is the single best economy in the history of our country … If the radical Democrats take power, they will take a wrecking ball to the economy and the future of our country.”
The pivot back to jobs and growth came after a report that outgoing House speaker Paul Ryan pleaded with Mr Trump on Sunday to talk up the economy in the final hours of the race, channelling anxiety among some Republicans that the President has spent too much time on the caravan issue.
“We think it’s a really good story to tell,” Mr Ryan said on Monday. The President and “[I] really do have a very good story to tell on the economy, about wages, about jobs, about opportunities, and about how people feel about them.”
Mr Trump has for several weeks hammered the threat of a caravan of migrants more than 1000km from the US, dispatching 5200 troops to harden the border.
While immigration is red meat for Mr Trump’s base, his campaign’s use of a TV advert widely condemned as racist became a final-day news story, further distracting his campaign from the economy.
Released last week and shown to millions of viewers – including Sunday Night Football on NBC which had an audience of 21 million – the advert was cancelled on Monday by major news and cable stations including Fox.
It falsely claimed an illegal Mexican immigrant who murdered California police was allowed into the US by Democrats.
“After further review we recognise the insensitive nature of the ad and have decided to cease airing it across our properties as soon as possible,” NBC Universal said in a statement.
Despite the volatility of the past few weeks, polls have consistently forecast that Republicans will lose their majority in the House, and retain it in the Senate.
But there are signs of a last-minute swing against the GOP, with political analyst Charlie Cook shifting nine House races towards the Democrats and one in favour of the Republicans.
With only hours left, some 75 districts are categorised as competitive, including 70 GOP-held seats and just five held by Democrats.
“A ‘red exodus’ is contributing to the potential ‘blue wave’,” Mr Cook said. “Of Republicans’ 41 open seats, 15 are rated as toss ups or worse, and another five are only in ‘lean Republican’.
“Just by winning all of the races at least ‘leaning’ their way, Democrats would net 16 of the 23 seats they need for a majority.”
Under that scenario they would then need to win only eight of the 30 races considered “toss ups” to win control of the House.
Democrats are also on track to win between six and as many as 12 state governorships, Robert Wolf, chief executive of political consultants 32Advisors told Fox.
An election-day governors swing to the Democrats “will be the biggest news of the day because it will change 2020,” he told Fox.
Mr Trump shows signs of being resigned to a hostile House after Tuesday, which is likely to see Democrats flood the White House with a flurry of investigations and subpoenas.
Asked by reporters whether he was concerned Democrats would go after his tax returns, Mr Trump said on Monday: “No, I don’t care. They can do whatever they want, and I can do whatever I want.”
While Mr Trump attracted thousands of supporters at three rallies in one day, the Democrats’ former President Barack Obama made a surprise appearance in Northern Virginia.
Mr Obama cast the election as a referendum on America’s future, as well as the prospect of a Republican controlled Congress repealing the healthcare rules for people with pre-existing conditions.
“You vote, you might save a life: that’s pretty rare when that happens,” Mr Obama said, before turning his ire on Mr Trump.
“The character of this country is on the ballot … the politics we expect is on the ballot. How we conduct ourselves in public life is on the ballot.”