Washington | Donald Trump embarked on a final three-day blitz of key Senate battlegrounds in this week’s US elections, propelled by the best wages growth in nine years and renewed warnings about illegal immigrants, as he sought to convince voters he was delivering for working Americans.
Defending his abrasive political brand of crash-through disruption against a Democrat revival, the president was given fresh momentum as a US Labor Department report showed wages jumped an annual 3.1 per cent in October, when 250,000 jobs were added.
“These are incredible numbers. Keep it going. Vote Republican!” Mr Trump tweeted on Friday (Saturday AEDT) after the figures were released.
“America is booming,” Mr Trump said in Montana over the weekend. “Republicans passed a massive tax cut for working families and we will soon follow it up with another 10 per cent tax cut for the middle class.”
While Democrats are still ahead in the battle for the House, Republicans could be buoyed by growing optimism about the economy, according to a Washington Post-ABC News national poll published on Sunday.
The jobs fillip for Mr Trump comes as Republicans and Democrats deployed their biggest names to encourage supporters to vote in what has become a national referendum on two volatile years of Trumpism.
With memories still fresh from the polling and consensus blunders of 2016 that missed Mr Trump’s victory, most analysts are cleaving to a careful script.
They say Republicans are set to enjoy a modest increase in their narrow Senate majority, while Democrats will generate enough of a swing in the House of Representatives to secure the 23 extra seats needed to wrest it away from GOP control for the first time in eight years.
But there is growing nervousness among Democrats that a shock Republican Senate-House double victory is is still within the margin of error for most generic polls.
Given the unpredictability of voter behaviour – and perennial questions around which key swing groups will show up on the day – there are risks for both sides regardless of the outcome.
In a sign of how galvanising Mr Trump is – for supporters and opponents alike – more than 32.4 million Americans have already voted, as of Friday night, up more than 50 per cent from the 20.5 million early votes in all of 2014.
Analysts predict turnout will leap from 37 per cent in 2014, the lowest since World War II, towards the high 40s by Tuesday, an increase of as many as 40 million people on the 83 million four years ago.
“A surprise would look like Democrats winning the Senate or Republicans holding the House – they’d both be highly consequential,” said Frances Lee, professor of government and politics at Maryland University.
A Republican loss of the Senate would end the Trump administration’s drive to stack the judiciary, she told The Australian Financial Review.
“If the Republicans keep the House, it would be a massive vindication for the president; he would feel he has defied the experts again and be even more confident in his view that he really knows what’s going on.”
The most likely outcome – involving a GOP Senate and Democrat house – will also generate complications for the president and his foes.
While it would bring an end to the legislative phase of Mr Trump’s presidency after only two years and leave him vulnerable to an endless procession of inquiries, a Democrat majority in the house would give him a natural enemy to rail against and blame for any disasters, such as an economic recession.
“The ideal outcome for Trump’s 2020 chances is to have a Republican Senate and a Democrat house under Nancys Pelosi,” said Bruce Stinebrickner, professor of political science at DePauw University in Greencastle Indiana.
“He’s going to play the house and Nancy Pelosi like a fiddle … her stridency, her being around so long – I just think she is a perfect target for Trump.”
Under that likely scenario, America faces two years of political gridlock, with little prospect of bipartisanship on issues ranging from healthcare and tax cuts to infrastructure.
One certainty, say most observers, is that the Trump approach to protectionism will likely continue given support among many Democrats for a hardline, particularly versus China.
Mr Trump held rallies over the weekend in West Virginia, Indiana, Montana and Florida, with more scheduled on Sunday in Georgia and Tennessee, as well as Monday.
The president’s closing argument to voters has hammered a bleak image of unfettered immigration from columns of Central Americans moving on foot through Mexico.
“The Democrats want to invite caravan after caravan to flood your communities, depleting our resources and flooding our nation,” Mr Trump said, standing in an airfield in Belgrade Montana, with Air Force One in the background.
Mr Trump’s other talking point is the surge in employment, which saw another 250,000 jobs created in October, according to data published on Friday that has helped renew the President’s focus on the benefits of his tax cuts.
The economy remains one of Mr Trump’s strongest suits, with unemployment at 3.7 per cent, a half-century low.
The Post-ABC poll recorded the most optimistic attitudes about the economy in nearly two decades. Sixty-five per cent rated the economy as good or excellent, with 34 per cent offering a negative assessment.
For their part, the Democrats brought out their biggest guns for the final push. In Ohio former vice president Joe Biden and a likely 2020 contender declared “a battle for America’s soul”.
“We Democrats have to make it clear who we are. We choose hope over fear, we choose unity over division, we choose our allies over our enemies and we choose truth over lies.”
Former president Barack Obama reminded voters that the current economic upswing began on his watch. At a rally in Miami he hit back at hecklers: “Why is it that the folks that won the last election are so mad all the time?”
While their expectations for an upset result in the senate are low, Democrats are in competitive positions to retain or win governorships in the rust best states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin – all three states swung unexpectedly to Mr Trump in 2016. They will be vital for Mr Trump to secure re-election in 2020.
Newt Gingrich, GOP stalwart and former candidate for a presidential nomination, said that he sees no way for Democrats to win majority control of the Senate, which means the “Trump Revolution will be safe and continue to grow”.
“I’m not sure Trump is a conservative, but he is the most effective anti-liberal in my lifetime,” Mr Gingrich said in an interview on Fox late Saturday. “He’s the most disruptive president we’ve ever had … he’s prepared to take on the establishment every day.”
The latest FiveThirtyEight forecasts shows the chance of Democrats winning control of the house stands at 85.9 per cent.
Similarly, Republicans enjoy an 83.4 per cent chance of retaining the Senate, most likely adding between one and as many as four seats to their current two-seat majority.
An upset to either forecast would require there to have been a “systematic polling error” that means either side gets lucky in a large number of key districts or states, said analyst Nate Silver, founder and editor-in-chief of the polling aggregator.
“If the polls are about right overall but Republicans are hoping to getting lucky in the swing districts, it probably won’t happen – the odds are stacked heavily against them.”