It’s Election Day in America, and voters will deliver their first verdict of President Donald Trump’s tumultuous tenure in a midterm that’s expected to draw historic numbers to the polls.
Immigration, the economy, women’s issues, partisanship — all weighed heavily on voters’ minds as they cast ballots to decide control of Congress and put Trumpism to the test. Though not on the ballot, the president looms large over decision day, among both supporters and detractors. Across the country, people are talking about this election as one of the most momentous in their lifetimes — a fight for the very soul of America. Here’s what some of them had to say.
WASHINGTON “OUT OF CONTROL?”
Bonnie Slade, a 45-year-old federal employee who lives in Potomac, Maryland, said politics in the nearby nation’s capital shaped her vote this year. “Washington is out of control,” she said. “The politics are kind of dirty always, but this time is a bit much … like do I want to vote? Does it really make a difference? But I felt like it’s my duty.” Slade, who is black, said Trump was part of what motivated her to vote. “He doesn’t stand for anything that I believe in, period,” Slade said. “I’m a minority. I’m a woman. And he’s just not the best choice for me, personally, or my family.”
Keith Lesage, a 50-year-old design engineer in Plainfield, Connecticut, said he’s focused more on state issues but is concerned by the division he sees in the country. “It’s horrible, some of the rhetoric that’s coming out of Washington. I’m not picking on Republicans or Democrats, but we’re all adults. Let’s come together for the American people — not this is what the red side wants, this is what the blue side wants. It’s getting to the point where it’s just dividing the country, and it’s real sad to watch.”
STAY THE ECONOMIC COURSE
Richard and Aleshia Murphy took their 7-month-old daughter when they voted early in suburban Los Angeles. The couple, who moved seven months ago from Reno, Nevada, to Lakewood, California, said the economy was foremost on their minds. “I want to keep things going,” said Richard, a Republican train operations manager. “My work feels the booming economy. We’re hiring more people, all positions, from the bottom to the top.” Both Murphy and his wife, an independent, voted for Trump in 2016 and like where the country’s headed. “I’d rather have somebody who’s going to come off as a complete jerk — but you know exactly what they’re thinking because they have no filter — than a slick-haired politician that literally tells you anything you want to hear just so that you support them,” Aleshia Murphy said.
Republican Susan Riebold, a 53-year-old who owns a home-building business in Imperial, Missouri, describes herself as a nationalist and calls Trump’s tariffs “amazing.” She said business in Imperial, south of St. Louis, is thriving, and she decried Democrats — including Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill — for voting against the recent tax overhaul. “Trump has fought for the middle class and the small businesses, and Claire voted against everything that is benefiting us in the middle class,” Riebold said. “The country is more strong, confident and unified than it’s ever been, and most of the confidence and people feeling unified and patriotic again has come right before Trump got in and since he’s been in.”
AT ODDS OVER IMMIGRATION
Rachel Geiger’s purple hair matched her black and purple dress and helped her stand out among hundreds of people waiting to get into an arena in Orlando, Florida, where U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke ahead of the election on behalf of Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee. Geiger, 33, a blogger from Ocala, Florida, said “Trump and immigration” were the two motivating issues for her when she early-voted. “It’s completely inhumane what he’s doing,” she said, referring to policies that have included sending troops to the border, separating immigrant children from their parents and efforts to build a wall. She voted a straight Democratic ticket.
Jennifer Rager, 55, of Bozeman, Montana, said she feels safer since Trump became president. “It just feels like he’s really trying to do a good job of protecting our country, you know? I can’t wrap my head around why the other side is so unhappy and so terrified.” Rager is especially worried about the migrant caravan heading toward the U.S. border. “This whole thing with this caravan is pretty scary. There’s a right way and a wrong way to (immigrate). So I feel like we definitely need protection.”
#METOO STILL ON MINDS
Lea Grover, 34, a mother of three young daughters in Cary, Illinois, sees the midterms as a referendum on Trump and “a referendum on empathy, and whether or not we as a nation have any.” Grover, a former independent and now a registered Democrat, was particularly outraged by the hearings over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who faced allegations of sexual misconduct. “The Kavanaugh hearings were so upsetting, for every woman I know, not just because of Kavanaugh specifically but because it was an opportunity for the entire Republican establishment to say (to women), ‘We don’t care. Not: ‘We don’t believe you,’ but ‘we don’t care.'” Grover is a victim of sexual violence and works for a nonprofit that helps survivors. “My congressman has refused to speak out in defense of survivors of sexual violence. He refused to speak out against Brett Kavanaugh. He refused to speak out against the president. He has been utterly silent in the face of MeToo.”
Natalie Pig, a 31-year-old attorney in Arnold, Missouri, said she’d back Republican candidates because she wants to see Congress do more to support Trump. She cited what she called the “smear campaign” against Kavanaugh, calling him “a victim of the current political environment.” ”If there are facts that someone has committed a crime, I’m the first person to want to hear all about that,” she said. “But at the same time, if we’re taking measures to slander someone or defame them in a way that is going to inhibit the American process, then that’s not helping us. So we need people who are going to support President Trump.”
A TEST OF TRUMPISM
Morris Lee Williams, a 67-year-old member of Zion Travelers Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis and an Army veteran, said he’s worried the country “is going down the tubes.” ”We’ve forgotten our decency. We’ve forgotten the truth. We’re supposed to be a group of people, Americans, who are supposed to be that light in the world. Instead of a light, it’s turned into a nightmare.” Williams said Trump is the catalyst “for a lot of crazy stuff going on, inciting people into hatred, to doing things that go against what this country stands for. It’s just so divisive. It’s almost as if he wants the country to go back to the way it was in the 1920s and before. Everybody’s got their place and a certain group of people rule. … This is supposed to be a place where if you have the desire, the education, the guts and the fortitude to do better, you can do better.”
If the midterm elections are a referendum on Trump, then Patricia Maynard, a 63-year-old retired teacher in Skowhegan, Maine, is clear: “I think he’s doing a great job. … He’s doing better than I expected. I’m not saying that I always like his rhetoric; I wince when I hear that. But I feel like he really loves this country and has a good head on his shoulders as far as his ability to get things done.” She goes on: “I think he’s very capable and very smart, a lot smarter than people think he is. Some people think he is too high and mighty to get along with the common people, but I think that’s where he feels most comfortable, with average people. And he feels their pain.”
Contributing to this story were AP reporters Brian Witte, Susan Haigh, Amanda Lee Myers, Summer Ballentine, Mike Schneider, Matt Volz, Jocelyn Noveck and Jim Salter.