Will Donald Trump’s America be a panacea for Democrats?

Image copyright AFP Image caption In Richmond, Virginia, the street outside the historic city hall is littered with campaign posters Less than four weeks before the midterm elections, in a battle between two Democrats…

Will Donald Trump's America be a panacea for Democrats?

Image copyright AFP Image caption In Richmond, Virginia, the street outside the historic city hall is littered with campaign posters

Less than four weeks before the midterm elections, in a battle between two Democrats in Virginia’s most populous county, Democrats desperately hope that turnout will help the party win a crucial congressional seat.

A record number of candidates – more than 700 from 38 states – will be vying for the party’s House of Representatives majority in the 91-member Virginia delegation.

But the race to replace retiring Democrat Congressman Don Beyer in the House of Delegates in Virginia’s 24th district has drawn so much attention because there are so few contested seats for Democratic candidates that it is considered a bellwether race for 2019.

Leading Democrat candidate Jennifer Wexton has trailed Republican challenger Donald McEachin by about 4,000 votes, according to local election officials. A Politico poll put Ms Wexton up by only 2% this week.

“We expect to win the election, regardless of turnout. We expect to win the election because we have this unheard of momentum in this race,” Ms Wexton said.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Richmond to stump for Republican Jennifer Wexton

Pollsters say it has become harder for candidates like Ms Wexton in a tight race. Because of greater reliance on social media, Twitter and Facebook have become more effective at reaching voters.

Vote-rich wealthy counties like Chesterfield, Chesterfield County and Richmond, use Facebook to “seize the national conversation” about the candidates, Democratic pollster Mark Mellman told the Washington Post.

Gerrymandering by Republicans who drew districts in Virginia that are even more conservative than the state’s famously red, but geographically small, 4th Congressional District which stretches across the state from the mountains to the coast, has also made it easier for Republicans to win there.

Image copyright AFP Image caption The District 24 campaign has proved to be one of the toughest to win

So there are certainly high stakes and a sense of urgency among Democrats to pick up this seat on Tuesday. But if they do end up losing, it would further boost Republicans who have picked up seven of the nine House seats in Virginia that had been held by Democrats.

We can expect to see a partisan surge on Election Day in a way that would be unprecedented in Virginia, says Matthew Dowd, an election expert and a political strategist in the state.

But, he told the BBC, the turnout in the district may not be what many local Democrats were hoping for.

“You can only turn out so many people to vote if it’s a hard-fought race, and people are more excited about Don Beyer than their other incumbent.”

Image copyright AFP Image caption The focus has been on conservative, wealthier suburbs in the 24th district

In Richmond, the main public square lies nearby the city hall, once home to former Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.

Fewer than 4,000 more votes than they needed were cast in this district in 2017 – against a backdrop of political tension over President Donald Trump’s administration.

The media media are covering, and the money is flowing, but we are not seeing the white horse and the roaring populist energy on the campaign trail, says Jack Huntington, a 37-year-old Democrat from the neighbourhood of Creighton, which is a racial white buffer to the area in south of Richmond with more white voters.

If we don’t put some pressure on right now, we are going to lose the 23rd

At least two electoral gerrymandering initiatives are pending before the courts in Virginia, where a mix of legislative and gubernatorial seats are up for grabs.

But Democrats remain confident they can turn on their electoral charm, even though they will be aided in the short term by ballot affix campaigns, which ask voters to add their name to the ballot just to vote for their favoured party – a tactic that could hurt a candidate who does not have enough money to fight hard in their own right.

“It’s not about how many people come out to vote. It’s about how people vote,” says Mr Huntington.

“If we don’t put some pressure on right now, we are going to lose the 23rd.”

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