U.S. voters give Biden’s Democrats new life — and a credible challenge for Trump
WASHINGTON — Call it a November surprise.
Democrats were basking in a midterm defeat that felt like a big win Wednesday after an electoral all-nighter that remained on track to buck the modern-day U.S. trend of voters punishing the party in the White House.
President Joe Biden was making phone calls and texting congratulations to a number of Democratic winners and still-to-be-declared leaders before an afternoon news conference, a victory lap few would have predicted 24 hours earlier.
“That is our spirit: ordinary folks who accomplished extraordinary things while facing seemingly impossible odds,” said newly re-elected Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
“Michigan’s future is bright, and we’re about to step on the accelerator.”
The odds of Democrats emerging from the 2022 midterms in triumph weren’t exactly impossible, but they were certainly long, given Biden’s unpopularity and the winds of economic uncertainty that were filling Republican sails.
Whitmer’s win was one of the few outcomes with a direct impact on Canada: the Democrat and staunch Biden ally has been — and will remain — the driving force behind the effort to shut down Canada’s cross-border Line 5 pipeline.
Whitmer narrowly bested Republican challenger Tudor Dixon, a Donald Trump-endorsed steel industry insider-turned-conservative commentator, who tried to use Canada’s defence of Line 5 against her Democratic rival.
Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “the most radical environmentalist in the entire world,” is opposed to shutting down the pipeline, Dixon said during her debate with Whitmer last month.
But as the end grew nearer — it was still not clear at midday Wednesday how the balance of power on Capitol Hill would shake out — what was obvious to most political experts was that the Republicans had squandered a golden opportunity.
“In recent memory, the Republican performance last night was the most epic example I can think of, of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory,” said Mac McCorkle, a public policy professor at Duke University in Durham, N.C.
“It’s almost inexplicable that the Republicans did not do better, except for maybe one word: Trump.”
Indeed, a number of Trump-endorsed Senate candidates in key battleground states went down to defeat, notably in Pennsylvania, where TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz conceded defeat to John Fetterman, the state’s hoodie-clad lieutenant governor.
Others prevailed, however, including venture capitalist and “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance in Ohio and congressman Ted Budd in North Carolina. In Nevada, Adam Laxalt was nursing a three-point lead over incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.
It took until mid-afternoon eastern time Wednesday for Republican Sen. Ron Johnson to be declared the winner in Wisconsin, edging out up-and-comer Mandela Barnes, another state lieutenant governor, by fewer than 30,000 votes.
That left the GOP just two seats away from wresting control of the Senate from the Democrats, with only Nevada, Arizona and Georgia still to be settled.
In the latter case, it will be a while.
Controversial former NFL star Herschel Walker, a close friend of Trump’s, is narrowly trailing incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock. But the leader failed to reach the 50 per cent vote threshold, sending the pair to a Dec. 6 run-off.
But perhaps the worst news of all for Trump was in his beloved state of Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis romped to a 20-point win over Democratic rival Charlie Crist — a substantial platform from which to launch a bid for the Republican nomination in 2024.
Exit polls suggested that as many as three in 10 voters cast their ballots in House races “as an expression of opposition to Donald Trump,” said Asher Hildebrand, one of McCorkle’s colleagues at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy.
“That, combined with Ron DeSantis’s very strong showing in the Florida governor’s race, is probably going to increase pressure among Republican elites to find another standard-bearer in 2024.”
Florida was just one of 506 gubernatorial, House and Senate races that came to fruition Tuesday in a midterm showdown that pollsters and pundits had expected to be a bruising indictment of Biden’s administration.
Hildebrand acknowledged being one of the pundits who initially questioned the Democratic strategy of pivoting late in the race to portray many of the Republican candidates as election deniers who would pose a threat to American democracy.
In the end, it’s a strategy that appears to have paid off, he said.
“President Biden’s decision to campaign on the issue, which was very much criticized by me at the time, was actually smart politics,” Hildebrand said. “Generic appeals to the importance of democracy, and the importance of protecting it, were effective with voters.”
Not all of them went down to defeat, however.
In Arizona, former news anchor Kari Lake, who has leaned heavily into Trump’s brand of scorched-earth, media-bashing politics, seized on reports of faulty voting machines to resurrect the spectre of imagined electoral fraud.
Election officials in the state insisted that the technical problems, which affected about 20 per cent of the machines in populous Maricopa County, merely delayed the counting process and did not prevent anyone from casting a ballot.
But that didn’t stop Lake from spoiling for a fight.
“When we win, first line of action is to restore honesty to Arizona elections,” Lake told supporters as she trailed Democrat Katie Hobbs, the state’s top election official, by a margin of 12 percentage points with half of the polls reporting.
“When we win — and I think it will be within hours — we will declare victory and we will get to work turning this around — no more incompetency and no more corruption in Arizona elections.”
Since then, Lake has indeed closed the gap with Hobbs, pulling to within less than 12,000 votes with two-thirds of polls reporting, a margin of less than a single percentage point.
If the Republicans take control of the House, presumptive Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy will be presiding over a smaller caucus than he might have hoped, giving a taller pedestal to some of the party’s more extremist elements.
That’s sure to complicate life in Congress, where Republicans have already vowed to make things as difficult for Biden over the next two years as Democrats did for Trump.
And that perception of gridlock and chaos may, in the end, be the part of the midterms that impacts Canada the most, said Eric Miller, president of the D.C.-based Rideau Potomac Strategy Group.
“Even if the blowout is not as big as one thought it would be, you now have a situation where the endless commentary in Canada — how the U.S. is heading for dissolution, or a civil war, or can’t be trusted, and so on — is only going to get amplified,” Miller said.
“The system begins to not function the way it should, there is no ability to deal with the big picture problems, there’s no ability to pursue serious bilateral relationships.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9. 2022.
James McCarten, The Canadian Press
Senegal opposition leader trial kickstarts rocky election season – Al Jazeera English
Dakar, Senegal – Prominent opposition leader Ousmane Sonko is scheduled to face charges of libel in a Dakar court on Thursday. If found guilty, the political leader could be barred from running in the 2024 presidential elections.
Originally set for March 16, the hearing was postponed to March 30 after state security services forcibly removed Sonko from his vehicle and escorted him to court on the day of the hearing. Shortly after, clashes erupted between police forces and Sonko’s supporters.
Sonko, 48, said he inhaled a harmful substance during the altercations which impaired his eyesight and breathing, claiming the altercation amounted to an assassination attempt.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Senegal’s Attorney General Ibrahima Bakhoum said a suspect had been arrested in relation to the case.
Yarga Sy, an airport security agent, allegedly gave Sonko a scarf soaked with a harmful substance. The substance was in fact vinegar, said Bakhoum.
The incident has escalated tensions in Senegal as the country braces for potential unrest ahead of Sanko’s court hearing on Thursday. Ousseynou Fall, one of Sonko’s lawyers was suspended by the Senegalese Bar Association on Wednesday after a complaint by a case judge and will be unable to appear in court.
“The ongoing tensions have led to a worsening of the situation, fueling political violence as the opposition rallies around the Sonko…case,” said Alioune Tine, Senegalese political analyst and founder of think tank AfrikaJom Centre.
The opposition leader faces libel charges brought against him by Senegal’s Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang after accusing him of stealing 29 billion CFA francs ($47 million) from a government agency. Sonko also faces separate charges of raping a beauty salon employee and making death threats to her in 2021.
He denies the accusations and claims incumbent President Macky Sall is using the judiciary to quash his presidential run. A presidential spokesperson denied commenting on Sonko’s court hearing.
A former tax inspector who transitioned to politics and became the leader of the Pastef opposition party, Sonko became even more popular after finishing third in the 2019 presidential election, becoming Sall’s foremost political opponent.
Stifling opposition with the judiciary
Previous opposition figures such as former Dakar Mayor Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade, the son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, were both charged with corruption and barred from running against Sall in 2019.
The opposition coalition has argued that these disqualifications are part of a broader pattern in which the ruling coalition is leveraging the judiciary to sideline opposition candidates and clear the path for the incumbent president’s reelection.
Senegal has enjoyed relative political stability since it gained independence from France in 1960. Unlike many of its neighbours, it has avoided military coups, earning it a reputation as a beacon of democracy in the region. Despite these credentials, the country has experienced significant political turbulence ahead of the election.
In the past few months, there has been a wave of opposition arrests, including El Malick Ndiaye, spokesperson for Sonko’s Pastef party. He was accused of spreading fake news and spent five days in prison before being released with an electronic ankle bracelet.
Thus, there are concerns that a potential Sonko disqualification or another Sall presidential run could signal a descent into chaos.
“Our current political situation is the most dangerous since decolonisation,” Cheikh Fall, a Senegalese political activist, told Al Jazeera, “Macky Sall is the one and only person responsible for this situation.”
Amnesty International has warned about the increased violence with which security forces have cracked down on protesters ahead of the 2024 elections.
“An escalation of tensions, and further violent clashes between opposition supporters and security forces may damage Senegal’s democratic reputation,” said Renna Hawili, a Dakar-based analyst with geopolitical consultancy Control Risk.
A controversial third term
In 2016, the Senegalese constitution was amended, restricting the length of presidential terms to five years. An earlier amendment in 2001 had limited consecutive terms to two.
But now there is uncertainty about whether Sall will be running for a third mandate.
The president is yet to confirm or deny any such ambitions but he recently discussed the possibility in an interview with French magazine L’Express. He stated that should he choose to run, it would be constitutional as his first term extended beyond the scope of the reform, lasting for seven years rather than five.
“Legally speaking, the debate has been settled for a long time,” said Sall, who claims he consulted the Constitutional Council before the 2016 amendment. “Now, should I run for a third term or not? It’s a political debate, I admit.”
If he does run, it would be a “political bomb” that would further deteriorate the country’s already tense political situation, Tine said.
The issue of tenure elongation is an old one in Senegal – and indeed West Africa.
In 2012, Sall’s predecessor Wade also attempted to circumvent the 2001 amendment and run for a third term. Like Sall today, he claimed that because he had been elected before the amendment, it did not apply to his first tenure. That triggered violent protests.
Sall was an opposition leader then and, buoyed by his support of anti-Wade protests, gained the popularity that helped him eventually become president.
At the time, he said he would not allow presidents to run for more than two terms, which led to the law signed four years later.
Calls for protests
Sonko’s trial comes less than a year before the 2024 presidential elections. If found guilty on Thursday, he will be disqualified from running in the next election, which could tip the scales in favour of the incumbent.
But there is a growing sense that the trials have galvanised the opposition and led to a significant shift in the political landscape as more youth, frustrated by rising unemployment, flock to Sonko.
The Yewwi Askan Wi coalition, translating to “Liberate the People” in the local Wolof language, led protests in Dakar on March 29 and has planned nationwide demonstrations for Thursday – and April 3. These protests are scheduled to take place despite a lack of government authorisation.
Whether Sonko’s trial will mark the start of a new era of political unrest or whether it will strengthen the grip of the incumbent president will become apparent on Thursday, analysts say.
“It is the first time that our collective actions since independence have allowed us to build such a solid democratic system,” said Fall the activist, “but that is in danger of crumbling like a house of cards”.
Middle East round-up: Israel pauses its political crisis, for now – Al Jazeera English
Here’s a round-up of Al Jazeera’s Middle East coverage this week.
Protests in Israel force the government to backtrack, US attacks Iran-aligned fighters in Syria, and Lebanon’s two timezones. Here’s your round up of our coverage, written by Abubakr Al-Shamahi, Al Jazeera Digital’s Middle East and North Africa editor.
After five elections in less than four years, it’s perhaps not surprising that Israel finds itself in yet another political crisis. After coming to power at the end of last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken advantage of his coalition government’s majority in parliament, slim though it is, to try and push through legislation that would weaken the independence of the judiciary, a long-time demand of the political right.
But maybe, just maybe, Netanyahu has misjudged the depth of his opposition’s outrage. They argue that, along with giving the religious far-right an opportunity to impose its views on other Israelis, the new legislation would also give Netanyahu more leeway in his fight against corruption charges (which, for the record, he denies).
[READ: Is Israel’s far-right government jeopardising ties with the UAE?]
After weeks of protests, matters came to a head this week, and Netanyahu’s ability to get the various pieces of legislation through parliament now looks shaky. First, his own attorney general called his actions illegal. Then, his defence minister publically asked him to stop trying to overhaul the judiciary. Netanyahu didn’t like the perceived insubordination, and fired the minister on Sunday. Cue bedlam.
Large demonstrations took place in several cities, and carried on through Monday, eventually prompting the prime minister to backtrack, sort of. While he refused to withdraw his plan for the judiciary altogether, he did suspend proceedings, saying he was “taking a timeout for dialogue”.
It’s been a crisis without precedent. That’s because of the opposition by army reservists, and the fear among some that it could compromise Israel’s military preparedness. Secular Israelis are also becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the dominance of religious Jewish voices. There’s even been talk, on Netanyahu’s part, of the risk of a ‘civil war’.
[READ: Israeli right-wing protesters attack Palestinians in Jerusalem]
And in the midst of all this, there have been the Palestinians. While there has been a small, anti-occupation bloc within the latest protests, many Palestinians question why the Israeli public has largely failed to show a similar outrage when it comes to the ongoing occupation and treatment of Palestinians. And there are also significant fears over what happens if Netanyahu’s far-right minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, gets his own national guard to command. The founder of one American Jewish peace organisation called the force a “militia [that] will be used to … terrorise Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank”.
US air attacks in Syria
The US military in Syria has had several run-ins with Iran-aligned forces over the past few years, but the latest incident appears to be one of the worst. As many as 19 fighters were reportedly killed in US attacks in eastern Syria, after a US contractor was killed in a drone attack. While both the Iranian and Syrian governments condemned the US, there are few if any signs that the Americans are planning on leaving Syria anytime soon. The US says the presence of its forces is necessary to prevent the re-emergence of ISIL (ISIS).
What time is it in Lebanon?
In parts of Beirut this week you could have asked two people on opposite sides of the street what time it was, and they could each have given you a different answer—and both been technically correct. Just when the Lebanese thought their state couldn’t be any more dysfunctional, the government failed to implement its decision to delay the start of daylight savings time, after the Maronite Church rejected it.
Although the split wasn’t strictly across religious lines, the general impression was that, for a few days at least, Lebanon operated on either “Muslim” or “Christian” time. The government has since backed down, and brought forward the introduction of daylight savings, but the debacle added to the economic crisis, power cuts and depreciating currency by illustrating just how poorly run Lebanon has become.
And Now for Something Different
For Muslims, the holy month of Ramadan is a time of giving. In Egypt, that continues to be the case — even though inflation has made it harder for many people to donate. But those who can are trying to step up and fill the gap, funding charity tables called ‘mawaed al-rahman’, where people can gather to break their fast.
Sticking to the Ramadan theme — here’s the first of our Fork the System series, where chefs tell us about their favourite recipes for the month. Yemeni American Akram Said shares his (delicious) recipe for chicken zorbiyan, as well as his memory of his mother, and why his journey into Yemeni cuisine is partly a way of coping with her death.
[READ: My mom’s chicken zorbiyan connected me to Yemen, and her memory]
US Congress members voice concerns over Tunisia human rights crackdown | Bus carrying pilgrims crashes in Saudi Arabia, killing 20 | US Senate votes to clear way for repeal of Iraq war authorisation | UN mission accuses EU of aiding crimes against humanity in Libya | Iraqi Parliament passes controversial electoral law amendments | Saudi National Bank head resigns after Credit Suisse crisis | Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers to meet during Ramadan | Sudan’s military leader says he backs democratic transition | Boat sinks off Tunisian coast, killing 19 | Qatari Sheikh Jassim submits new bid for Manchester United | LGBTQ dating app Grindr warns Egyptian users of police-run accounts | UN commission ends hearings on rights abuses in Israel and Palestine | Saudi Arabia and Syria in talks to restore ties | Iraqis still await special US visas 20 years after invasion |
Quote of the Week
“Muslims used to share our joys and sorrows, we were brothers and still are. The monastery guard is Muslim. When we celebrated Mass two days ago, the residents of the area welcomed us very much.” | Ezzat Sami, an Iraqi Christian who moved from Mosul in 2014, after it was taken over by ISIL. He came back to visit this week, and to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the Monastery of Saint Michael, being held in the house of worship for the first time in 20 years.
Poilievre surpasses Trudeau on preferred PM question: Nanos – CTV News
The federal Liberals are trending downward on three key measures while Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has surpassed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when it comes to the question of who Canadians would prefer now as their prime minister, according to Nanos Research.
Ballot support has been trending negatively now for weeks for the Liberals, while it’s remained steady for the Conservatives; meanwhile, support for Trudeau as prime minister has taken a sharp downward turn as Poilievre’s personal numbers have risen to the point of surpassing Trudeau’s.
Preferred Prime Minister (Source: Nanos Research)
“Usually whoever is the prime minister has some sort of advantage. Right now, Pierre Poilievre outpolls Justin Trudeau,” said Nik Nanos, pollster and chair of Nanos Research, on the latest episode of CTV News Trend Line.
LIBERALS LOSING ‘ACCESSIBLE VOTERS’
Aside from their sagging numbers on the ballot and preferred prime minister question, the other key metric where the Liberals have fallen behind is on the Nanos power index, which is a composite of measurements including voter preference and leadership impressions, as well accessible voters – the proportion of Canadians who would consider voting for a party.
“Over the course of the last while, the Liberals have consistently had an advantage on the power index and had a stronger brand. Now we see the Conservatives surpassing them for the first time in a couple of years since the last election, when the Conservatives had a little bit of a surge,” said Nanos.
Currently, the Conservatives sit at 50 points on the power index, while the Liberals are at 47 and the NDP at 46.
Power Index (Source: Nanos Research)
A key reason for the Conservative surge is that their share of accessible voters in Canada is growing.
“For the last … 50 years, the Liberals traditionally have always had a larger pool of accessible voters. That means people that would consider voting Liberal,” said Nanos. That was certainly true in the 2015 election when Trudeau secured a majority for the Liberals, who took 184 seats compared with Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, who won 99.
“But since 2015, the proportion of Canadians that would consider voting Liberal has gone down. So they’ve gone from a big tent … to a narrower tent. And as a result, it’s impacted the political muscle of the Liberals,” said Nanos.
Speaking of elections, Nanos said the good news for the Liberals is that they’re not fighting in one anytime soon. With Poilievre’s Conservatives currently at 35 per cent on the ballot question, with a six-point lead over the Liberals, they’re in the territory they need to be in, in order to win an election.
Ballot support (Source: Nanos Research)
“When Stephen Harper won a number of elections, he won because he had a six-point advantage. Right now, the Conservatives have a six-point advantage,” said Nanos.
BUDGET AND BIDEN BOUNCE?
Whether Tuesday’s federal budget — in which the Liberal government prioritized help for Canadians’ pocketbooks and promised to invest in a clean economy and fund a national dental care program — will boost their fortunes in they eyes of voters is yet to be seen. Nanos said wewon’t know that for anotherseven to 10 days.
But “it speaks to the importance of the budget and also the most recent visit from President Biden. It’s very important for the Liberals to try to reverse this trend right now that currently is favouring Pierre Poilievre and the federal Conservative Party,” said Nanos.
Watch the full episode of Trend Line in our video player at the top of this article. You can also listen in our audio player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. The next episode comes out Wednesday, April 12.
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