Immigration and Trump dominate US midterm elections
The FT's Demetri Sevastopulo travels to Texas and Tennessee to see how immigration and fear of a migrants' caravan arriving in Mexico are influencing an already divided electorate.
Produced and edited by Ben Marino.
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Caravan, turn around. You're not coming in. You're not coming in.
The US midterm elections are a referendum on Donald Trump. Over the past two months, the president has criss-crossed the nation to help the Republicans save their majorities in the House and Senate. In recent weeks, Trump has returned to the law and order theme that helped him win the White House in 2016. His closing argument has been to stoke fears about migrants and asylum seekers heading towards the US. Days before the poll, he said he would send troops to the border to prevent the migrants from entering the country.
To see how immigration is dividing American voters, we went to the frontier state of Texas and inland to Tennessee. In Texas, Beto O'Rourke, a former punk rocker, is challenging Republican Senator Ted Cruz in a way that nobody thought possible. The race pits an arch conservative against a charismatic liberal challenger who Cruz describes as a socialist and has nicknamed Comrade Beto.
Beto has raised more money than any Senate candidate in history, taking in $38m in the last quarter from individual donors, and is chasing Cruz in the polls. But Texas has not elected a Democrat to statewide office in more than two decades. We followed Beto around Dallas, and then to Amarillo, a conservative cattle trading city that voted 80 per cent for Trump in 2016.
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Before his rally at the Six Car Pub, I asked Beto what he thought about Trump using immigration to whip up his white conservative base.
I think we have the choice of all choices before us. It can be fear and paranoia and hatred and anxiety, or it can be confidence and strength and the kindheartedness by which Texas has so long distinguished itself. That's on the ballot right now. And I've got to tell you, everywhere we go, including in Amarillo, every single visit that we make to this community, I've seen the strength, the courage, the confidence of this state shine through.
Nancy and Abel Bosquez, are Texans, but with deep Mexican roots. For them, Trump's anti-Mexican rhetoric is personal.
These people are coming here for seeking asylum. And he's making it look like they're criminals, and they're not.
But Texas is still a red state, and you don't have to go too far to find someone who supports Trump and Cruz. I meet Jason Harlow, a cattle trader from Dallas, who fears that the Democrats would introduce socialism and liberal values.
I'm definitely a Cruz supporter. And I like Donald Trump, as well. And I feel - I understand maybe not everybody likes those two guys' personalities, but at this point in our country, I don't think personality should be what we're really worried about if there is a move toward socialism.
While the migrant caravan remains far from the US, Trump is hoping that the images of thousands of people heading towards the border will stoke fear and turn out voters on November 6. Texas is right on the frontier of the immigration debate. But 1,700km inland, on the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee, some Republicans are just as fearful about illegal immigrants, even in areas that are overwhelmingly white.
Here, Marsha Blackburn, a Tea Party Republican, is using the caravan issue to attack Phil Bredesen, a former Democratic governor who is challenging her for an open Senate seat. We managed to track down Bredesen at a rally outside a polling station.
Voters at early polling stations in Chattanooga were fired up about the events happening thousands of kilometres away in Mexico.
I don't feel like our money should be going to support immigrants that are coming here illegally. And all of these people that are on welfare and food stamps that are able-bodied and able to work should be doing so. We did this. We worked all of our lives. And right now, we're having to pinch pennies to get by.
Trump has ramped up the rhetoric much as he did in the final weeks of the presidential election. At rallies, he's geed up his supporters by painting Democrats as a mob of socialists who are weak on crime and border security. To make sure nobody misses his closing argument, Trump shared a video on Twitter showing an illegal immigrant from Mexico bragging in court about killing American police officers. Critics have described the ad as racist, and accused Trump of using a dog whistle to spread fear.
We will build a great wall along the southern border.
In some ways, Trump may be trying to make up for the fact that he's not been able to build a wall on the US-Mexico border, despite the fanfare during his 2016 campaign. But our travels around Texas and Tennessee reveal the stark divide over immigration in a country of immigrants, a battle that will return to the fore in just a few weeks, as the first Democrats launch their campaigns for the 2020 presidential race.