World·CBC in Georgia

If Trump's talk of Democratic 'mobs' is meant to scare Republicans to the polls, it's working

Republicans are repeatedly portraying Democrats as a "mob" ahead of the midterms. In Georgia, those tribal resentments could be enough to drive more conservatives to the polls.

'Democrats, with how they've been acting up, have really pushed us to come vote for Republicans'

Bill Weatherup, a Republican from Griffin, Ga., says what he sees as Democratic shenanigans over the past several months energized him to vote early. 'The Democrats always seem to be in the gutter,' he says. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

Two words define the upcoming U.S. midterm elections for Bill Weatherup. And no, the words aren't "health care," "migrant caravan," or even "Donald Trump."

Squinting under the midday sun at an early voting centre in Griffin, Ga., the 51-year-old Republican declared his greatest political anxiety with careful consideration: "Crazy Democrats," he said. "That's what I'm worried about."

It's a feeling of apprehension shared by many conservatives at advance voting stations near Atlanta. Whether those tribal resentments are enough to drive them to the polls is what will count come Nov. 6.

That might explain why President Trump is slinging a new talking point recently, repeatedly assailing what he calls an angry, unhinged leftist "mob" at rallies where his own supporters often chant "Lock her up!" and fling middle fingers at the press.

Deployed effectively, that "mob" narrative could torque up Republican excitement at the polls as Republicans seek to raise their odds of holding onto the Senate. Excitement and turnout are key for Republicans, who historically enjoy a larger turnout in midterm elections, but are bracing for significant Democratic gains in the House of Representatives.

Voters are shown an early voting centre in Spalding County last week. The advanced turnout in Georgia so far is triple what it was in the 2014 midterm elections. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

Still, encouraging gains for Republicans came earlier this month. Conservatives, likely fuelled by efforts to halt Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation process over alleged sexual misconduct, saw a spike in voter enthusiasm, nearly wiping out a 12-point Democratic lead in voter excitement. In the days since, Democrats have regained their enthusiasm advantage, leading by nine points after Kavanaugh was eventually confirmed.

'It's the way they act'

And yet Weatherup, who runs the local roller-skating rink, still feels aggrieved by what he views as leftist shenanigans and Democratic overreach.

"It's the way they act," he said last week, outside the strip mall where he cast his advance ballot. "They're not civil; they harass people at restaurants."

An elections worker at the Spalding County advance voting centre helps an elderly resident vote in Griffin. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

Weatherup was already planning to vote in the midterms. But he said the Kavanaugh debacle motivated him to ensure his ballot was entered early.

That's a good sign that Republican efforts to portray Democrats as an unruly crowd have been "very effective" and could be key to unlocking voter enthusiasm, says veteran Republican strategist Evan Siegfried.

"Because we've seen mobs shout down and disrupt [Republican] events, and find Republicans at private moments, when they're off the clock, and scream at them," he said.

Not to let his own party off the hook, Siegfried allowed that Republicans are using "fear to whip up anger and division" to benefit the party's base.

True or not, he said Trump's campaign message in particular — that "Democrats produce mobs; Republicans produce jobs" — delivers a salient message that progressives represent chaos.

The lineups at advance polls in Georgia might be a strong indicator of how energized Republicans are ahead of the midterms. Overall, early voter numbers have so far tripled the 2014 midterms, with the Republican turnout outpacing the Democratic turnout in several states, including Georgia.

Lines have been spilling out of the doors since early voting began in Georgia at the start of last week. In Cobb County, voters in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta waited up to two hours to cast early ballots. Some early voters said they circled the parking lot for as long as 20 minutes, seeking a parking space.

Glenda and Richard Dudley are Trump supporters who both voted straight Republican tickets in early voting. They're looking to send a message of disapproval to the Democrats, they say. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

Jim Wilson, 73, waited in a line that was three rows deep in order to vote a straight Republican ticket.

"The Brett Kavanaugh thing still infuriates me," the retired hotel doorman said. "It just showed how desperate the other side is."

He's convinced Democratic efforts to stop the Supreme Court nomination only served to unite Republicans, including "Never Trumpers," behind a common cause.

Standing up to the 'mob'

Two hours south in Spalding County, an elderly man with a walker scraped his way toward the door of a voting centre, assisted by two younger women. He passed a retired couple, Trump supporters Richard and Glenda Dudley, who were just exiting after they finished casting ballots.

Glenda Dudley, 71, was especially "offended," she said, by former attorney general Eric Holder's recent remarks during a Democratic campaign stop in nearby McDonough, Ga.

Earlier this month, Holder said that a new guiding principle for the Democrats ought to be: "When they go low, we kick 'em" — a play on a well-known line from Michelle Obama's address at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

"Was that not immature?" Dudley said. "I'm not angry, I'm disgusted."

"The Democrats, with how they've been acting up, have really pushed us to come vote for Republicans now more than ever," her husband added.

"Normally, we vote for the person; it don't matter what party they are, it's the person."

Residents in Griffin, a former cotton-milling town just outside Atlanta's city limits, line up for advanced voting at a polling centre. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

Trump's rhetoric has been echoed by those in Republican leadership. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was admonished in a Kentucky restaurant last week, told Fox News in an interview that the Kavanaugh confirmation proved Republicans are "under assault," but that the takeaway should be that conservative senators "stood up to the mob."

Never mind that earlier this month, the Metropolitan Republican Club invited the far-right group Proud Boys to speak at an event in Manhattan, resulting in a violent brawl between some of its members and far-left anti-fascist protesters. The incident was reportedly sparked after someone knocked a "Make America Great Again" hat off the head of a Proud Boys member.

While Democrats are quick to condemn attacks like the Proud Boys assault, Siegfried, the Republican strategist, says they ought to more strongly denounce disruptive behaviour from progressive activists.

"Because that kind of thing only fires up Republicans even more," he said.

In the minds of many Republicans, Democrats are willing to go to any length to achieve their means — and vice versa, he said.

"The true cost of this is it's dividing the nation and further ensuring more dysfunction and indecency," he said. "At the end of the day, we're all worse off as a country because of it."

Republican voters Jim Wilson, left, and Wayne Blackwell, each waited nearly two hours at an advanced polling centre in Marietta, Ga. Wilson says the Democratic treatment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation fight still 'infuriates' him and likely united conservatives. (Matt Kwong/CBC)


Matt Kwong


Matt Kwong was the Washington-based correspondent for CBC News. He previously reported for CBC News as an online journalist in New York and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at: @matt_kwong


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