Voters across the D.C. region endured lousy weather and long waits to cast ballots in historic numbers Tuesday, turning a normally sleepy midterm election of local, state and and federal races into an intense referendum on President Trump. Despite an unprecedented surge of early voting, polling places opened to long lines and stayed busy through suddenly glorious sunsets.
In Loudoun County, where Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) is fighting the president’s unpopularity and a robust challenge from state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D), poll worker Jeff Stubin said the day’s voter traffic was “almost presidential.”
Even in the District, where no allies of the president are on the ballot, residents showed up in unusually large numbers for a midterm election.
“I have not seen this many people turn out since the first Obama election this early in the day,” said Lelia Moors, the precinct captain at the polls at Murch Elementary in Northwest Washington.
In Virginia, four seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D) faces a challenge from Republican Corey A. Stewart, a Trump booster who has heartily embraced the president’s divisive rhetoric on immigration, guns and other issues. Several self-described independents and Republicans in the state said their antipathy to that rhetoric led them to vote Democratic up and down the ticket.
“This midterm is a referendum” on Trump, said Andrew Petri, a 35-year-old consultant from McLean. “Words matter. I don’t like the visceral, violent rhetoric I tend to hear from the leadership of Republicans.”
No matter the race, voters cited Trump as a motivating factor, many having waited two years to repudiate his style of governing, others eager to show their support.
First-time voter Noura Said, 19, and her father Arif Said walked into their polling station in Centreville with determined expressions in the last hours of voting, ignoring clusters of campaign volunteers vying for their attention.
They seemed relieved walking out, having both voted for Wexton and Kaine--and against Trump.
“We just want to be treated the same as other people,” said Arif Said, 51, a Muslim originally from Indonesia. “I know the economy is good, but that’s not enough.”
In Maryland, former NAACP chief Ben Jealous hoped disgust with the president and GOP would help him become Maryland’s first African American governor.
“Voting for me is the best way to send Donald Trump a message,” he said after voting in his home district of Pasadena.
But Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who has consistantly led Jealous in polls and fundraising, has distanced himself from Trump, allowing some voters to make a top-of-the-ballot exception to an otherwise straight Demcratic vote.
Keith Dudley, 71, said Hogan was the only non-Democrat he voted for in the booth at Woodmore Elementary School in Prince George’s County. He credited Hogan with good education policies and not raising taxes and didn’t see Jealous as an upgrade.
“I didn’t see anything that would be a great advance for Maryland,” Dudley said of Jealous’s campaign. “Rather than switch horses mid-way, I went with Hogan.”
Jack Havas, 75, a business owner voting in Potomac, was another Hogan Democrat. But when it came to his congressional race, the most competitive in Maryland, Havas went back to the fold and chose Democrat David Trone over Republican Amie Hoeber. Of Hoeber, he said: “That woman could have been the best person ever, and I wouldn’t have voted for her because we need to win the House.”
Other voters, though, couldn’t see past the “R” following Hogan’s name. Hector Knox, 47, a physician voting in Prince George’s, filled the bubble for Jealous in spite of appreciating Hogan’s frequent criticism of the president.
“Hogan is a victim to being a member of the Republican Party,” Knox said.
Chuck Thomas, 48, of Takoma Park, voted for Jealous because of Hogan’s “cautiously low-key” approach to fighting for Medicaid during last year’s Affordable Care Act vote.
“It was a vote against Hogan, with the assumption that Jealous will do whatever he can to keep the state’s Medicaid provision,” said Thomas, an afternoon voter in Takoma Park.
There are many other races — including a racially tinged D.C. Council battle that has become a proxy measure of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s power; state legislative races in Maryland that will decide whether Hogan’s vetoes can still be easily overridden; and local council and county board races that will likely bring a multitude of fresh, often younger faces into elected office in the Washington suburbs.
Nov. 6, 2018, will likely be remembered most as the first midterm after Trump’s election.
“The character of this country is on the ballot,” former president Barack Obama told Virginia voters at a rally Tuesday for Kaine and Wexton. “How we conduct ourselves in public life is on the ballot.”
Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R) have campaigned in both Democratic and Republican strongholds across the state, hoping to significantly expand on the coalition that led to their upset victory in 2014.
Jealous and his running mate, Susan Turnbull, have struggled to compete against Hogan’s record-high approval ratings.
“Hogan is not a real Republican,” said Michael Sheras, a 74-year-old Rockville photographer who cast a ballot for the governor.
Sheras said he liked Jealous — “He’s a good person and all of that” — but said Hogan “really has done a good job.”
Jealous’s progressive platform did win over some voters.
Laura Koundinya, 44, a registered independent from Darnestown, said she supported Jealous because of his education and health care plans. She said she also liked the idea of electing leaders of more varied backgrounds.
“There’s not as much diversity as I would like,” she said.
While the governor’s race has drawn the most attention, two vigorously contested congressional races could drive up turnout in the western and eastern parts of the state: Trone, co-founder of Total Wine & Liquor, is vying with Hoeber to succeed outgoing Rep. John Delaney (D) in the 6th District; Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) faces a robust challenge from Democrat Jesse Colvin in the 1st District.
Hoeber was out in Potomac on Tuesday morning greeting voters. She said she felt good about her chances against Trone, who has put millions of dollars of his own fortune into the race. “He’s throwing money at it, and I’m throwing shoe leather at it,” she said.
Voters are also electing legislators to fill all the seats in the Maryland General Assembly. The state GOP has targeted five Senate seats that, if flipped, would limit the Democrats’ ability to override Hogan’s vetoes.
U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, both Democrats, also face energetic challengers. Frosh is battling Republican Craig Wolf; Cardin faces Republican Tony Campbell, independent Neal Simon and Libertarian Arvin Vohra.
Turnout in early voting was more than double the 2014 total in Maryland, and more than triple in Montgomery County, where there is a three-way battle for county executive: Democrat Marc Elrich; fellow at-large County Council member Nancy Floreen, a Democrat-turned-independent; and Republican Robin Ficker.
Michael Sheras, voting in Potomac, chose Floreen. “The year of the woman,” he explained. “They seem to have better ideas than stuffy old men.”
Koundinya said she chose Elrich because she believes he is more cautious about development issues and not funded by developers. “There is too much congestion and traffic,” she said.
The candidates defended themselves at different times in front of a Leisure World poll. Floreen rejected one voter’s charge that she being the spoiler in a deep blue county. “Mr. Elrich was the wrong choice for Montgomery County, and ordinarily this is a coronation based on the Democratic primary,” she said.
Elrich, soon after, dismissed his opponent’s characterization. “You have elections,” he said. “You don’t have coronations.”
In Prince George’s County, State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks (D) is unopposed in her quest to become the county’s first female county executive. County Council races in Prince George’s are also largely uncontested. But four contests for seats on the Board of Education have been heated, reflecting a deep divide on the board between an establishment and an insurgent faction.
The one-party dominance was enough for College Park voter Kem Owens, 57, who usually votes Democratic, to vote straight Republican Tuesday.
She wants both parties to find a cooperate with President Trump, she said.
“Things will get better if both parties start working together,” Brown said.
Maryland voters will also decide two state ballot questions. One question asks whether the state constitution should be amended to create a “lock box” for casino revenue and require the state to spend the money on public education. The other asks if voters should be able to register on Election Day.
National Democrats have poured a lot of resources into Virginia this year, targeting the four competitive congressional races in hopes of picking up seats in the House.
Stewart bills himself as “more Trump than Trump” and based his campaign on provocative anti-immigration rhetoric and appearances with pro-Confederate groups. The message won him the GOP nomination and resonates with party faithful stirred by Trump’s dire warnings about a group of migrants from Central America who are trying to get to the United States to seek asylum.
“The caravan is utmost,” said Fran Thorpe, 56, a former hospital coder in Norfolk who voted Republican up and down the ticket on Tuesday. “I’m not a bigot in any way. But how can they think it’s okay to cross any country’s border illegally?”
But Stewart’s hard line didn’t play well even with some of his Prince William County constituents. Miguel Martinez, 27, said he met and liked Stewart while working as a county police officer several years ago but voted for Kaine on Tuesday.
Stewart had “just ventured a little too far right for me,” he said.
Going into election season, Comstock had to strike a complicated pose, distancing herself from Trump and emphasizing her track record on local issues. Republicans have held the seat for nearly 40 years, but the district is increasingly blue, and both parties have poured millions into the race.
Thea Amr, a 76-year-old retired professor from McLean, voted for Wexton.
“We need some change around here, a lot of change,” she said.
Voters waited as long as two hours in sometimes heavy rain to cast their ballots in Chesterfield County, suburban Richmond swing territory that could decide whether Rep. Dave Brat (R) fights off a strong challenge from Democrat Abigail Spanberger in the 7th District.
Trump, who has endorsed Brat, is popular in the rural areas but has energized Democratic opposition in the suburbs. Spanberger is a former CIA agent whose résumé may appeal to swing voters and moderate Republicans turned off by Trump.
At the Gayton Branch of the Henrico County Public Library, there was a half-hour wait and a full parking lot all morning. On the wet sidewalk outside, Democrats ran out of sample ballots to hand to voters.
“It’s exciting,” said Marques Jones, a Democratic volunteer. “Democrats do well when turnout’s high.”
It was high all over. With three hours to go, voting in Virginia’s largest juridiction of Fairfax County had supassed 53 percent, far outstripping voting rates from previous midterms.
In Hampton Roads, popular incumbent Rep. Scott W. Taylor (R) was battling Democrat Elaine Luria. The district is heavily military, and while it went for Trump by a narrow margin in 2016, it supported Democrat Ralph Northam for governor last year.
Luria herself voted in Norfolk at 6 a.m. with her husband, Robert Blondin, and their daughter, Violette.
She spent an hour greeting voters, many of whom knew her, and even posed for a selfie with a Taylor volunteer.
“We’re feeling positive,” she said. “I went to Costco the other day . . . and between the door and getting my piece of pizza, 17 people grabbed me. So it’s definitely one of those things where people are paying attention.”
By the afternoon ,skies were clearing even if some of the political alliances remained murky. Outside his polling place in Virginia Beach, Ben Valdez, 24, wore a “Y’all Need Jesus” shirt and described himself as a gay Native American Republican voter who had just cast ballots for Taylor and Stewart both.
“I’m just trying to give Donald Trump the backup he needs up there,” Valdez said.
Two political newcomers are vying to succeed outgoing Rep. Thomas Garrett (R) in the 5th District, which was shaken last year over the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
Republican Denver Riggleman, a former Air Force intelligence officer and distillery owner, faces Democrat Leslie Cockburn, a former “60 Minutes” producer and author.
“It’s so real for us. My daughter was born days before there were Nazis parading in our streets,” said Margaret Novak, a 36-year-old Cockburn voter in Charlottesville.
But Robert Burgess, a 47-year-old tow truck driver in the city, said Democrats’ push to remove local Confederate monuments was to blame for the violence.
“The Democrats around here let wild racist groups come in here and let riots start,” he said. “It’s just a piece of metal.” He voted for Stewart and Riggleman.
Virginia voters will also find two proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot.
One would allow localities to grant a partial tax exemption to real estate that’s subject to recurrent flooding if the owner has invested in flood-proofing the property.
The other measure would make it easier for the surviving spouse of a veteran with 100 percent disability to keep a tax break.
After casting his ballot in Alexandria, a rain-dampened Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said he was excited about Democrats’ possibilities in Congress.
“I’ve given up on prognostication,” he said, recalling unexpectedly close elections in 2014 and Trump’s victory in 2016. “But we’ve got four (House) districts that are very competitive and even the 9th district [in southwest Virginia] could be a surprise.”
In the District, voters are electing seven D.C. Council members, the mayor, the attorney general and the city’s nonvoting delegate to the U.S. House, along with less prominent offices.
But attention is focused on a single race: the contest between incumbent council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) and independent challenger Dionne Reeder for one of two at-large council seats. The other seat is expected to go to incumbent council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large).
The race between Reeder and Silverman is a political test for Bowser, who is expected to win a second term in the overwhelmingly Democratic city. She faces independent Dustin Canter, Libertarian Martin Moulton and Statehood Green Party candidate Ann Wilcox.
Bowser endorsed Reeder over Silverman, directing an unprecedented amount of mayoral clout toward an effort to unseat an incumbent council member.
She has repeatedly clashed with Silverman, including over the District’s new paid leave policy, which is one of the most generous in the nation.
The fierce challenge to Silverman had backfired for some. Leaving her polling place at Eastern Market, Michele Nelson said she voted for Silverman because she was turned off by the attacks leveled against her, including from the mayor.
“I don’t like the rhetoric in our national politics. I don’t like it in our local politics. I don’t like name calling,” said Nelson, an attorney.
Others applauded Silverman’s liberal bent. “D.C. is left-leaning in nature,” said Oliver Spurgeon, a 33-year-old health care lobbyist and Anacostia resident who backed Silverman. “The fact that we’re critiquing a left agenda is comical.”
But Bryan Jefferson, 43, voted for Reeder, a fellow small business owner. He said he believes Reeder has stronger ties to the community and has been uplifting the city.
Michael Brice-Saddler, Sommer Brugal, Lynh Bui, Cindy Choi, Marisa Iati, Jim Morrison, Liz Weber, Jennifer Barrios, Erin Cox, Antonio Olivo, Donna St. George, Laura Vozzella, Orion Donovan-Smith, Arelis R. Hernández, Mark Ferguson, Hawes Spencer, Antonio Olivo, Samantha Schmidt, Tyler Blint-Welsh and Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.