Early voting begins as midterms enter final phase

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Much of the political world is consumed with a battle over a Supreme Court nominee, an expanding international trade war and President Donald Trump’s social media posts. Yet here in Minnesota, the first votes of the 2018 midterm elections are being cast.

Voting machines are set up inside city buildings. A series of get-out-the-vote rallies is scheduled. And each party is spending millions of dollars to push its supporters to the polls.

While Election Day 2018 is technically Nov. 6, Minnesota law allows in-person voting to begin Friday — a full 46 days early — making it the first battleground state to begin casting actual votes in the broader fight for control of Congress.

Voters in every corner of the nation will soon follow.

South Dakota also opens early voting on Friday, and four more states follow in the next six days, including key states including New Jersey and Missouri. California, Montana and Arizona are among seven others that allow early voting in the subsequent two weeks.

It may feel early, but make no mistake: The final phase of the 2018 midterm season has begun.

“It’s like Election Day every day,” said Jake Schneider, spokesman for Minnesota Republican Senate candidate Karin Housley. “It really changes the dynamic of an election. It really does. And it’s exciting.”

The commencement of voting in key states underscores the heightened significance of virtually every major development — political or otherwise — on the state and national stage in the coming days. Economic indicators, the president’s tweets, new revelations in the special counsel investigation and even the weather begin to matter much more as voters decide whether to go to the polls.

It’s been an inauspicious beginning to the voting season for Trump and his Republican Party, which continue to struggle under the weight of near-constant self-imposed crises and chaos.

The president escalated a trade war with China in recent days, triggering new waves of concern among farmers and major employers across Minnesota and beyond. And the GOP’s continued embrace of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, despite an allegation of decades-old sexual misconduct, threatens to further alienate suburban women, a key constituency this fall that has already largely turned away from Trump.

Political parties and their allies are ramping up voter outreach programs in several states to mark the beginning of the early voting phase.

The Democratic allies, Priorities USA Action and the Senate Majority PAC, for example, are launching a multimillion-dollar digital ad campaign next week as part of a voter mobilization program across five states that targets African-Americans, young Hispanics and other young people.