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GOP pushes immigration as Democrats focus on healthcare

The U.S. Capitol dome is seen at sunrise

The U.S. Capitol dome is seen at sunrise over Washington, D.C., on Sept. 25, 2013. Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Saul Loeb

Democrats and Republicans have offered contrasting closing arguments in the final days before the midterm election to address the anxieties of the voting blocs they need.

Those on the left have positioned themselves as the party to protect health care and cast Republicans as a threat to coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Those on the right have called a migrant caravan making its way north from Central America an "invasion" and denounced Democrats as too lax on immigration.

“If you don’t want America to be overrun by masses of illegal aliens and giant caravans, you’d better vote Republican,” President Donald Trump told supporters at a Thursday rally in Columbia, Missouri. Trump this past week also has proposed sending as many as 15,000 troops to the southern border and signing executive orders to ban birthright citizenship and restrict asylum rules.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, has kept his message trained on health care. “They can’t lie their way out of this: Republicans are working to cut protections for pre-existing conditions. Period," he tweeted last week.

The Democrats’ focus on health care and the Republicans’ emphasis on immigration play to different sectors of the electorate, political experts say.

Democrats hope to win over suburban swing voters in competitive House districts with kitchen-table issues while Trump hopes to turn out his base in warning of an apocalyptic future he says only he can prevent, experts say. But both play to anxieties, though to very different degrees, experts say.

"There's fear among Republicans about immigration," said New York-based Republican consultant Evan Siegfried. "It's a threat to you. It works so much better than an abstract concept like the appointment of conservative judges. It's closer to home."

Washington, D.C.-based Democratic pollster and consultant Brad Bannon said health care affects voters more directly than immigration.

"The pre-existing conditions clause in Obamacare gave voters some peace of mind. The talk about eliminating it is very scary to a lot of people," Bannon said.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released in mid-October found that 71 percent of respondents said health care is “very important” in informing their votes. Forty percent of Democrats and 31 percent of independents ranked health care as the “most important” issue while only 17 percent of Republicans did so.

Democrats seeking House seats, including Perry Gershon in his race against Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in the 1st District and Liuba Grechen Shirley in her challenge of Rep. Pete King (R-Seaford) in the 2nd District, have argued that their GOP opponents are hurting their constituents' health care.

Endangered red-state Senate Democrats also are running ads about protecting coverage for pre-existing conditions. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) used a shotgun to target a copy of an anti-Obamacare lawsuit – onto which his opponent, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, has signed – in a campaign spot released in mid-September.

The Democrats' spotlighting of health care has forced Trump to defend his party's approach. “All Republicans support people with pre-existing conditions, and if they don’t, they will after I speak to them," he tweeted on Oct. 18.

But the bulk of his rhetoric has revolved around immigration and fact-checkers have found it to be laden with misleading claims.

New York-based Republican strategist Susan Del Percio said the Democrats are using health care to "compare and contrast" while Trump uses immigration as "fear-mongering." Trump is following the playbook that successfully ushered him into the White House, she said.

"He does use it as a divisive issue. He does play on people’s fears," she said. "It’s wrong, but that’s what he did in 2016, so he’s doing it again."

The president tweeted Oct. 22 that there were “unknown Middle Easterners” mixed into the migrant caravan, then acknowledged to reporters the next day: “There’s no proof of anything, but there could very well be.” He said Wednesday that he "wouldn't be surprised" if Democratic donor George Soros was funding the caravan, but presented no evidence.

And his announcement Tuesday to "Axios on HBO" about signing an executive order removing the right of citizenship for babies born on U.S. soil to non-citizens and immigrants in the country illegally already has met pushback as unconstitutional.

“You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told WVLK-AM radio in Kentucky, adding: "The 14th Amendment's pretty clear."

The president expressed frustration when the pipe bombs sent around the country to his critics were being covered in the news more than his midterm messaging. “Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now this ‘Bomb’ stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows – news not talking politics,” he tweeted Oct. 26.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a joint statement with Schumer had said Trump's condemnation days earlier of political acts of violence  "ring hollow."

Pelosi on Oct. 26 then spoke to the midterm narrative. “The GOP is desperate to change the conversation from their assault on Americans’ health care to the baseless fear of some families 1,000 miles away from the border," she said.

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