Mid-term matters (with apologies to Alan Partridge)

Emily Maitlis
Presenter, BBC Newsnight
@maitlison Twitter

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The political noise never quite stops in Washington DC - but this morning - one day before Americans head to the polls - it is at fever pitch.

The heavens have opened and rush hour cars are gridlocked, which is good news for Conservative talk show hosts Mary and Vince who we're with for their Morning Call in.

They're quoting Republican Senator Lindsay Graham who has begun the day with the words 'if you're Republican and you're not coming out to vote then you're legally dead'.

For a Brit like me, a sticker with a yellow Lib Dem bird or a green oak tree feels wildly partisan. Here the temperature starts off a lot hotter.

Mary's first call is from Katie, a Republican woman who is complaining that her neighbour has asked her to take down her yard signs because they're making her cry. Katie sounds incensed. Mary is delighted.

I ask Mary if she thinks the language people use is important. As a chat show host she says she's careful what she says - they work inside regulations like our Ofcom - but broadly she says, if someone incites violence then no, the person who acts upon it is the idiot. Not the guy who might have been joking around. Neither of us have mentioned Donald Trump.

The president is not on the ballot this time around but he's acting as if he is. At a rally in Mississippi he told the crowds: "Pretend I'm on the ballot - this whole thing is a referendum on me."

And in a way, he's right of course. If the Democrats win the house on Tuesday - by increasing their number of seats by more than 23 - then they gain control of the lower chamber. That means they could start impeachment proceedings against the president if they chose.

The president's response to this threat is to try and get his base out to vote in what is normally an uninspiring moment of the electoral cycle.

He's talking non stop about the migrant Caravan, he name-checks immigrants as "illegals" and he is reinventing the constitution with threats to take away birthright citizenship. He has to motivate people that got excited in 2016 but can't generally be bothered with the stuff in between.

If he reminds people they should still be angry and scared, they will come back to the booth.

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image captionDemocratic candidate for California's 10th Congressional District Josh Harder talks with a supporter

Across town I speak to Pat Thornton - a liberal talk show host this time who's show serves a predominantly black audience. She's studied Trump's language and says the key is in the repetition. I ask if she thinks Trump is clever, thoughtful with his language. Her answer surprises me.

"Absolutely", she says. "He's not only clever and thoughtful, but he actually strategizes based on language. I bet you that Trump will look up on the internet what are the most popular words associated with fear - he's a true strategist - and what he does is distract."

Trump is spawning a new breed of Republicans all trying to sound like him.

A campaign ad by the Republican candidate for governor in Florida, Ron Desantis, shows his toddler daughter learning how to build Trump's wall. Then they snuggle up together to read a bed time story - which happens to be Trump's 'Art of the Deal'.

In Virginia, I interview Republican Strategist Peter Wehner. He's worked for both Bush administrations and for Reagan too. But for the first time in his life, he's going to vote Democrat. He wants the Republicans to lose this time so that the party comes to its sense, and so that Trump loosens his grip on a party he says is turning nativist, nationalist in a way it wasn't a decade ago.

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image captionHuge crowds have gathered to see Trump at rallies across the country

The one thing you wont hear Trump mention at the rallies is healthcare. It's a number one priority for many Americans- but it is a problem he's readily admitted he finds too hard to solve. The Democrats, by contrast, want to talk of little else. A tangible reminder of what Obama achieved in his time in office.

Curiously, you don't hear much Trump talk about the economy either- even though senior Republicans are pleading with him to do so. He thinks the economy is "going great.. but sometimes its not that interesting to talk about". Fear, in other words, is more engaging.

And here's the problem for the Democrats. They don't know quite how to respond. In the face of rhetoric that is often false, inflammatory, but always memorable, what should they do?

Michelle Obama petitioned her party to "GO HIGH when they go low". It's a lofty ideal. But increasingly there are Democrats who - after two years of frustration - are more willing to play dirty. Former Attorney General Eric Holder was heard telling a crowd "when they go low, we KICK em". Republicans turned on him as if it was the crudest thing they'd ever heard.

In 2018, the sound bites are getting punchier, the concentration span is getting shorter and the issues are in a dysmorphic meltdown- no one can see them for what they are.

So - on election eve - its over to you, America.

Which conversation do you want to have?

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