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US elections: Faces of the campaign

(L-R; top to bottom): Ron DeSantis; Andrew Gillum; Martha McSally; Christine Hallquiston; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; Kyrsten Sinema; Ilhan Omar; Pete Stauber. AFP PHOTOS



Among the 470 US House of Representatives and Senate races and dozens of governors’ campaigns being decided Tuesday, here are 10 candidates to watch:

Despite President Donald Trump’s overwhelming presence, the US midterm election – driven by unprecedented Democratic enthusiasm, record numbers of women candidates and intense debate over presidential style and policies – has seen charismatic personalities emerge.

Among the 470 US House of Representatives and Senate races and dozens of governors’ campaigns being decided Tuesday, here are 10 candidates to watch:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, hope of liberal left
Arriving in 2018 like a thunderclap on the US political scene, and sporting a captivating introductory campaign ad, this 29-year-old Hispanic-American could become the youngest lawmaker in Congress.

With a decidedly leftwing platform – Medicare for all, tuition-free public college, and support for impeaching Trump – the former waitress and educator who worked for Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign is likely to win her House race.

Her working class New York district straddles neighborhoods in Queens and the Bronx, where she was born and raised in a modest family.

Beto O’Rourke, ex-punk and Democrat stalwart
Sleeves rolled up, sweaty and delivering passionate campaign rhetoric: Beto O’Rourke rocketed onto the national political stage in August with his robust defense of the rights of black American football players to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality.

A “Beto” narrative quickly grew around this 46-year-old former punk musician, a Democratic congressman since 2013 who is trying to dethrone Senator Ted Cruz in deeply Republican Texas.

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His current challenge is enormous, but Beto is already being discussed by some as a potential presidential candidate in 2020 or beyond.

Stacey Abrams & Andrew Gillum, black trailblazers
Whether they win or not, Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams will enter the history books. Gillum, 39, is the first African-American nominee for governor in Florida, while Abrams, 44, is the first black female nominee for governor anywhere in the United States.
She is running in Georgia, a southern state still deeply marked by racial segregation. The latest polls have her trailing Republican Brian Kemp by a single point.

Gillum, mayor of Florida’s capital city Tallahassee, has taken a small lead over his pro-Trump opponent Ron DeSantis, and is facing fiery criticism from the president.

Martha McSally & Kyrsten Sinema, pioneer women
The first woman in the US military ever to pilot a jet fighter in combat, Martha McSally, 52, has proudly “taken the fight to the enemy, and the establishment,” a campaign ad states.

With a determined bearing, this Trump-supported Republican congresswoman is aiming to become the first woman ever to represent Arizona in the US Senate.

Battling to claim that historic title is another woman 10 years her junior, Democratic congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema. The first openly bisexual Senate candidate lived during her teen years without running water or electricity in an abandoned gas station.

Ron DeSantis & Pete Stauber, avowed Trumpists
Under Trump’s ever-present shadow, Republican candidates have found a smaller spotlight. But many have shared the stage with the president in front of thousands of supporters at raucous campaign rallies, including Florida’s Republican candidate for governor Ron DeSantis.

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In a humorous viral campaign ad, DeSantis, 40, encourages his infant son, clad in a pro-Trump onesie, to repeat “Make America Great Again.”

With less braggadocio, Pete Stauber of Minnesota could become one of the few Republicans to snatch a House seat from Democrats this year. Affable and poised, this 52-year-old policeman and popular former hockey player highlights the nation’s economic successes under Trump.

Ilhan Omar, from refugee to lawmaker
Ilhan Omar seems to have lived several lives. At age eight she and her family fled Somalia’s civil war. As a refugee in America, a teenage Omar arrived in the big city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she has risen to become a Democratic member of the state assembly.

On Tuesday she is likely to win a seat in the US House where, at age 36, she will become one of the first two Muslim women elected to the lower chamber in Washington.

The other is Rashida Tlaib, a 42-year-old Palestinian-American who is running unopposed in a Democratic stronghold in Michigan.

Christine Hallquist, transgender candidate
When she speaks to voters in her state of Vermont, Christine Hallquist’s sexual identity is rarely an issue, the Democratic candidate for governor told AFP.

But she could nevertheless make history. If she beats incumbent Phil Scott, a relatively popular Republican who has distanced himself from Trump, Hallquist will become the first transgender governor of a US state.

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