Obama’s odyssey

The president hares from state to state, but are the Democrats heading for a “historic bloodbath”?

Believe the respected Rothenberg political report, and the Democrats are heading for a "historic bloodbath" on Tuesday – at least in the House. The Republicans need to pick up just 39 seats to win a majority, and there isn't a poll around that doesn't suggest they'll win at least 50 – if not dozens more.

As for the Senate, it looks likely that the Democrats will at least avoid a wipeout there – the GOP isn't heading for the neccessary ten-seat win.

And while Obama has been appealing to supporters to knock on 20,000 doors this weekend, even the wildly successful Rally to Restore Sanity hasn't given the Dems the last-minute boost they were hoping for.

Sure, most of the 250,000 people who crowded into the National Mall were liberals through and through (and you couldn't help but think back to that freezing day back in January '09, when the entire city was a sea of Obama flags and faces shiny with hope), but Jon Stewart's shtick deliberately avoided any kind of partisan appeal.

"Some of you may have seen today as a clarion call for action," he told the crowd. "Clearly some of you who just wanted to see the Air and Space Museum got royally screwed."

And when he did get political, Stewart let rip against extremists on both sides. The media, especially the likes of Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck, got most of the flak. "If we amplify everything, we hear nothing," he said.

But beneath this cacophony of extremities, there's no getting away from the fact that President Obama is about to be dealt a huge rebuke.

"Part of it is a profound unhappiness with the way Washington is working," says Matt Bennett from the Third Way think tank, describing people's deep frustration that their lives aren't getting any better and no one in charge really seems to care.

The recession is overshadowing everything – almost all Americans think the economy is in bad shape, and hardly anyone can see things getting better soon.

Curse of the 'burbs

It is even more profound in the suburbs, where 53 per cent of people describe their own financial situation as "bad". Most people, according to Princeton Survey Research, have either lost their job or know someone who has, while 40 per cent have lost their home, or know someone in that situation.

That's a lot of discontent, and, says the survey, the suburbs hold the key to this year's Republican success. Especially when the president is so city-centric: years ago, he told AP he just wasn't interested in the suburbs – "they bore me".

But what is really noticeable right now is how polarised the debate is: as the saying goes, it's a lot easier to rant than to rave. If part of the national disappointment is over what's seen as Washington's obduracy, many voters are also disillusioned by a president who promised unity, but has ended up presiding over a country more divided than ever before.

So much for "No red states, no blue states – but the United States of America". Instead, the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, has been proclaiming that "the single most important thing we want to achieve for President Obama is to be a one-term president", while Obama himself urged Latino voters to "punish our enemies" on Tuesday, warning Republicans, "You can ride with us if you want, but you gotta sit in the back seat."

And partisanship is flourishing within the parties as well. The Republican establishment must surely be worrying about the prospect of all those unruly Tea Partiers causing trouble for them – as well as the Democrats – in Congress. And the "professional left" is still causing trouble for the president.

Last night, as Obama made his final pitch for votes on a four-state blitz, one small section of the crowd in Connecticut suddenly started heckling him about funding for Aids research, before the rest of the audience drowned them out.

The president – looking noticeably annoyed – told them curtly to turn their anger against the Republicans instead, warning that his entire agenda could be rolled back if the GOP prevailed.

He did get a better rap back in his old Senate seat of Illinois – where a 35,000-strong crowd whooped it up for him, 2008-style. But it says a lot about the state of the country that, three days before election day, he's having to focus on getting his own key supporters to turn up at the polls.

Felicity Spector is chief writer and US politics expert for Channel 4 News.

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear