But as voters head to the polls Saturday with the race in a virtual dead heat, the risks of Trump’s strategy to make the runoff election a referendum on his own popularity had already become apparent. Early voting turnout in key Democratic districts set records, suggesting that while Edwards has scrupulously avoided tangling with a president who won this conservative state by 20 points in 2016, Democratic voters seem well0-motivated to deliver a rebuke to Trump.
It’s even more challenging for Trump because of an awkward set of electoral facts, starting with the obvious one that Edwards, the so-called socialist Trump wants fired, is actually a deeply conservative Democrat. In fact, he’s a West Point graduate who earlier this year signed one of the nation’s most restrictive “fetal heartbeat” abortion bans, a move that angered progressive Democrats in the state but earned him some credit with conservative Republicans. Add in some Republican softening in the suburbs and a humming economy, which Trump himself praised, and that explains why Edwards approval rating is at 52 percent and his disapproval is in the 30s, more or less mirroring Trump’s own numbers in the state.