Republicans Focus on Defending Senate in Campaign’s Last Week 

Republican campaigns took a defensive approach a week before elections to determine control of the U.S. Congress, with the party spending more to try to hold on to previously secure House seats and President Donald Trump preparing a six-day trip focused on Senate races. 

The National Republican Congressional Committee on Tuesday launched a wave of ads targeting 14 House of Representatives races, including defenses of eight incumbents and four currently Republican-held seats whose current officeholders are not running in the Nov. 6 elections. 

Trump’s planned blitz of Senate battleground states, including Florida, Missouri and Tennessee, follows an NBC/Marist opinion poll showing the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Arizona taking a 6 percentage-point lead and a Quinnipiac University Poll showing Democrat Beto O’Rourke pulling closer to Republican Senator Ted Cruz in Texas. 

A Reuters analysis of a trio of political forecasting groups showed the picture in the House brightening for Democrats. 

Of 65 races seen as competitive or leaning against the incumbent party, the odds of a Democratic victory had increased in 48 as of Tuesday in the eyes of at least one of the three of political forecasting groups — Cook Political Report, Inside Elections and the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics — according to the Reuters analysis. 

Democrats would need a net gain of 23 seats in the House and two in the Senate to take majorities away from Trump’s fellow Republicans, which would put them in position to oppose the president’s legislative agenda. Opinion polls and political forecasters generally show Democrats having a strong chance of winning a House majority, with Republicans expected to keep control of the Senate. 

Early voting 

Early voting has surged nationwide, with eight states already recording more ballots cast ahead of Election Day than in all of 2014, the last midterm congressional election cycle, according to University of Florida researchers. 

“Many voters are looking for someone who will be a check and not just a rubber stamp,” said Mike Levin, Democratic candidate in California’s 49th congressional district, which encompasses a wealthy suburban stretch between Los Angeles and San Diego. 

Republican Darrell Issa currently represents the district but is not seeking re-election. 

Until recently solidly Republican, the district has been trending Democratic in recent elections. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won it by 6 percentage points in 2012, but Democrat Hillary Clinton won it by 7 percentage points in 2016, a swing of 13 percentage points. This year, opinion polls give Levin an edge over his Republican rival, Diane Harkey. 

“We talk a lot about the need to have a check on this administration,” Levin said in an interview at a campaign office in San Clemente. 

The seat is among more than 40 that were held by Republicans who are not running for re-election, the highest number since at least 1930. 

Safer districts

Republicans are focusing their efforts on conservative districts Trump won by double-digit margins in 2016, particularly in rural areas. That has allowed Democrats to gain ground in more racially diverse urban and suburban districts like the one Issa represents. 

In conservative areas where Trump remains popular, from upstate New York to southern Illinois, several Republican incumbents said they saw the odds as moving in their favor. 

They said their chances have been boosted by the bruising debate around Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was narrowly confirmed by the Senate after denying a sexual assault allegation. 

Anger over his contentious, protest-marred confirmation hearings and sympathy among conservatives toward Kavanaugh have boosted the enthusiasm of the Republican base, particularly in rural areas, candidates and strategists said. 

2018 US Midterm Elections Could Bring Gridlock

President Donald Trump has warned that if Democrats regain political power in the midterm elections, the U.S. economy would essentially implode. 

Democrats, he insists, would push tax hikes and environmental restrictions that stifle growth. Undocumented immigrants would steal jobs and unleash a crime wave that would halt commerce. Health insurance would devolve into a socialist program offering shoddy care at unsustainable cost. 

“At stake in this election,” Trump declared at a rally in Houston, “is whether we continue the extraordinary prosperity that we’ve all achieved or whether we let the radical Democrat mob take a giant wrecking ball and destroy our country and our economy.” 

Almost no private economist agrees with Trump’s portrait of a financial apocalypse. 

If Democrats win control of the House in next week’s congressional elections, their legislative priorities wouldn’t likely much alter a $20 trillion economy. For one thing, Trump would remain able to block Democratic initiatives — just as they could stop his plans for more tax cuts and a 5 percent cut to Cabinet department budgets. 

What instead would likely result is continued gridlock — perhaps even more entrenched than what exists now in Washington. Arrayed against a stout Republican majority in the Senate, a Democratic House majority couldn’t do much to reorder the economy, which typically hinges more on the willingness of consumers and businesses to spend and on the state of the global economy than on government policy priorities. 

“It’s probably not that much of a change,” Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist at S&P Global, said of the likely outcome. “While you might see further gridlock if the Democrats take the House, that doesn’t mean it would tip the boat and slow growth.” 

Many polls and analyses suggest — though hardly assure — that the Democrats could regain a majority in the House if their voters turn out in sufficient numbers in key races. If so, Trump would have to contend with a divided government instead of one with Republicans in complete control. Yet depending on voter turnout, it’s also possible that the Republicans could maintain their hold on both the House and the Senate. 

Analysts at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley foresee a divided government as most probable. So do their peers at Oxford Economics and Keefe Bruyette & Woods. 

“The most likely political consequences would be an increase in investigations and uncertainty surrounding fiscal deadlines,” Goldman Sachs concluded in a client note. 

Oxford Economics’ senior economist, Nancy Vanden Houten, has suggested that the Republicans’ legislative agenda would stall if they lost the House. 

“A Democrat-controlled House would, in our view, be a line of defense against further tax cuts, reduced entitlement spending and efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” she said. 

The economy has enjoyed an acceleration in growth this year — to a gain estimated to be 3 percent after deficit-funded tax cuts. Unemployment is at a 49-year low of 3.7 percent, and employers continue to post a record number of job openings. The economic expansion is already the second longest on record. 

But annual growth is widely expected to dip back to its long-term average of near 2 percent by 2020. It’s even possible that the economy could slip into a recession within a few years as growth inevitably stalls — for reasons unrelated to who controls the White House or Congress. A global slowdown could, for example, spill over into the United States. Or higher interest rates, spurred by the Federal Reserve, might depress economic activity. 

Trump would still have plenty of discretion on some key economic issues. His trade war with China and his drive to reduce regulations are two of them. The president has managed to pursue those priorities without Congress’ involvement, though his updated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico would need congressional approval. 

“Trade stuff is being done administratively; regulatory stuff is being done administratively,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the right-of-center American Action Forum. “There’s just not that much on the table legislatively.” 

In an appearance this month at Harvard University, the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, outlined her agenda should her party regain the chamber’s majority and she the speakership. 

Within the first 100 days, Pelosi said, she would seek to reduce the influence of large campaign donors and groups that aren’t legally required to disclose their funding sources. She would also push for infrastructure funding — to rebuild roadways, rail stations or airports, for example — and seek protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, among other priorities. 

Any such initiatives, though, could be blocked by a Republican Senate, or by Trump. 

Budget and deficit issues will also surface after the election. Congress will most likely need to raise the government’s debt limit and approve spending packages before October 2019. And mandatory government spending caps are set to kick in for the 2020 fiscal year after having been suspended for two years. Those spending limits could dampen economic growth. 

Lewis Alexander, chief U.S. economist at Nomura, said Republicans might renew their focus on reducing the national debt, after having approved tax cuts last year that swelled annual budget deficits by $1.5 trillion over the next decade. 

Alexander noted that shrinking the deficit has historically become a higher priority when competing parties have controlled the White House and Congress. If the government seeks to pare the deficit, it could possibly slow the economy, which in the past year has been fueled in part by government spending. 

It’s likely Trump would blame Democrats if growth falters, just as he might absorb criticism for his economic stewardship as Democratic presidential campaigns accelerate into a higher gear. 

The hostile rhetoric makes it unlikely that Democrats and Republicans would join to pass any meaningful legislation for the economy, such as for infrastructure rebuilding.  

“The way parties are talking about it right now, I don’t think anybody is dying to cooperate,” said Michael Madowitz, chief economist at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. 

Still, if Democrats regain the House, the president might feel pressure to produce some tangible legislative results ahead of his own quest for re-election in 2020. 

“Trump is the wild card here,” said Jason Rosenstock, a financial industry lobbyist with Thorn Run Partners. “He may want to be seen as a deal-cutter going into the 2020 election.” 

FBI Looking into Apparent Effort to Smear Special Counsel Mueller

The FBI is investigating an anonymous woman’s claim that she was offered $20,000 to accuse Special Counsel Robert Mueller of sexual assault.

Mueller is investigating allegations that President Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election. He is also looking into whether Trump attempted to obstruct the probe.

In a rare public statement, Mueller spokesman Peter Carr said Tuesday “when we learned last week of the allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the special counsel, we immediacy referred the matter to the FBI for investigation.”

Carr offered no details of the case which may be an effort to discredit Mueller as the investigation continues.

News outlets say an unknown woman contacted them by email, claiming someone offered her cash to say Mueller sexually assaulted her in the 1970s when they worked together at the FBI.

The woman says the person who contacted her claimed to work for Republican activist and right-wing radio talk show host Jack Burkman.

Burkman calls himself “the victim of a hoax” and that he did not pay anyone.

But he said last week on Facebook and in tweets that he would “reveal the first of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sex assault victims. I applaud the courage and dignity and grace and strength of my client.”

Cambodia Genocide Survivors Overcome Fear, Get Involved Politically

During every election season, as many American citizens prepare to go to the polls, one group of immigrants has traditionally chosen not to get involved. The Cambodian community in the U.S. has been fearful of the government because of its past, but this midterm election is different. The largest Cambodian community in the U.S. is taking political action. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee has their story from Long Beach, California.

Cambobian-Americans Flex a Long-Silent Voice in US Midterm Elections

Cambodian-American Laura Som said her mother raised her to never get involved in politics. Her mother would say politics is “a bloodbath, and we don’t want to see you walk into that.”

A deep fear of government is shared by Cambodians, many of whom experienced the violence of the Cambodian genocide, a four-year period in the 1970s when the communist Khmer Rouge regime killed nearly 2 million people.

“Just the word ‘government’ would trigger a lot of traumas of killing, violence, not just to ourselves but to our children or to our loved ones,” said Som, a community activist who lives in Long Beach, California, the U.S. city with the largest concentration of Cambodians.

Recalling the first time she became involved in local civic activities, Som said, “My mother received a call from a community leader to say how horrible of a mother she was to allow such a young college kid (to) participate in civic engagement events.”

Som’s experience as a Cambodian-American is not unusual.

During every election season, Cambodian-Americans have remained noticeably silent. Som said her community has traditionally avoided the polls during elections and have taught their children not to get involved.

Som said during the U.S. Census, which attempts to count every resident in the country, many Cambodian-Americans either do not participate or misreport the numbers in their households because they fear being on a government list.

Civics engagement

However, the 2018 midterm election season is proving to be different. Many Cambodian-Americans in Long Beach are on a mission to create political change for their community by pushing for a seat at the table in city government so their voices can be heard.

The movement was born during a civics class taught by Som at the MAYE Center, a center she founded to help fellow Cambodian genocide victims heal from the trauma they suffered and located in the heart of Long Beach’s Cambodia Town. (The four elements of self-healing at the MAYE Center include meditation, agriculture, yoga and education.)

One of her students, Vy Sron, remembered the discussion that started a tidal wave within the community.

“When the teacher said that (the) Cambodian community does not have a political voice like other communities, I asked the question of ‘why does the Cambodian community not have such political voice?’ ”

Som said she believes more political representation would help bring a cultural awareness and sensitivity to the needs of her community.

“We have members, elders who would go up to council and speak Cambodian, and we didn’t have anyone translating,” Som said. “We’re people of the earth. We want plants and gardens. This is how we heal ourselves, but yet we are put in a community where it’s a cement jungle.”

About 20,000 Cambodian-Americans live in Long Beach, or about 4 percent of the city’s population of 486,000, according to the Long Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. More than half of the Cambodian-Americans in Long Beach live in and around an area known as Cambodia Town, a 1.2-mile business strip of Khmer-owned restaurants, shops and temples, according to the bureau.

However, the area in and around Cambodia Town is currently part of four of the city’s nine council districts. And each of the four districts is represented by a different council member, meaning any political clout the Cambodian community might have is diffused. 

The students in the MAYE Center civics class decided to take action, organizing their community and collecting signatures for a petition to ask the city of Long Beach to redraw district lines so the largely Cambodian community could be consolidated into one district, with one representative.

But they are learning that seeking representation is a complicated matter that takes work and patience.

Cities typically look at redrawing district boundaries every 10 years, after the U.S. Census, so the population can be equally divided. The Long Beach city charter also allows the city to redistrict every five years or at any time the City Council feels there is a need.

In the last redistricting, in 2011, the Long Beach City Council adopted criteria for redrawing district lines, including “splits in neighborhoods, ethnic communities and other groups having a clear identity should be avoided.”

Som said council members did not follow that criteria when they split the area in and around Cambodia Town among four districts. The MAYE Center group wants the city to redraw the boundary lines, consolidating the Cambodia Town area into one district, before the next U.S. Census in 2020. The new district would allow Cambodian-Americans to vote for someone who would more solidly represent their interests in the 2020 election cycle, the group said.

“All the students took part in educating one Cambodian resident at a time, (and) have collected 3,000 signatures in two months,” Som said.

Civil rights attorney Marc Coleman said other ethnic minority groups have been successful with similar endeavors in the past.

“The Latino community did the same thing, and they created what … they call the Latino District,” said Coleman, who is also treasurer of the MAYE Center. 

Midterm elections 

The group’s efforts are twofold in this election. The Cambodian community is also supporting a proposal on the November 6 ballot to amend the Long Beach city charter to create an independent, citizen-led redistricting panel, taking that duty away from City Council members. The hope would be to have a member of the Cambodian community on the panel, the group added.

Long Beach city officials, however, said redistricting of the city will not be considered until after the 2020 Census to get the most accurate population count. Who is involved in the redistricting process will depend on the results of the November vote on the independent commission. 

Guatamalan native and Long Beach resident Juan Ovalle, who also fled an oppressive government, said he supports the Cambodian community’s efforts for representation, but he opposes the ballot measure, calling it a façade by politicians that would only allow residents to think they have more control over redistricting. He warned the Cambodian community not to be fooled.

“It (the redistricting committee) is still beholden to political influences. Those that will select the members of the redistricting committee are basically politicians,” Ovalle said.

Coleman, of the MAYE Center, in responding to Ovalle said, “This is as good as we could get it. Nothing is perfect. Nothing is foolproof, but we feel confident this is a good system.” 

Knowledge is power

Charles Song, who survived the Cambodian genocide, said he had tried in the past to organize the Long Beach Cambodian community, but was never very successful.

“The roadblock is always here, because when you’re talking about the Cambodian community, the first thing is fear,” he added. 

Song said experts from outside the community, whom he credits with empowering residents by teaching them how city government works, are behind the intense interest among Cambodian-Americans in this year’s election.

For Som, whose civics class ignited the students’ interest in local politics, this has also been an exercise in trying to persuade her mother to trust the U.S. government.

“I have to remind her that this is a different political landscape, that many have died in this country to give us this kind of voice and that we could do it,” she said.

Trump Administration Asks Supreme Court to Halt Trial Over Census

President Donald Trump’s administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to postpone a trial set for Nov. 5 that will examine the legality of its decision to ask people taking part in the 2020 U.S. census whether they are citizens.

The administration is asking for the trial to be placed on hold until the Supreme Court resolves a dispute over evidence, including whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees the U.S. Census Bureau, can be forced to answer questions about the politically charged decision.

On Friday, Manhattan U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, who will preside over the trial, and a federal appeals court both refused to postpone the trial.

Furman said a stay of the trial was not warranted and could hinder a final resolution of the case before the government begins printing the census forms next year.

The lawsuit, brought by 18 states and a number of cities and counties, was spearheaded by Democratic officials. It is consolidated with another suit by several immigrant rights groups accusing the administration of discrimination against non-white immigrants.

Critics of the citizenship question have said it will deter people in immigrant communities from participating in the census, disproportionately affecting Democratic-leaning states by undercounting the number of residents.

The administration has said it needs the data to enforce a voting rights law as it relates to minority voters.

Furman said in a Sept. 21 order that Ross must face a deposition by lawyers for the states because his “intent and credibility are directly at issue” in the lawsuit.

Furman said there was doubt about Ross’ public statements that the Justice Department initiated the request to include the citizenship question and that he was not aware of any discussions with the White House about it.

But on Oct. 22, the Supreme Court blocked Ross’ deposition and gave the administration until Monday to appeal the trial judge’s orders.

The administration told the justices on Monday that there should be no trial into Ross’ motives for adding the citizenship question, including whether he harbored “secret racial animus” in doing so.

“The harms to the government from such a proceeding are self-evident,” the government said.

The U.S. Constitution mandates a census every 10 years. It is used in the allocation of seats in Congress and the distribution of billions of dollars in federal funds. A citizenship question has not appeared on the census since 1950.

US Authorities: Mail Bomb Suspect Had List of Other Potential Targets

Cesar Sayoc, the man accused of mailing at least 13 packages containing explosive devices to critics of U.S. President Donald Trump, had a list of more than 100 other potential targets, law enforcement officials said Monday.

U.S. news accounts said authorities believe that Sayoc was making his way through the list, which NBC said included journalists and entertainers, when he was apprehended last week. He is accused of mailing suspected explosives to, among others, former President Barack Obama; former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential 2020 opponent of Trump; Trump’s 2016 Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton; and two national security officials who served in Obama’s administration.

The 56-year-old Sayoc made his first court appearance in Miami, Florida, not far from where he was arrested.

Prosecutors told a judge they believe Sayoc is a flight risk and a danger to the community and should not be released on bond. The judge set another hearing for Friday on whether to free Sayoc pending trial and whether to transfer his case to a New York court.

Federal agents apprehended Sayoc on Friday near the white van that he appeared to use as a home and which police have hauled away. Several of the vehicle’s windows were plastered with pro-Trump stickers, American flags or with crosshairs over the faces of Trump opponents. One sticker targeted the television news network Trump calls “Fake News,” saying, “CNN Sucks.”

Another suspicious package addressed to CNN, where Sayoc allegedly mailed two of his devices, was intercepted Monday at an Atlanta post office. The FBI said the package was similar to those mailed to the network’s New York offices last week. CNN’s president Jeff Zucker said there was no danger to the organization’s headquarters in Atlanta.

Sayoc faces five federal charges in connection with the mail bomb plot. Packages with the explosives, none of which detonated, were mailed to several leading Democratic opponents of Trump.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says that Sayoc, who at various times has worked as a night club disc jockey, bouncer and pizza delivery driver, could face up to 48 years in prison if convicted.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said 13 improvised explosive devices were sent in the packages, and each mailing included 15 centimeters of PVC pipe, a small clock and potentially explosive material. 

“These are not hoax devices,” Wray said of the bombs. Authorities told The Associated Press the devices were not rigged to explode when the packages were opened, but added they were not sure if that was because the devices were poorly made or not intended to cause harm.

The FBI chief said a fingerprint found on one package led investigators to Sayoc and that possible DNA evidence was discovered on another package.

Sayoc was previously known to law enforcement officials and had been arrested nearly a dozen times in Florida, including in 2002 for making a bomb threat. His first arrest in the state was at age 29 for larceny. Other charges against him have included grand theft, fraud and illegal possession of steroids.

His arrest Friday came just hours after the FBI intercepted two more suspicious packages, one addressed to Democratic Senator Cory Booker, the other to former National Intelligence Director James Clapper. And even as Sayoc was being detained, officials said investigators were looking at a package sent to the office of California Democratic Senator Kamala Harris.

Clapper said Friday morning on CNN that he was not surprised he was targeted and described the incidents as “serious.”

Trump vowed that anyone responsible for mailing the suspicious packages would be prosecuted to the “fullest extent of the law.”

“We must never allow political violence to take root in America,” Trump told the Young Black Leadership Summit at the White House.

Later Friday, Trump told a political rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, that the media were to blame for polarizing the country.

“We have seen an effort by the media in recent hours to use the sinister actions of one individual to score political points against me and the Republican Party.” He said the media’s “constant unfair coverage, deep hostility and negative attacks” only serve to “drive people apart.”

In a tweet earlier Friday, Trump referred to the investigation as this “Bomb” stuff, which he blamed for taking focus away from the midterm elections set for next Tuesday, Nov. 6.

US Supreme Court Turns Away Pennsylvania Electoral Map Dispute

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rebuffed a bid by Republican legislators in Pennsylvania to reinstate a congressional district map struck down by that state’s top court as unlawfully biased in favor of Republicans.

The justices rejected the appeal of a January Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling invalidating the Republican-drawn map because it violated the state constitution’s requirement that elections be “free and equal” by marginalizing Democratic voters.

The case involves a practice called partisan gerrymandering in which electoral maps are drafted in a manner that helps one party tighten its grip on power by undermining the clout of voters that tend to favor the other party. The practice has been used for two centuries but has become more extreme with the use of computer programs to maximize the effects of gerrymandering in a way that critics have said warps democracy.

Millions of Americans Barred From Voting This Election

The U.S. has more former felons than at any time in the country’s history – about 6.1 million men and women. But whether or not those felons have the basic democratic right to vote varies dramatically state by state – from Florida, where ex-felons wait years to battle through an uncertain process, to Vermont, one of two states in the nation that allows currently incarcerated prisoners the right to vote. VOA’s Congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson reports.

DNA and a Fingerprint: How FBI Found Bomb Suspect

In the hours before his arrest, as federal authorities zeroed in and secretly accumulated evidence, Cesar Sayoc was in his element: spinning classic and Top 40 hits in a nightclub where he’d found work as a DJ.

As he entertained patrons from a dimly lit booth overlooking a stage at the Ultra Gentlemen’s Club, where Halloween decorations hung in anticipation of a costume party, he could not have known that investigators that very evening were capitalizing on his own mistakes to build a case against him.

He almost certainly had no idea that lab technicians had linked DNA on two pipe bomb packages he was accused of sending to prominent Democrats to a sample previously collected by Florida state authorities. Or that a fingerprint match had turned up on a separate mailing the authorities say he sent.

And he was probably unaware that investigators scouring his social media accounts had found the same spelling mistakes on his online posts — “Hilary” Clinton, Debbie Wasserman “Shultz” — as on the mailings he’d soon be charged with sending.

​Wealth of clues

In the end, prosecutors who charged Sayoc with five federal crimes Friday say the fervent President Donald Trump supporter unwittingly left behind a wealth of clues, affording them a critical break in a coast-to-coast investigation into pipe bomb mailings that spread fear of election-season violence. The bubble-wrapped manila envelopes, addressed to Democrats such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and intercepted from Delaware to California, held vital forensic evidence that investigators say they leveraged to arrest Sayoc four days after the investigation started.

“Criminals make mistakes so the more opportunities that law enforcement has to detect them, the greater chance they’re going to be able to act on that, and that appears to be what happened here,” said former Justice Department official Aloke Chakravarty, who prosecuted the Boston Marathon bombing case.

​First package

But it wasn’t always clear that such a break would come, at least not on Monday when the first package arrived: a pipe bomb delivered via mail to an estate in Bedford, New York, belonging to billionaire liberal activist George Soros. That same day, Sayoc, still under the radar of law enforcement, retweeted a post saying, “The world is waking up to the horrors of George Soros.”

Additional packages followed, delivered the next day for Clinton and Obama and after that to the cable network CNN, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democratic targets of conservative ire.

Each additional delivery created more unease. But together they also provided more leads for the FBI, which mined each pipe bomb for clues at a laboratory in Quantico, Virginia.

​A breakthrough

As the packages rolled in, technicians got a breakthrough: a fingerprint and DNA left on a package sent to Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat and one of the intended pipe bomb recipients, and DNA on a piece of pipe bomb intended for Obama. The FBI said it had identified no other possible matches on the evidence it had examined.

Besides that, the FBI said, his social media posts that traffic in online conspiracy theories, parody accounts and name-calling include some of the same misspellings as were noticed on the 13 packages he was charged with sending.

The clues, authorities say, led them to a 56-year-old man with a long criminal history who’d previously filed for bankruptcy and appeared to be living in his van, showering on the beach or at a local fitness center.

As the FBI worked around the clock, and as Americans were busy debating the hard-edged political climate and whether Trump had fanned the flames with his rhetoric, it was business as usual for Sayoc as he took to Twitter to denigrate targets like Soros. That was not uncommon for the amateur body builder and former stripper whose social media accounts are peppered with memes supporting Trump and posts vilifying Democrats.

​‘We don’t talk politics’

On Thursday from noon to 9 p.m. as law enforcement grew ever closer, descending on a postal sorting facility in Opa-locka, Florida, Sayoc was working as a disc jockey at a West Palm Beach nightclub where he’d found work in the last two months. There, he spun his music from inside a small dimly lit booth overlooking a stage with performers dancing below. Autographed photos of scantily clad and nude adult entertainers were plastered across the walls like wallpaper.

“I didn’t know this guy was mad crazy like this,” said Stacy Saccal, the club’s manager. “Never once did he speak politics. This is a bar. We don’t talk politics or religion in a bar, you know?”

But Scott Meigs, another DJ at the club, had a different experience.

He said Sayoc had been talking about politics to everybody at the club for the last two weeks, preaching the need to elect Republicans during the November elections. 

“I just figured he was passionate about the upcoming elections,” Meigs said.

The next morning, Sayoc was taken into custody near an auto parts store in Plantation, Florida, north of Miami. Across the street, Thomas Fiori, a former federal law enforcement officer, said he saw about 50 armed officers swarm a man standing outside a white van with windows plastered with stickers supporting Trump and criticizing media outlets including CNN.

They ordered him to the ground, Fiori said, and he did not resist.

“He had that look of, ‘I’m done, I surrender,”’ Fiori said.

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