(CN) – Voters flooded to the polls Tuesday with passion and foreboding. Driving them was the outsized personality and politics of the man who sits in the White House, with some praying for a change in the nation’s direction and others convinced that the opposition does not have the strength to turn the ship of state around.
“This is a historic election,” said Thai Truong, 43, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam, the son of a refugee from the war. “It’s a chance to correct course or keep going.”
Truong voiced doubts, however, that Tuesday’s election will lead to that change of course. “I’m bracing myself,” said Truong, a research professor of neuroscience and physics at the University of Southern California.
A registered Democrat, Truong said his party has been “dancing around” the immigration issue and has doubts that the party can win back the White House in 2020.
“I don’t see anybody breaking out on the Democratic side,” he said. “It’s scary. Two years is such a short time.”
Clarence Irvin, a 25-year-old graphic artist, said immigration has been an issue since the elder George Bush was president. Irvin, who is black, added, “Trump is just trying to appease his base.”
Outside a Presbyterian church in Pasadena where voters cast their ballots, a woman named Terry clutched the arm of the reporter in an interview.
“I am praying,” she said. “I’m praying because I am so sick and so nervous. He is the worst president we have ever had. He is a bigot. He separates us. There has never been so much hate.”
A retired artist from the fashion industry, Terry declined to give her last name. She described an old friend who has not expressed racial prejudice until recently.
“All of a sudden she just wants white people,” said Terry who is herself white. “She doesn’t want blacks, browns, Asians, you name it. She’s saying it now because she feels she can.”
“You have to fight,” she said. “This man. What is he doing to us. He’s preaching such hate and division. I’m praying that tomorrow I will feel better.”
Another Pasadena voter, retired Army paratrooper Steve Sandoval, said, “It’s about leadership. He is not that leader. I don’t approve of his tactics, demonizing, division.”
The spirited and tremendously well-financed campaign O’Rourke has waged against incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz is among the most closely watched in the country.
For 43-year-old mechanic Michael Hunter, the decision to support Cruz was easy given the senator’s role in passing last year’s tax cuts and for his support of Trump on securing Texas’ border with Mexico.
“No sensible person opposes legal immigration, immigrants are ingrained in this community,” Hunter said. “I do not understand why some people say that wanting to secure the border and halt illegal immigration is somehow racist.”
But Beto had strong support in Texas’ liberal stronghold of Austin, where 29-year-old Philip Matthews called Cruz “the perfect example of what is wrong with politics today.”
“He has no integrity,” Matthews said. “He only called in Trump to stump for him when he was scared to lose despite what Trump said about him and his wife. I believe Beto has more integrity than that.”
Joyce Cawthorne, 52, called herself “all in on Beto.”
“He is a man who has taken the grassroots approach to reach out to the voters of Texas which is a welcome change of pace for our state,” Cawthorne said.
Others said they went to the polls in Austin not to support O’Rourke or Cruz, but to give a thumbs-down to the president.
“Trump’s immigration policy I feel is a slap in the face to my people [Mexicans],” said Joseph Benito, a 34-year-old Mexican man. “I’m here to vote against anyone who is Pro-Trump.”
Similar words were spoken by voters in Prescott Valley, Arizona. “I wanted to make sure I weighed in to provide a counterweight to what’s going on,” said Bill Vittal, an environmental engineer.
Molly Beverly, a semiretired chef who has lived in the Prescott area since 1974, said she too was upset by the 2016 election. With her vote, she said, “I want to turn the country around from the control of the wealthy.”
Beverly, a volunteer for the voting-advocacy group Nextgen Arizona, spoke about class division as well. “The middle class is really hurting, and the bottom of the middle class is dropping out,” she said. “My husband and I both came out of school with graduate degrees and enough money to buy a house.”
“I’m encouraged seeing people voting and running for office,” she said.
On the East Coast, as a cold heavy rain fell over Philadelphia, scores of voters stood quietly in line outside a polling place in the 21st election district, huddled under large umbrellas.
Ward leader Lou Agre said he’d seen a “big turnout” by mid-morning. “We’ve had much bigger crowds than the studies even predicted,” Agre said.
In the crowd of voters, Ben Wax singled out his presence on line as a repudiation of Trump and his policies.
“I think after the last set of elections, it’s really important to get out there and vote. It’s kind of like a duty to do it.” Wax said. “I haven’t really voted in midterm elections before, but I am now.”
John Vitarelli, a nearby Bucks County resident who voted in his district about an hour outside the city, said that there was a lot of excitement in the air at his polling place when he voted.
One thing everybody agreed on was the importance of casting their vote in these elections in particular. South Philadelphia voter Kira Hess braved pouring rain to vote in her first midterm election this morning because she felt that inaction would amount to acceptance of the current political status quo.
“I feel if I didn’t vote, it would be like saying I’m okay with our current president and his actions, and I certainly am not,” she said.
Voter Julia Grassi agreed, referring to her vote as “the only vestige of control and hope that I have on most days.”
“I hope that voter turnout sends a message that the majority of us do not agree with the current administration and that we demand appropriate representation,” she said.
Mike Connor, said he was hopeful that, after the votes were counted and the results known, “there’ll be a little more balance” in terms of what’s going on in Washington.
“Especially in regard to what they’re doing with the [federal] budget … being fair about it,” he said.
Connor said if the country spent event a fraction of what it spends on the military on infrastructure, “it’d be much better well spent.”
“I think I’m doing my civic duty and it feels good to have the privilege to vote,” said Clarissa Jacknow as she stood in line. “I’m hoping to make some good changes, but most of the people I’ll be voting for are incumbents.”
Jacknow hopes to support social issues. She works for a nonprofit and support from the government is really important she says. She’s voted in midterm elections before but it’s usually been absentee.
On the other side of the country, Truong who teaches at USC, echoed her view. From the vantage point of “the boat people” who fled to the U.S. after the Vietnam War, he said, “We take this democracy thing very seriously. We know first hand what it’s like when people don’t have it.”
Brad Simmerman contributed to this story from Arizona; David Lee and Jeremy Choate from Texas; and Alexandra Jones from Philadelphia.