WASHINGTON, Nov 8 (Reuters) – Americans cast the final ballots in the U.S. midterm elections on Tuesday that will determine whether Democrats lose control of Congress and hence the ability to advance President Joe Biden’s agenda in over the next two years.
The party that controls the White House usually loses seats in midterm elections. Nonpartisan forecasts suggest Tuesday’s results will be no exception, as concerns about high inflation and crime outweigh the end of the national abortion law and the January 6, 2021 violent assault on the Capitol in the minds of voters.
Thirty-five seats in the Senate and 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs. Republicans are heavily favored to clinch the five seats they need to control the House, while the Senate – currently split 50-50 with Democrats holding the deciding vote – could come down to a quartet of tossed races in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia and Arizona.
But even before the end of the midterm elections, the presidential election of 2024 was taking shape. Former President Donald Trump on Monday night sent his strongest hint yet that he would soon be launching his third straight White House campaign, telling supporters in Ohio that he would be making a “big announcement” on November 15. He didn’t specify what that would be, but he telegraphed his intention to run again shortly after losing his 2020 re-election bid to Biden.
Hundreds of supporters of Trump’s false claims that his loss was the result of widespread fraud are on the ballot this year, including several seeking positions that would give them direct control of the 2024 presidential elections in competitive states.
More than 42 million Americans voted before Election Day, either by mail or in person, according to data from the US Election Project. State election officials warn full results may not be known for days as they count ballots in close races – Senate control may not be known until a possible runoff on December 6 in Georgia.
In the swing state of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia officials decided on Tuesday to reinstate a process that can prevent possible double votes from being counted, but takes longer. It could shine the national spotlight on the state’s largest city if its high-stakes U.S. Senate race is as close as expected.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Justice announced on Monday that it will monitor compliance with federal suffrage laws in 64 jurisdictions in 24 states. Officials in at least one locality — Cole County, Missouri — have pushed back on that decision.
There are 36 governorships and dozens of other state-level races on the ballot, including hotly contested gubernatorial campaigns in the swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, Arizona and Georgia.
In Congress, a Republican-controlled House would be able to block bills addressing Democratic priorities such as abortion rights and climate change. Republicans could also launch a showdown over the country’s debt ceiling, which could rattle financial markets, and launch potentially politically damaging investigations into the administration and Biden’s family.
Republicans would seek to use their influence to make permanent the 2017 individual tax cuts passed under Trump and protect the corporate tax cuts that Democrats have tried unsuccessfully to reverse over the past two years.
A Republican Senate, meanwhile, would dominate Biden’s judicial nominations, including any Supreme Court vacancy. Senate Republican Mitch McConnell has previously hinted that he may decline to fill a vacant Supreme Court seat before the 2024 presidential election if he returns to the post of Majority Leader.
A divided government would step the spotlight on the increasingly conservative court, which has already handed down sweeping rulings erasing a national abortion right and dramatically expanding gun rights, among other things.
Biden and former President Barack Obama, still the party’s biggest luminary, have crisscrossed the country over the past week, urging supporters to vote in hopes of stemming Democratic losses. Trump did the same by laying the groundwork for another presidential race.
However, some Democrats in tough races have deliberately walked away from the White House as Biden’s popularity languishes. On Monday, the final day of campaigning, Biden headed for the politically safe territory of Democratic-leaning Maryland, rather than a swing state.
“It’s Election Day, America. Raise your voice today. Vote,” Biden, who previously voted in early voting in Delaware, said in a Twitter post Tuesday morning.
Trump is due to vote in Florida later on Tuesday.
The Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established a national abortion right, galvanized Democratic voters across the country, temporarily raising hopes among Democrats that they could defy history.
But in the final weeks of the campaign, forecasters have grown more confident Republicans will win a majority in the House, flipping perhaps 20 or more seats.
Despite one of the strongest labor markets in memory, the stubborn rise in prices has left voters dissatisfied, helped by the Republicans’ relentless attacks on gas and food prices, as well as on crime.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken on Monday showed more than two-thirds of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, with just 39% approving of the way Biden has done his job. Trump’s poll is also weak, with just 41% of respondents to a separate recent Reuters/Ipsos poll saying they view him favorably.
The increasingly bleak prognosis has left some Democrats questioning the party’s campaign message, centered on protecting abortion rights and American democracy.
“What we’ve seen over the past month is that the political gravity is starting to reassert itself,” said Jacob Rubashkin, an analyst at nonpartisan forecaster Inside Elections. “Biden has never significantly improved his approval rating from what it was at the start of the year. Voters care a lot about the economy and they blame Biden for inflation.”
Biden and other Democrats have sounded the alarm over a string of Republican candidates who either echoed or refused to contradict Trump’s false claims that he lost the 2020 election due to widespread fraud .
“Democracy is literally on the ballot,” Biden said Sunday at a rally in Yonkers, New York.
The prevalence of Holocaust deniers among Republican candidates has elevated downhill races that typically receive little attention, including contests for secretary of state, the top election official in most states.
In swing states such as Nevada, Arizona and Michigan, Republican candidates leading the state electoral apparatus have embraced Trump’s lies, prompting Democrats to fear that if they win, they will could interfere with the 2024 presidential race.
Trump’s grip on the Republican Party remains formidable. His endorsement proved a powerful tool in party selection contests, and his favored candidates won in several crucial Senate primaries, despite concerns from some Republican leaders that their far-right rhetoric would be a liability. during general elections.
First-time Senate candidates such as Blake Masters in Arizona, JD Vance in Ohio and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania have at times struggled to tone down their tone for a broader electorate, giving Democrats hope in this which would have otherwise been tough races for Biden’s party.
In Georgia, Herschel Walker, a former sports star who challenged Democratic US Senator Raphael Warnock, has faced a series of scandals. They include allegations he has dismissed as lies from two women who said he had urged them to have abortions during past relationships – despite his uncompromising anti-abortion stance during the election campaign.
“Winning the Senate would have been an easy thing to accomplish if the Republican Party had been wiser in its selection of qualified candidates,” said Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist. “They really crippled themselves.”
Reporting by Joseph Axe; additional reporting by Jarrett Renshaw and Susan Heavey; Editing by Scott Malone, Rosalba O’Brien and Chizu Nomiyama
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