It’s Election Day!
The outcome will have enormous implications not just for the rest of the Biden presidency — the domestic agenda of which is likely to come to a halt if Republicans take over the House of Representatives as polling suggests — but for the country.
With nationwide abortion access overturned by the Supreme Court, the midterms could decide whether reproductive healthcare is restricted or secured in a handful of states.
It could also have significant ramifications for democracy and voting rights, with a majority of Republicans running for office either denying or questioning the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
Conventional political wisdom (and past precedent) tells us the incumbent party in control of the White House typically experiences voter blowback at their first midterm election. This is especially true during periods of high economic anxiety, like now, as the world confronts a possible global recession amid soaring inflation — which polls say is top of voters’ minds this year as they head to the ballot box.
In addition to the economy, Republicans have been hammering Democrats with dark messaging about dangerous crime (which experts say doesn’t match up with reality), as well as pulling possibly criminal stunts involving immigrants in order to draw attention to the US–Mexico border.
This summer’s anger in response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade appears to have dimmed slightly among some voters, but it’s still a motivating issue for many. Early voting in some states suggests turnout will be high.
All this is to say that Republicans are favored to win back control of the House of Representatives, meaning that Rep. Kevin McCarthy will probably be taking the gavel from Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But the White House has also worried in recent weeks whether they will lose control of the Senate, too.
This means it’s likely that, in addition to blocking Biden’s legislative priorities, Republicans will have the power to entangle his administration in a series of investigations on everything from his immigration policies to his son Hunter Biden. It could even mean they try to impeach him and other top Democrats.
According to pollster John Zogby, the hyperpolarization we’ve seen in previous elections is only getting worse as the two major parties drift further apart on things once considered settled (like democracy itself) and as political rhetoric becomes more extreme.
“This is another armageddon election, but it’s armageddon-plus,” Zogby told reporters last month. “Because in every election in the past, there is a common set of issues that everybody agrees on, and one party says, ‘This is how we will attack these issues,’ and the other party says, ‘No, this is how we will attack these issues.’
“The difference today: two different parties, two different sets of issues, two different realities, two different sets of facts to support those realities,” Zogby said. “It is like two planets revolving around the sun and on separate orbits.”
As results come in on Tuesday night, here are some key races to keep an eye on. (But before we start, here’s what to know if you’re reading this while stuck in a long line on Election Day!)
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
To get a sense of how heavily things are tilting for Republicans, some key races to watch include VIRGINIA’S 7TH DISTRICT, where Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger is seeking a third term against Republican challenger Yesli Vega, in a state where Republican Glenn Youngkin moved into the governor’s mansion last year.
Republicans hope a “red wave” across the country might help Republican state Sen. Tom Barrett oust Democrat Rep. Elissa Slotkin in MICHIGAN’S 7TH DISTRICT. (But not all GOP members want Slotkin gone: Rep. Liz Cheney endorsed Slotkin — the first time she had crossed party lines to do so.)
MAINE’S 2ND DISTRICT could also reveal whether even a centrist Democrat like Rep. Jared Golden is considered too toxic for voters this year in this mostly rural district, while in FLORIDA’S 13TH DISTRICT, suburban Tampa voters will decide whether the district remains blue following Rep. Charlie Crist’s departure to run for governor.
Pay attention also to NEW YORK’s 17th DISTRICT, where Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney finds himself in a surprisingly close contest that has Democrats anxious (even first lady Jill Biden was called in to assist). Biden won the seat by more than 10 points in 2020, so a Maloney loss to Republican Assembly member Mike Lawler would be very ominous indeed.
Tuesday’s vote could also determine once and for all whether former Alaska governor Sarah Palin could be headed to DC as the representative for ALASKA’S AT-LARGE DISTRICT. The 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate lost to Rep. Mary Peltola, a Democrat, in an August special election to fill the seat after the death of the previous member, Republican Rep. Don Young. Voters will now decide who will fill the seat for the next full term.
Since the last election, the Senate has been evenly divided, leaving Vice President Kamala Harris to cast her tiebreaking vote for major decisions. That means Republicans need only pick up one seat to pick up control of the chamber, but polls have indicated it may be a toss-up.
There are three races that Republicans have their eyes on as possible pickups.
The first is GEORGIA, where the GOP wants to kick out Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock and replace him with former football star Herschel Walker. However, the Republican candidate, who has run on a solidly anti-abortion platform, has been plagued by allegations that he paid for two former partners to have abortions. Even his son conservative influencer Christian Walker turned on him publicly in dramatic fashion, calling him a liar.
Second, Republicans want to take ARIZONA from Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. The former astronaut, and husband to former representative Gabby Giffords, has seen polls shift against him in the final weeks of the race despite a tumultuous campaign by Republican venture capitalist (and Peter Thiel acolyte) Blake Masters.
The third state is NEVADA, where Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto might lose to Republican former state attorney general Adam Laxalt.
You might also have heard a bit about PENNSYLVANIA, where Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is facing Republican Mehmet Oz (aka former TV star Dr. Oz). This is one of the states Republicans need to hold onto in order to assure they get a majority (Republican incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey is retiring). Fetterman had a strong polling lead over the summer, but this has shrunk amid attacks from Oz and others that have cast the Democrat as a radical who is still recovering from a stroke.
Republicans similarly need to hold onto OHIO, where Hillbilly Elegy writer and venture capitalist J.D. Vance is facing Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan in a battle for the open seat. After a sluggish summer, some Vance allies believe he has turned things around and will take the seat, although Ryan, like Fetterman, has been trying to appeal to white working-class voters.
Other key states in which the GOP seems likely to have the edge are FLORIDA and NORTH CAROLINA, but it’s not all smooth sailing for Republicans.
In WISCONSIN, Sen. Ron Johnson has been effectively tied in some polls with Democratic opponent Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. Johnson, a right-wing firebrand who has made outlandish statements about vaccines and the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, has been extremely unpopular with voters at home, but he may be safe if enough conservatives turn out to vote.
Sen. Mike Lee of UTAH has also found himself in the fight of his political life, but not against a Democrat. Lee is facing off against anti-Trump independent Evan McMullin, which analysts are pointing to as a referendum on the former president’s continued grip on the party.
There are also a few prominent state races that could reveal which direction the country is headed.
The loudest of these is probably ARIZONA, where Republican Kari Lake, a former local news anchor who has turned herself into a MAGA icon, looks to have opened up a wide lead against Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. Lake is an election denier who wants to overhaul voting rules that might make it easier for him to snatch victory in the state if Trump runs again in 2024.
Two incumbent Democratic governors are also facing tough fights for a second term: Gov. Laura Kelly of KANSAS and Gov. Tony Evers of WISCONSIN.
Democrats’ hopes look better in PENNSYLVANIA, where the extremist positions of Republican Doug Mastriano may have doomed his party’s chances to defeat the Democratic candidate, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
You might also want to keep an eye on FLORIDA, where Gov. Ron DeSantis is running for a second term on the back of culture war issues and attacks on LGBTQ people. The question is not whether he will win, but rather how big his victory will be — and if he will use that to mount a campaign for president in 2024.
ABORTION ON THE BALLOT
Following the summer’s Supreme Court decision on abortion, which returned the issue to the states, voters in several areas across the country are being asked for their views on the matter.
The most prominent of these is MICHIGAN, where voters are deciding whether to amend their state constitution to guarantee abortion access and a variety of other reproductive rights. There are similar votes being held in CALIFORNIA and VERMONT.
In contrast, voters in KENTUCKY are being asked whether to amend their constitution to say that it does not secure or protect the right to an abortion.
Abortion is also on the ballot in MONTANA, where voters will either approve or reject a law that classifies a fetus or embryo as a legal person who has a right to medical care if they are born prematurely or survive an abortion attempt. Under the law, doctors could face stiff prison sentences and fines.
In all these states, abortion rights supporters are hoping for a repeat of their shock victory in Kansas in August in the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court decision, when voters turned out in large numbers to reject an attempt to strip abortion protections from the state constitution. ●