WASHINGTON (AP) – After months of primaries, campaigns and fundraising appeals, the midterm elections that will determine the balance of power in Washington and state capitals are finally here.
Republicans are predicting a huge red wave as jittery Democrats defend their narrow majority in Congress as they struggle to overcome pervasive concerns about the economy, crime and the leadership of President Joe Biden. Democrats are hoping that the backlash to the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade will save them.
The political environment has created an unusually large playing field as emboldened Republicans press Democratic strongholds like New York, California, New Mexico and Washington state. Still, the races are held in swing states like Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all of which could help determine the outcome of the 2024 presidential contest.
Because of close contests and extended vote counting, it could be days or weeks before the final outcome is known in several key races.
What we’re looking at on Election Day:
RED WAVE RISING?
All signs point to Republicans making significant progress on Tuesday. But whether it is a red wave or a tsunami remains to be seen.
Voters are largely pessimistic about the country’s direction as inflation rises and political divisions explode. And history says that voters will take their frustrations out on the party in power.
The party that occupies the White House has suffered significant losses in nearly every midterm presidential primary election for more than a century. The exceptions were in 1934 during the Great Depression; in 1998 during the impeachment attempt against Bill Clinton; and in 2002 after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Democrats initially hoped the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate abortion rights might be enough to buck historical trends — or at least limit their losses — but party leaders grew increasingly concerned as Election Day neared.
Operatives in both parties expect the GOP to win a majority in the House, which would require a net gain of five seats. But with a big wave, the GOP could win 25 new seats or more. Sensing an opportunity, Republican groups poured millions of dollars into Democratic districts in California, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania in the final days of the election.
The battle for the majority in the Senate is more competitive. If Republicans pick up even one seat, they would control the upper chamber of the Senate.
Democrats are scrambling to protect vulnerable officials in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and New Hampshire, while Republicans believe they are within reach in Colorado and Washington state. The GOP’s chances are somewhat hampered by flawed candidates in Arizona, Georgia and New Hampshire, boosted by former President Donald Trump.
Pennsylvania presents the Democrats’ best chance to flip a Republican-held seat, while GOP-held seats in North Carolina and Wisconsin also remain close.
At the same time, races for governor and statewide offices, such as secretary of state, are larger than usual. The political environment gives Republicans confidence in gubernatorial races in blue states like Oregon and New Mexico.
If a massive red wave materializes, Democrats could struggle everywhere.
THE EFFECT OF THE DOE
After the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June, Republicans, including Trump, raised concerns that the decision could spark a backlash against GOP candidates who oppose abortion rights. There have been signs in recent months that voters — suburban women and younger voters, in particular — were energized and ready to vote Democratic on Nov. 8.
But more than four months after the verdict, the effect of the abortion may disappear.
Democratic candidates have shifted their message in recent weeks from abortion, at least somewhat, to the economy, Social Security and Medicare. And some elected officials, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, have warned that Democrats are relying too much on abortion rights as a rallying issue.
The issue is particularly critical in the push for suburban women, a group that opposed Trump’s GOP in 2020 and appeared to bounce back after Trump left office as the GOP shifted its focus to pandemic restrictions and the economy.
ARE LATINO VOTERS MOVING FURTHER TO THE RIGHT?
Democrats have sought to improve their outreach to Latinos after a poor showing with the group in 2020. But there are reasons to believe Democrats could fare even worse this year among the key voting bloc, long a mainstay of the party’s coalition.
Both sides have been particularly focused on the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas, which is made up of Hispanic communities where the Biden administration’s struggle to resolve problems along the US-Mexico border is a central issue. The GOP believes it will win as many as three House seats in the former Democratic stronghold.
The GOP is also optimistic about its standing in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, home to 1.5 million eligible Latinos and a Democratic stronghold for the past 20 years. In the last presidential election, the GOP made significant progress there.
If Democrats were to lose Miami-Dade, it would virtually eliminate their path to victory in state contests, including the presidential election.
The Latino vote will be consequential in other states, but none more so than in Arizona and Nevada, where Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, the nation’s first Latino senator, is locked in a close race.
HOW ARE TRUMP’S CANDIDATES PERFORMING?
Trump remains the dominant force in the Republican Party, but Tuesday’s contests will test his strength among the broader electorate.
Of course, he is not on the ballot, but dozens of candidates supported by Trump are. They include several controversial choices that have trumped alternatives supported by the party’s establishment.
If Trump’s higher-profile supporters struggle, it would raise questions about his political strength as he pursues a 2024 presidential race that could be launched soon after the midterms.
In Pennsylvania, Trump loyalist Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor, has been battling in the polls against Democrat Josh Shapiro. Trump’s choice for the Senate, Dr. Mehmet Oz, is in a close race with Democrat John Fetterman. In Arizona, gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and Senate candidate Blake Masters, both of whom have promoted Trump’s lies about a stolen 2020 election, are in a position to win.
Other Trump loyalists to watch: Ohio Senate candidate JD Vance, North Carolina Senate candidate Ted Budd, Michigan gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon and New York gubernatorial hopeful Lee Zeldin.
In ways big and small, the 2022 midterms will help shape the 2024 election.
A bad night for Democrats could undermine Biden’s rationale for a second term. And Trump would almost certainly use the big Republican wins as evidence of his political strength ahead of a third potential run for the White House.
Good government advocates are particularly concerned about the dozens of suffragettes running for public office in several presidential battlegrounds.
In Nevada, Republican Jim Marchant is running for secretary of state, the state’s top election official. Marchant is the head of the First US Secretary of State Coalition, a group of Trump loyalists who falsely say the 2020 election was marred by voter fraud.
The same is true in Arizona and Michigan, where coalition colleagues Mark Finchem and Christina Karamo are running for secretary of state. And in Pennsylvania, Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, another vocal pro-choice denier, would have the authority, if he wins, to name his own chief elections official.
In addition to the election administration, other candidates from around the state could use Tuesday’s strong results to position themselves for the 2024 election.
Lake, Arizona’s Republican candidate for governor, is already considered a potential Trump running mate. And in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for re-election on Tuesday, is also considering a 2024 presidential run, whether or not Trump runs.
WHAT WILL WE KNOW BEFORE WE GO TO BED?
It is possible—perhaps even likely—that it will take days or even weeks to finalize the outcome of several key contests.
The reasons are numerous.
In Georgia, a candidate must earn at least 50% of the vote to win. Otherwise, the election goes to a second round on December 6. Strategists from both parties believe the state Senate race, in particular, could do just that.
In other states, the process of counting votes can be long and complicated, especially as voting by mail becomes more popular.
Under Arizona law, for example, all ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. on Election Day, but officials have 20 days to complete their count. In Nevada, counties have four days to count late ballots and give voters two more days to repair mail-in ballots that arrive in envelopes with errors or missing information.
In some swing states, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, officials are not allowed to begin validating mail-in ballots until Election Day. Nineteen states allow a grace period for receiving mail-in ballots as long as they are sent by Election Day. Such ballots in California can be received up to seven days later.
This could take some time.
Learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections. And follow AP coverage of the 2022 elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections.