Congress control hangs in balance as American voters head to ballot boxes

The midterm election takes place with the country in a grim mood amid high inflation and petrol prices, with voters deeply divided, even on which issues they deem important.
PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON – Millions of Americans will head to the polls to elect their lawmakers and officials on Tuesday in midterm elections that will decide if Republicans will wrest control of Congress from Democrats in a battle campaigned on existential stakes.

The Republican Party is favoured to win a slight majority in the House, while the Senate, where each party now controls exactly 50 seats, is more of a toss-up. Many races are close.

Republican majorities in either Chamber would block much of President Joe Biden’s domestic policy goals for the rest of his term.

The midterm elections take place with the country in a grim mood amid high inflation and petrol prices, with voters deeply divided, even on which issues they deem important.

While inflation is the top issue in national polls that voters of both parties are concerned about, violent crime and immigration consistently rank as top concerns of Republicans, but not Democrats.

Democrats, meanwhile, have been boosted by a backlash against the Supreme Court’s ruling in June that ended women’s constitutional rights to abortion.

Gun control, climate change and concerns over the future of the country’s democracy are also motivating Democrat voters.

Public opinion pollster John Zogby said the political divide was one of “two different parties, two different sets of issues, two different realities, two different sets of facts to support those realities”.

“It is like two planets revolving around the Sun and on separate orbits,” he told reporters at an online event last week.

Just over a third of the Senate’s seats – 35 of 100 seats – are up for grabs this time, and each party needs to pick up only one more seat to win control.

Tight contests in the swing states of Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and possibly Wisconsin hold the key to Senate control.

All are states that Mr Biden won in the 2020 presidential election, but his approval ratings have been low in recent months, potentially dragging Democrats down.

The seats in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which are currently held by Republicans, are also tougher for Democrats to flip.

History is on the Republicans’ side, with the president’s party typically losing seats in midterm elections.

Governors in 36 states, as well as a host of other local officials, are also running for election on Tuesday.

Campaigning has taken on an existential tone, with final-stretch stumping by Mr Biden and other prominent Democrats, including former president Barack Obama warning of threats to the future of democracy should the Republicans win.

Appearing alongside Mr Obama in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at a rally on Saturday, Mr Biden warned that Republicans were “literally coming after Social Security and Medicare”.

Elsewhere in the state, former president Donald Trump denounced “radical Democrats” as the downfall of America, saying at a Latrobe rally: “If you want to stop the destruction of our country, then you must vote Republican in a giant red wave.”

Former US President Donald Trump attends a pre-election rally to support Republican candidates in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, on Nov 5, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

“Every election does feel more existential,” Cook Political Report editor-in-chief Amy Walter said last week at a Council on Foreign Relations webinar on the midterms.

“It is less about, ‘Let’s go show our support for the candidate who was just elected president’, as much as, ‘We’re protecting democracy – we’re protecting America, because if the other side even gets the tiniest toehold, everything we know will be destroyed.’”

Mr Trump has also continued to falsely claim he won the 2020 election, an animating issue for his supporters, and has repeatedly hinted at a White House run in 2024. The US media said on Friday that he will announce his presidential run by the month’s end.

Not all results will be known on Tuesday night itself, and Georgia’s Senate contest may go to a run-off if the race is close enough.

Experts have also warned about potential political violence from domestic extremists in the weeks to come, particularly against politicians and elected workers.

Said Mr Zogby: “It’s complicated; it’s close. The battle for the issues will continue. It all depends on turnout.”

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