The voters are cast the last ballots in races that will determine control of the tightly divided House and Senate, as well as governor’s mansions across the country, amid concerns about inflation and gas prices that have created serious headwinds for Democrats.
Republicans ran against the ruling party by blaming Americans’ economic insecurities for President Joe Biden and Democrats. They already have promised to investigate in administration and paralyze one’s schedule if they win a majority in the House, and many of their candidates have echoed of former President Donald Trump electoral lies, leading to Biden’s repeated warnings on threats to democracy.
But it is the economy that has been the priority of voters this fall. With all 435 seats in the House in contention tuesday, Democrats are on the defense even in seats Biden would have won comfortably two years ago. His low approval ratings — coupled with the historic challenges facing a president’s party in his first midterm cycle — have left Republicans optimistic about their chances of building a sizable majority in the chamber, where they only need a net gain of five seats. Between Labor Day and Election Day, nine of the 10 House races that saw the most ad spending featured Democratic incumbents — a sign of the peril the ruling party finds itself in.
Control of the Senate, which is currently split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the deciding vote, stay on the edge as Democrats cling to seats in battleground states including Nevada, Georgia, Arizona and New Hampshire. Republicans only need a net gain of one seat to win a majority.
But as they try to hold off Republicans, Democrats are also trying to win seats to hedge against their losses. Their best opportunity is in Pennsylvania’s perpetual pivotal state, where Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz are vying to replace retired GOP Senator Pat Toomey in what has become the nation’s most expensive senatorial contest this fall. Democrats are also trying to defeat Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, a close Trump ally who remains the most vulnerable GOP incumbent in the Senate, as he takes on Democratic Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes.
The economic blows of the Covid-19 pandemic, followed by soaring gasoline and grocery prices, have forced many working-class Americans to dip into their savings and cut back on daily expenses, creating a bad mood among the electorate as voters prepare for a potential recession. In a recent CNN poll conducted by SSRS, three-quarters of Americans said they felt the United States was already in a recession.
While there are many factors driving the inflation — including ongoing supply chain issues and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine — voters are also registering their disappointment at the regard to Biden, whose approval rating was 41% in the latest CNN poll.
Frustration over Washington’s inability to drastically cut costs has left Democrats on shaky ground, even in reliable blue states like California, Oregon and New York. The latter two feature surprisingly competitive gubernatorial contests. And there are more than enough contested House seats in those states alone for Republicans to win a majority in the House.
Democrats had hoped that the Supreme Court’s decision in late June striking down abortion rights would help them reverse the unfavorable trend. But while the decision helped close some of the enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats, it may not have had as much effect as Democrats had hoped in some key races.
Biden, as he is stuck to stumps in mostly blue states, has repeatedly warned that “democracy is on the ballot” after Trump promoted dozens of Republican candidates who echoed his lies about the 2020 elections. But like access to abortion, the fragility of democracy has constantly lower ranked as the economy and inflation when voters are asked about their biggest concerns ahead of the election.
Yet talking about the threat to democracy has figured prominently in some gubernatorial and secretary of state races because of the prospect that pro-Trump election refusing candidates could end up seizing positions that will allow them to administer the 2024 presidential election.
Midterms will serve as a critical proving ground for Trump, who has cast a shadow over the Republican Party as he has used appearances from candidates he has elevated to tease his likely presidential run in 2024.
Appearing in Ohio on Monday night for its hand-picked Senate nominee JD Vance, who has been in a surprisingly close race against Democrat Tim Ryan in a state Trump has won twice, the former president said he would make a big announcement at his resort town of Mar-a-Lago on Nov. 15. CNN had previously reported that its aides were eyeing the third week of November for a campaign launch — timing that would allow Trump to take credit for GOP midterm successes. He hopes a good night for his candidates — including a full roster of Holocaust deniers in Arizona — could help him build momentum for a third White House bid.
Ahead of a potential rematch with Trump, Biden’s trailing endorsement ratings have made him an unwanted presence on the campaign trail in swing states. He spent the day before the election rallying in Maryland for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore and in New York a few days earlier for Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul.
Republican momentum in the campaign’s home stretch — particularly in the House race — has warned the White House of the potential frustrations ahead of governing in a divided Washington. The GOP has already promised relentless investigations and hearings focusing on the Justice Department, the administration’s border policies, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the president’s son, Hunter Biden. In a exclusive interview with CNN On Sunday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy left the door open for impeachment proceedings to begin against the president.
A divided government in Washington could allow Biden to wield his presidential veto to thwart Republican plans to extend Trump-era tax cuts and any attempt to pass a nationwide ban on abortion. But it could also trigger budget clashes and threats of government shutdowns. A confrontation could also loom over raising the debt ceiling.