US midterms: Americans set to deliver verdict on Biden and Democrats

A pivotal US election that will decide party control of Congress was entering its final stage Tuesday evening as polls began to close in some Eastern states with Americans deeply divided.

There were sporadic reports of glitches with voting machines in places including Arizona, fueling unsubstantiated claims of fraud from some Republicans. Candidates who deny the validity of the 2020 election are on the ballot across the country, many for roles that will oversee future elections.

Early results in some Eastern battleground districts will signal whether Republicans, who are expected to win the House, will do so in a rout. Yet the outcome of some contests won’t be known for days, including key races that will be determine if Democrats can keep their hold on the Senate.

Biden’s party is trying to buck history by holding onto their razor thin congressional majorities with the president’s remaining legislative agenda hangs in the balance. Republicans are strongly favored to take the House, but their chances in the Senate are less certain.

All 435 House seats are up for grabs, and Republicans need to win just five to gain power. In the Senate, which is evenly split, it will come down to who prevails in seven closely contested races.

GOP majorities in one or both congressional chambers would end unified Democratic control in Washington and lead to intensified partisan battles and policy gridlock. The Biden administration would face an onslaught of investigations from subpoena-wielding Republican committee chairs in the House.

Democrats’ hopes for tax increases on the wealthy and corporations would be dashed should Republicans take at least one chamber. Prospects diminish for antitrust legislation aimed at big tech companies or a windfall profits tax on oil companies. Government shutdowns and a standoff over a US debt default also grow more likely.

And Republican control of the Senate would give the party a veto over Biden’s nominations to fill top jobs at agencies and in the federal judiciary.

The outcome of the midterms, which for much of the summer and early fall seemed remarkably close, will hinge on Americans’ frustration over the rising cost of living and worries about the slowing economy. Democrats all along faced an uphill battle given widespread public discontent — two-thirds of Americans think the country is on the wrong track — and voters’ historical tendency to punish the president’s party in midterm elections.

Democrats took the lead in national polls and some key Senate races during the summer after a Supreme Court decision ended a national right to abortion access galvanized Democrats and independents, declining gasoline prices eased pressure on consumers and several prominent Republican Senate nominees struggled with controversies over extreme views or personal scandals.

But polls showed voters breaking toward Republicans in the final weeks of the campaign as the GOP hammered away at Democrats’ management of the economy, stoked fears of rising crime and decried a surge of undocumented immigrants at the border. Democrats’ problems were compounded by underwhelming debate performances by John Fetterman and US Senator Raphael Warnock, Senate candidates in Pennsylvania and Georgia, both critical contests.

The declines in gasoline prices stopped by mid-September. Annual inflation rates, while down from a 9.1% peak in June, remained near a four-decade high at 8.2% in September.

At the same time, the Federal Reserve’s campaign of interest-rate hikes, launched to bring inflation under control, began to bite into the economy. After rising for three months, consumer confidence dipped in October. More companies announced hiring freezes and layoffs. The housing market ground to a near-halt as 30-year mortgage rates soared above 7%.

Fears of an imminent recession are also rising, with private forecasters on average seeing a 60% probability within a year.

Democrats struggled to deliver a consistent message on the economy. At times, they promoted consumer cost savings on prescription drugs and health insurance from Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, pounded away at oil company profiteering with threats of a windfall profits tax and seized on statements from some GOP leaders threatening to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Biden closed the cycle with an address warning of the danger posed to democracy by a slew of Republican congressional candidates who deny the 2020 presidential election outcome and urged Americans to reject Donald Trump’s “big lie” refusing to recognize the defeat. He drew a direct line from last year’s Capitol insurrection by Trump supporters to a hammer-wielding assailant’s attack just before the midterms on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 82-year-old husband.

Meanwhile, Trump all but confirmed at an Ohio rally on Monday that he will be announcing a third White House bid Nov. 15 at his Mar-a-Lago estate.

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