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U.S. midterms: What to watch

This election is a referendum on the first two years of the Trump presidency, and it will have far-reaching ramifications.


PHOTO: Pixabay

WASHINGTON—Tweetstorms and a trade war. Kanye in the Oval Office. Kavanaugh in the hearing room.

President Donald Trump’s presidency has been a wild, turbulent, two-year ride. Now it’s time for voters to weigh in how much they’re enjoying it.

Republicans’ across-the-board control of Congress is at stake in Tuesday’s midterm election, along with command of governors’ offices and statehouses around the country.

The president has barnstormed the nation this fall, holding multiple rallies a week, mindful that his future will be shaped by Election Day. “Even though I’m not on the ballot, in a certain way I am on the ballot,” Trump said Monday.

A guide to what to watch as results come in Tuesday night. All times are EST.


THE TIMELINE:

Polls start closing at 6 p.m. in Kentucky. But things will really get rolling at 7 p.m., when polls close in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina and Virginia. Another wave of numbers will begin coming in after 7:30 p.m. from North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia. A big chunk of data will come after 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. when states such as Texas, New York, Michigan and Pennsylvania begin reporting. The 11 p.m. batch of states includes California, home to several competitive congressional races. Alaska, where polls close at 1 a.m. Wednesday, will end the night.


EARLY TEA LEAVES

For an early read on how things are going, keep an eye on two congressional races in Virginia: a district in the Washington suburbs represented by Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock and another in the Richmond area held by Republican Rep. Dave Brat.

Trump has struggled with college-educated women in the suburbs and Comstock’s district could be among the first casualties as she faces Democrat Jennifer Wexton. Brat, meanwhile, won his seat by upsetting then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the 2014 GOP primary. But this time he is facing a serious threat from Democrat Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer.

Another district to watch is in Kentucky—the Lexington-area battle pitting third-term Republican Rep. Andy Barr against Democrat Amy McGrath, a retired Marine fighter pilot. Trump won the 6th District by more than 15 percentage points in 2016. But McGrath has pushed Barr to the edge with the help of sharp campaign ads that went viral.


HOUSE STAKES

Republicans have had control of the House since the tea party helped sweep them into power in the 2010 midterms. Nearly a decade later, the GOP is trying to avoid a “blue wave” that returns Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats to the majority.

Control of the House is expected to be determined by a few dozen districts, many of them in the nation’s suburbs. Democrats need a net increase of 23 seats to win back control—a number that many GOP officials concede is a very possible outcome.

The House races will offer clues to where Americans stand in 2018 on immigration, guns, health care, gender equality in the #MeToo era—and determine who they want representing them in Washington during the next two years of Trump’s presidency.


SENATE STAKES

Republicans hold a narrow Senate majority, 51-49, but have a huge advantage in these contests because the battle for control runs mostly through states that Trump won in 2016.

To put it simply: Democrats are on defence. Of the 35 Senate races, 10 involve Democratic incumbents seeking re-election in states won by Trump, often by large margins. Democrats’ hopes of recapturing the Senate hinge on all their incumbents winning—a difficult task—and on flipping seats in Nevada, won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, and a few states that lean Republican, most notably Arizona, Tennessee and Texas.

Trump has coveted seats held by several red-state Democrats, including Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Strategists from both parties consider Heitkamp the most vulnerable Democrat but say the Senate makeup could be shaped by a number of narrowly contested races, including Arizona, Missouri, Indiana and Montana.


TRUMP

Air Force One ferried Trump across the country on Monday for rallies in Ohio, Indiana and Missouri, and the president didn’t return to the White House until well after midnight. On Election Day, the president was appearing in local interviews around the country but wasn’t expected to make any public appearances at the White House.

But any viewer should keep a second screen handy to watch Trump’s Twitter feed. The president is known for offering his first take on many key events on Twitter—and that could certainly happen as the election results come into fuller view.


YEAR OF THE WOMAN?

A record number of women are on the ballot—and could become the story of the 2018 election .

Two years after Clinton’s defeat, more women than ever before won major party primaries for governor, the Senate and the House this year. The results could significantly increase the number of women in elected office.

About 235 women won their primaries for the House, according to records kept by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. In the Senate, a record 22 women won their primaries. And a record 16 women were nominated for gubernatorial races.

Many Democratic women, including first-time candidates, have said Trump’s election motivated them to run for office. But the election is also following the emergence of the #MeToo movement, the massive women’s march after Trump’s inauguration and the pitched battle over the Supreme Court confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Women currently account for one-fifth of the 535 House members and senators. By next January, that number could change.


MAKING HISTORY

The night could witness a generational change in Congress and herald in a number of barrier-breaking officeholders.

In New York City, 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is expected to become the youngest woman elected to Congress. In Georgia, Stacey Abrams is vying to become the first black woman to be elected governor in the nation. Andrew Gillum could become Florida’s first black governor. And Ayanna Pressley is the favourite to become Massachusetts’ first black woman elected to Congress.

South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem could become her state’s first female governor. Vermont’s Christine Hallquist could become the nation’s first openly transgender governor. And Idaho’s Paulette Jordan is trying to become the country’s first Native American governor.

Native American women could also win seats in Congress. In New Mexico, former state Democratic Party chairwoman Deb Haaland is trying to become the first Native American woman elected to Congress. She could be joined by Sharice Davids of Kansas, a Native American woman who is also attempting to become the state’s first openly LGBT candidate to win a major office.

In Michigan, Rashida Tlaib could become first Muslim woman and first Palestinian-American in Congress. She could be joined by Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, who is also trying to become the first Muslim woman elected to Congress along with the first Somali-American elected to the House.

And no matter what, Arizona’s Senate race expects to make history. Democrat Kyrsten Sinema could become the first openly bisexual senator and the state’s first female senator. If Republican Martha McSally wins, she will become Arizona’s first female senator.


VOTING PROBLEMS

The elections will mark the first nationwide voting since Russia targeted state election systems in the 2016 presidential race. Federal, state and local officials have sought to reassure the public that their voting systems are secure.

So far, there have been no signs that Russia or any other foreign actor has tried to launch cyberattacks against voting systems in any state, according to federal authorities.

Some states have already dealt with voting problems. Voters casting ballots early have encountered faulty machines in Texas and North Carolina, inaccurate mailers in Missouri and Montana, and voter registration problems in Tennessee and Georgia. In other states, including Kansas, Election Day polling places have been closed or consolidated.


INDICTED, YET VICTORIOUS?

Two Republican members of Congress are trying to win another term while facing separate federal charges.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and his wife are accused of misspending more than $250,000 in campaign funds on everything from tequila shots to airfare for a family pet. Prosecutors say the couple tried to conceal the illegal spending as donations to charities, including groups for wounded veterans. Hunter faces Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar in a GOP-friendly district in the San Diego area.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., is accused of illegally leaking confidential information about a biopharmaceutical company to his son and the father of his son’s fiancee that allowed them to avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock losses.

Collins’ most serious charge carries a potential prison term of up to 20 years. If Collins wins in the western New York district and is later convicted and forced to resign, a special election would be held.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is still under indictment—he pleaded not guilty to two felony counts of securities fraud. But the Republican is favoured to win a second term, helped by a positive assessment from Trump, who singled him out at a rally in Houston as doing a “great job.”


Here are some more storylines and states for Canadian observers to keep an eye on Tuesday as voters in the U.S. head to the polls for midterm elections:

WOMEN: He’s not on the ballot, but Donald Trump might as well be—which is why Democrats have been focusing their campaign efforts on college-educated white women, arguably the most motivated segment of the American electorate after two years of a famously divisive and misogynist president. Add to the mix the against-all-odds confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in spite of high-school sexual assault allegations from the credible Christine Blasey Ford, and you have a powerful voting bloc capable of—and widely expected to—overturn the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Can Trump’s all-out effort to mobilize his base, comprised heavily of non-college-educated men, break up the so-called Blue Wave?

MICHIGAN: Thanks to term limits, change is coming to Michigan regardless of the outcome. Former Democratic Senate minority leader Gretchen Whitmer is battling rival Bill Schuette to succeed the term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, while some polls suggest Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, is facing a challenge from Republican challenger John James. Michigan is one of eight states bordering the Great Lakes that belong to the 2008 Great Lakes Compact, an interstate agreement with Ontario and Quebec to monitor the quality and quantity of Great Lakes water. “Usually it’s a relatively bipartisan issue, but it could be impacted by who wins the gubernatorial races in particular,” said Capri Cafaro, executive in residence at American University’s School of Public Affairs and a former state senate Democrat in Ohio, another signatory.

MARIJUANA: Also on the ballot in Michigan—as well as another key border state, North Dakota—are measures to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana. The drug remains illegal at the federal level, which is why crossing the border has become more complicated for Canadians working or partaking in the newly legalized pot industry. But as legalization looks poised to spread to more and more states, it can only help expedite action on the federal front, which some observers, including former Trump spokesman Anthony Scaramucci, expect the president to take after the midterms.

TURNOUT: While midterm elections typically generate less voter interest than their presidential counterparts, 2018 is bucking the trend in a big way. In the 37 states plus Washington, D.C., where some form of early voting is allowed, 36 million ballots had already been cast as of Monday, with 25 states and D.C. exceeding turnout levels from 2014. Indeed, in Utah, Texas, Arizona and Nevada, the advance ballots cast to date exceed the total number of midterm ballots cast four years ago.

OHIO: One of the most critical elements of Trump’s remarkable 2016 victory was his ability to flip blue-collar Ohio, long a critical battleground that the Republicans won by eight points two years ago, thanks in large measure to his “America First” trade mantra. Whether Democrat challenger Richard Cordray can wrest the governorship away from opponent Mike DeWine—two-term Republican Gov. John Kasich has reached his term limit—depends largely on whether Cordray’s focus on workers’ rights can overthrow working-class fondness for the president.

NAFTA/USMCA: It’s not a ballot issue for Americans, who have long since moved on. But with the deal still requiring ratification in all three countries and Section 232 tariffs on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum exports still in place, there are more than enough loose ends to keep stakeholders near the edge of their seats. Few experts anticipate any problems in Congress even if the Republicans lose the House; it’s less an issue of ‘if’ than of ‘when.’ And ‘when’ is important, given the ongoing impact of tariffs—deferred, to a degree, by a strong domestic economy—and U.S. farmers keen to have access to export markets in Mexico and Canada.

WISCONSIN: When Canadians contemplate all their recent NAFTA angst, the dairy-drenched border state of Wisconsin often springs to mind—and gratitude to Trump for a U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that provides better access to export markets could well play a role Tuesday. But Wisconsin is intriguing for a different issue, one near and dear to Canada’s heart: health care. Republicans like Gov. Scott Walker, a Trump ally and a vociferous critic of the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, have been desperately trying to convince voters they won’t eliminate Obamacare’s protection for people with pre-existing conditions. Walker is in a pitched battle with Democratic rival Tony Evers.

FLORIDA: Always central to America’s political narrative, Florida will again be in the spotlight Tuesday. With a number of districts where the Democrats hope to make gains, experts say the gubernatorial campaign by Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a black Democrat, has helped to mobilize young and minority voices. The Democrats are counting on those voters to help Bill Nelson, the incumbent senator facing a considerable challenge from Rick Scott, the state’s outgoing Republican governor.

TEXAS: Deep in the heart of this traditionally Republican bastion is one of the marquee matchups of the 2018 midterms: the Canadian-born Republican senator and Trump tormentor-turned-ally Ted Cruz versus young upstart Democrat challenger Beto O’Rourke. Cruz has a fairly comfortable lead in the polls, but the very fact that O’Rourke has given Cruz a scare underscores the fact that Democrats, fuelled in part by O’Rourke’s surge and energized young and Latino voters, are challenging Republicans all over in the increasingly progressive Lone Star state.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2016

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