US midterm elections begin amid economic anxiety and Ukraine crisis
Polling places across the US opened for the midterm elections on Tuesday, traditionally considered a referendum on the ruling party’s performance. With most Americans worried about the difficult economic situation, some of the policies favored by President Joe Biden – such as giving billions in aid to Ukraine – may lead to Democrats losing control of Congress to their Republican challengers, many endorsed by former president Donald Trump.
All 435 seats in the US House of Representatives are being contested, as are 35 seats in the Senate. Democrats currently have a five-seat majority in the House and Vice President Kamala Harris is the deciding vote in the 50-50 Senate.
Also at stake are the governorships of 36 out of 50 US states, with Republicans currently controlling 28 and the Democrats 22.
Poll aggregator Real Clear Politics has predicted the Republicans will end up with 227 seats in the House to the Democrats’ 174, and with a 53-47 Senate favoring the GOP.
Even Democrat-leaning polls show American voters prioritizing economic concerns, including gas prices and the highest inflation since the 1980s. This is a “nightmare scenario” for Democrats, a CNN analysis said on Monday. Biden’s party has run on abortion rights and and telling their voters that “democracy is on the ballot,” while accusing the Republicans of being “election deniers.”
Washington’s foreign policy could be affected indirectly. At a campaign rally last week, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, vowed “not another penny will go to Ukraine” if her party takes control of the House. Washington has sent Kiev over $54 billion just this year. The GOP is also widely expected to impeach Biden if it gets a majority in Congress, though it would need a two-thirds majority in the Senate to actually remove him from office.
There were also claims in the American media that foreign actors – particularly the Russian government – were meddling in the US election campaign. A New York Times report said last Sunday that, according to cybersecurity researchers, Moscow had “reactivated” online bots and trolls to try and impact the outcome of the vote.
Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin rubbished the allegation. Democratic Party operatives are apparently hoping to preemptively explain away the party’s likely defeat at the ballot box, he suggested. “They should hold themselves accountable [instead],” he said.
With states and their governors asserting sweeping powers during the pandemic – including how elections are administered – those elections have gained in importance. Republicans hope to “flip” a number of state capitals, including the Democrats’ strongholds of Michigan, New York, Nevada, Oregon and Pennsylvania.
Several of the state races have attracted national – and international – media attention. In Arizona, Senator Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and the incumbent Democrat, is in a tough re-election race against venture capitalist Blake Masters, while the outspoken former TV anchor Kari Lake seems likely to beat Democrat Katie Hobbs for the governorship. Both Republicans were endorsed by Trump.
Georgia will see a repeat of the 2018 gubernatorial clash between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams. The Senate race is historic, as both candidates in the Southern state are African-American: Republican football star Herschel Walker is challenging the incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock, a pastor.
Author J.D. Vance is hoping to defend the Senate seat in Ohio vacated by the retirement of a Republican incumbent. TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz is hoping to do the same in Pennsylvania. His opponent, lieutenant-governor John Fetterman, insists he is just fine though he is barely able to speak following a stroke.
Early voting turnout has seen a drastic increase from the 2018 midterms, with more than 42 million ballots already cast. Democrats and major US media outlets have already warned that the final results may not be known for weeks, depending on how long it takes to process all the mail-in votes.