Control of Congress unclear as tight U.S. midterm elections come to a close

Control of Congress unclear as tight U.S. midterm elections come to a close

Updated: 2 months, 27 days, 19 hours, 11 minutes, 2 seconds ago

Supporters of Republican gubernatorial candidate for Florida Ron DeSantis cheer during an election night watch party at the Convention Center in Tampa, Florida, on Nov. 8.GIORGIO VIERA/AFP/Getty Images

The battle for control of U.S. Congress and the governorships of key swing states remained deadlocked Tuesday night amid a slew of tight races whose outcomes will determine the fate of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

With a wave of election deniers running for office, several Republican lawsuits aimed at disqualifying swaths of mail-in ballots and tens of millions of votes left to count, the final results could be fought over for weeks.

A long list of major issues is at stake in the most consequential midterms in decades, with inflation, abortion, undocumented immigration, crime and voting rights all on the ballot. Candidates, parties and campaign groups have poured a record US$16.7-billion into the election.

The Midwest will determine the midterm election results – and Trump’s future

Republicans Ron DeSantis and Marco Rubio, both potential future presidential contenders, cruised to re-election in Florida’s gubernatorial and Senate races, respectively. The Democrats got some good news in the west, where Colorado Senator Michael Bennet fended off a challenge from moderate Republican Joe O’Dea.

The Democrats picked up gubernatorial seats in Massachusetts and Maryland, both liberal states with incumbent moderate Republican governors not running for re-election. In Maryland, Wes Moore will become the state’s first Black governor, and in Massachusetts, Maura Healey will be the first woman and first openly gay person to run the state. Both defeated election-denying candidates far outside the states’ political mainstreams.

Other early returns showed Republicans leading in a few Democratic-held House seats on the east coast, but the races were too close to determine who would control the lower chamber. Key Senate races in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Nevada also remained unresolved, as did gubernatorial elections in Michigan and Arizona, and fierce battles for secretary of state and attorney-general offices.

Overshadowing much of the vote is former president Donald Trump, who is reportedly preparing to announce a 2024 comeback bid as soon as next week and played a major role in the elections to get his preferred candidates nominated over more moderate rivals.

Hundreds of Republican nominees across the country embraced Mr. Trump’s lie that Mr. Biden stole the 2020 election, raising fears that they will try to overturn future election results if given access to the levers of power.

More immediately, many of the election deniers would not promise to accept the results if they lose, setting the stage for a repeat of the bitter postelection battles that followed the 2020 vote, culminating in the Jan. 6, 2021 storming of the Capitol by Mr. Trump’s supporters.

Republicans are already suing in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin in a bid to have some absentee votes rejected. Because Democratic voters are more likely to vote by mail, success in these cases would aid the Republicans.

Vote counting, meanwhile, is expected to take several days in key states, in part because of Republican-passed laws that don’t allow absentee ballots to be processed ahead of time. In the days before the vote, some candidates signalled that they would use this lag to prematurely claim victory based on incomplete early returns, as Mr. Trump did in 2020.

Because of large differences in how each state tallies its votes – some start with mail-in ballots, others with in-person – many candidates from both parties with early leads could see those erased.

In Phoenix, one of the country’s most closely watched voting jurisdictions, a glitch caused some voting machines to stop counting ballots. Even though the problem was quickly explained and fixed, it provided a pretext for Mr. Trump to fuel his conspiracy theory. “Same thing is happening with Voter Fraud as happened in 2020???” he wrote on his Truth Social platform.

Nick Coteus, a Marine Corps veteran and engineering student, said the Republicans were right to question election results. “I’m not really fond of being told ‘shut up and take it,’ ” he said after casting his ballot in Phoenix. Mr. Coteus also agreed with some Republicans’ support for ending military aid to Ukraine as it fights off Russia’s invasion. “It’s not our problem,” he said.

Americans were viscerally reminded of the prospect for violence last month, when an intruder broke into Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco home and bludgeoned her husband with a hammer. The suspect has promoted conspiracy theories about the 2020 election being stolen.

Independent voter Taylor Carr, an Arizona State University business school lecturer, said he had supported Republicans in the past. But this year, he marked his ballot for the Democrats over fears about election denialism.

“The most important thing right now is to push back on Trumpism, and all those who have embraced what Trump stands for and who Trump is. He’s an existential threat to democracy,” Mr. Carr said after casting his ballot in Phoenix.

Democrats campaigned on preserving access to abortion, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this year and Republican-run states swiftly moved to ban the procedure, hoping a surge in voting among suburban women would turn the tide for the party. Voters in Michigan, California, Vermont and several other states were voting directly on abortion in statewide referendums. Federally, the Democrats promised a nationwide abortion-rights law.

Republicans, for their part, hammered the Democrats over spikes in the cost of gasoline and groceries, high crime rates in some cities and a rise in undocumented immigration, all of which they blamed on Mr. Biden. They also campaigned on culture-war hot buttons, such as curbing discussions of racism and LGBTQ issues in schools.

Mr. Biden has passed legislation on infrastructure, green energy, gun control and pandemic recovery, pushed student-loan forgiveness and a marijuana amnesty by executive order, and led international support for Ukraine. But he has been dogged by persistently low approval ratings and seen other major pieces of his agenda stymied by Congress.

The Democrats need to keep control of Congress if the White House is to pursue its legislative agenda of voting-rights laws, health care extension and other expansions of the social-safety net, all of which Republicans oppose. Some Republican candidates have also mused about cutting military aid to Ukraine.

Losing either chamber of Congress would require Mr. Biden to more forcefully pivot to foreign policy and climate change, areas he can influence with executive action. He could also expect a string of congressional investigations into the business dealings of his son, Hunter Biden, and several Biden administration policies, including its shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan last year.Republicans would also shut down a legislative committee looking into Jan. 6.

At stake in the Senate, among other concerns, is Mr. Biden’s ability to get appointments, most significantly those of federal judges, confirmed.

At times, the President and other Democrats seemed frustrated that their efforts to run as defenders of democracy were overshadowed by voter concern over the economy. Inflation reached a 40-year high of nine per cent this year, and a Pew Research poll from October showed 80 per cent of voters listed it as a top concern. Democratic voters also listed health care and the climate as main issues.

In 2020, Mr. Trump tried and failed to overturn the election result because he could not get the co-operation of key state legislatures, governors, senators or his own vice-president. The concern now is that election-denier officeholders in those positions might be willing to overturn future vote results that don’t go their way. Elections in the U.S. are organized state by state and county by county, with state and local officials holding significant power over rules for voting and counting ballots.

All 435 House seats and 34 out of 100 Senate seats were up for election. After the 2020t vote, Democrats held 222 in the House seats and 50 in the Senate, with Vice-President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote.

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