A sharply polarized United States on Tuesday braced for a tense night of election results that will determine control of Congress and the future of President Joe Biden’s agenda.
A Republican victory could pave the way for a White House comeback bid by Donald Trump — who returned to his playbook of airing unfounded claims of fraud after a campaign fought largely over economic issues.
Biden, whose Democrats face a steep climb to hang on to the House of Representatives and Senate, has warned that Republicans pose a dire threat to democracy with more than half their candidates repeating Trump’s debunked claims of cheating in the 2020 election.
With razor-thin margins in key races, a full picture may not be available for days or even weeks, setting the stage for acrimonious challenges.
In his final pitch, Biden vowed that the Democrats would defend retirement, health care and the freedom to have an abortion, after a Supreme Court transformed by Trump rescinded the right to choose.
“It’s all on the ballot. This election is too important to sit out,” the 79-year-old Biden tweeted in a last-minute bid to drive voters to the polls.
But the president’s party has traditionally lost seats in midterm elections and Biden’s favorability ratings are hovering in the low 40s, with Republicans hitting him hard over stubbornly high inflation as well as crime.
The first polls closed at 6:00 pm (2300 GMT) in Indiana and Kentucky, where Republican senators were expected to cruise to reelection.
All eyes will be on a handful of closely fought Senate races including in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin and Ohio, with a single seat enough to swing control of the Senate — now evenly divided and controlled by Democrats only through the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.
Casting his ballot in Florida, Trump again teased an expected announcement next week of a 2024 presidential run, telling reporters November 15 “will be a very exciting day for a lot of people.”
The bitter political divide in the country was on the minds of many voters as they cast their ballots.
“Some of the candidates who have been up for office recently are into mudslinging and negative campaigns,” said Quonn Bernard, a 39-year-old software engineer in Union City, an Atlanta suburb. “I just don’t want those people representing me.”
For others, it was abortion or the state of the economy.
“Abortion is probably the biggest issue for me,” said Alexandra Ashley, 30, a lawyer as she voted in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “I want to make sure it’s available for everybody and safe.”
Voting in Phoenix, Arizona, Kenneth Bellows, a 32-year-old law student, said runaway inflation is “hurting Americans who are just trying to get by.”
Biden has said he believed Democrats would hold the Senate but it would be “tough” to retain the House and his life may become “more difficult.”
If both the House and Senate flip, Biden’s legislative agenda would be paralyzed as Republicans launch aggressive investigations and oppose his spending plans.
That would raise questions over everything from climate policies, which the president will be laying out at the COP27 conference in Egypt this week, to Ukraine, where some Republicans are reluctant to maintain the current rate of US military support.
An influx of far-right Trump backers in Congress would also accelerate a shift inside the Republican Party since the former real estate tycoon stunned the world by defeating Hillary Clinton for the presidency in 2016.
‘Giant red wave’
Despite facing criminal probes over taking top secret documents from the White House and trying to overturn the 2020 election, Trump has used the midterms to cement his status as the de facto Republican leader.
The 76-year-old Trump immediately began casting doubts on the midterm vote through his Truth Social platform on Tuesday, pointing to problems with voting machines in Arizona.
“Same thing is happening with Voter Fraud as happened in 2020???”
Officials in Arizona’s Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, said about 20 percent of the 223 polling stations there were experiencing difficulties but it would not affect the probity of the vote.
Kari Lake, the Trump-backed candidate for Arizona governor, blamed “incompetence” and did not rule out legal challenges.
“I hope it’s not malice,” she said. “When we win, there’s going to be a come-to-Jesus for elections in Arizona.”
Nearly 46 million ballots have been cast through early voting options, meaning the midterms outcome had already begun to take shape before election day.
The outcome will likely determine whether Biden, who turns 80 this month and is the oldest president ever, will seek a second term in 2024 or step aside.
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