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Controlling the legislature: A guide to US midterm elections 2018

The extraordinary US midterm election has been a tug of war over key issues, but none has had a more dramatic impact on voters than Donald Trump, the man who isn’t even on the ballot. Democrats hope voter dissatisfaction with the contentious commander in chief will lead to a blue wave that flips control of the US House out of Republican hands.

world Updated: Nov 05, 2018 23:59 IST
Shatabdi Chowdhury
Shatabdi Chowdhury
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
US midterm elections,US midterms,Misterm elections
In this file photo taken on October 25, 2018, people cast their ballots at a community center during early voting in Potomac, Maryland, two weeks ahead of the key US midterm polls. (AFP File Photo)

The most expensive and polarised midterm polls in American history will take place Tuesday as voters choose if the Republicans, backing US President Donald Trump’s nationalist, anti-immigrant politics, or the Democrats, seeking a comeback after the 2016 presidential election loss, will control the houses of Congress. They will also elect governors and legislatures in most of the states across the country.

What are the midterm elections?

Midterm elections to the legislatures are held in the middle of a presidential term. The polls allow American voters to express their opinion on the president’s tenure so far as well as on other key national issues.

Which seats are up for re-election?

All 435 seats in the US House of Representatives (the lower house, or chamber of US Congress) are up for re-election. In the Senate (the upper house or chamber), 35 out of the 100 seats are in play, as are almost 40 governorships and the balance of power in virtually every state legislature. Trump himself has acknowledged that the 2018 midterms, above all, represent a referendum on his presidency.

When do the polls close?

Most polling places will close between 7 pm EST Tuesday (5:30 am IST Wednesday) and 11 pm EST Tuesday (9:30 am IST Wednesday). But in Alaska and Hawaii, most will shut at midnight EST (10:30 am IST Wednesday). Of the states with earlier closures, Florida, Pennsylvania and New York have a number of House seats which Democrats consider winnable.

How many Indian-American candidates are in the fray?

At a time when anti-immigrant sentiment is at its peak in the US, nearly 100 Indian-Americans are on the ballot for the midterm elections and have emerged as strong contenders.

While all eyes would be on the so-called “Samosa Caucus” — the unofficial group of five Indian-Americans in the current Congress — the emergence of such a large number of young Indian-Americans in the elections reflects the growing desire of this small ethnic community comprising one per cent of the US population for a more visible political role.

All the four Indian-American lawmakers in the present House of Representatives are expected to easily sail through in the midterm polls. Apart from three-term Congressman Ami Bera from the seventh Congressional district of California, three first-timers are seeking their re-election. They are Ro Khanna from 17th Congressional District of California, Raja Krishnamoorthi from eighth Congressional District of Illinois and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal from seventh Congressional District of Washington State.

The four incumbents are joined by seven other Indian-Americans on the ballot for House of Representatives.

Successful entrepreneur Shiv Ayyadurai is the sole Indian-American to be running for Senate. He has pitched himself as an independent against Elizabeth Warren -- a potential Democratic presidential candidate -- for the Senate seat in Massachusetts.

According to some unofficial estimates, more than 100 Indian-Americans are running for various elected offices across the country.

What do these polls mean for Donald Trump’s presidency?

Should Democrats win control of the House, they could derail Trump’s legislative agenda for the next two years. The elections will also test the strength of a Trump-era political realignment defined by evolving divisions among voters by race, gender and especially, education.

Even as the Democrats are most optimistic about the House, a sprawling battlefield extending from Alaska to Florida, they need to pick up two dozen seats to claim the House majority.

Democrats face a far more difficult challenge in the Senate, where they are almost exclusively on defence in more rural states where Trump remains popular. Democratic Senate incumbents are up for re-election, for example, in North Dakota, West Virginia, and Montana — states Trump carried by 30 percentage points on average two years ago.

The Democrats need to win two seats to claim the Senate majority, although most political operatives in both parties expect Republicans to add to their majority.

Republicans have a huge advantage as they seek to hold or expand their 51-49 Senate majority, with the battle for control running mostly through states that Trump won in the 2016 presidential polls.

Out of the 35 Senate contests taking place on Tuesday, 10 involve Democratic incumbents seeking re-election in states that Trump won. He’s spending much of the final week before the election traveling to those states in the hope that it will nudge his supporters to the polls.

Meanwhile, Democratic hopes of taking the Senate hinge on nearly all of their incumbents winning — a difficult task — and on flipping seats in a few states that lean Republican, most notably Arizona, Tennessee and Texas.

Key races to watch for those keeping score, listed in order of poll-closing times:

INDIANA

Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly is trying to fend off Republican businessman Mike Braun in a state that Trump won by 19 percentage points. Donnelly is Indiana’s lone Democrat elected statewide and has sought to align himself with Trump on the hot-button issue of expanding the border wall with Mexico. He has portrayed himself as a moderate who works with both parties to pass legislation. “I go against my party all the time,” he said recently.

Braun has sought to question Donnelly’s independence and describes him as a career politician. He notes that Donnelly supported Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency and sided with the vast majority of Democratic senators in voting against the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Polls close at 7 pm EST (5:30 am Tuesday IST).

WEST VIRGINIA

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin is a former governor in search of a second full Senate term representing a state that supported Trump by a whopping 42 percentage points in 2016. His opponent is Patrick Morrisey, a two-term state attorney general and staunch Trump supporter.

Manchin has made maintaining health care protections for pre-existing conditions a major focus of his campaign and has hit out at Morrisey for joining a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. He was the only Democrat to have voted for Kavanaugh. He also voted for Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

Morrisey calls Manchin a liberal who only acts bipartisan around Election Day.

Polls close at 7:30 pm EST (6:00 am Tuesday IST).

FLORIDA

Democratic Senator Bill Nelson is seeking a fourth term in the race against Republican Governor Rick Scott, who has spent millions of dollars out of his own personal fortune to help fund his campaign. Scott has said that he would work to cut taxes and regulation if sent to Washington.

The two have clashed sharply on gun violence, a big issue in Florida following the February shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Nelson has stressed that he favors a ban on military-style assault weapons and implementing a comprehensive system of background checks. Scott signed legislation in Florida that requires anyone wanting to buy a gun to be 21 years old, but the bill didn’t include a ban on assault weapons.

The two have also differed on health care, with Nelson calling for strengthening the Affordable Care Act, but Scott calling the law deeply flawed and costly.

Polls close at 8 pm EST (6:30 am Tuesday IST).

MISSOURI

Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill is running for a third term against state Attorney General Josh Hawley. Trump won Missouri by nearly 19 percentage points, and the state has shifted from a battleground to strongly Republican in recently elections.

McCaskill is touting herself as a moderate: “Claire’s not one of those crazy Democrats. She works right in the middle and finds compromise,” says one of her recent radio ads.

Hawley has tried to cast McCaskill as a “party-line liberal.”

The candidates have also tangled over Hawley joining a lawsuit filed by a group of Republican attorneys general to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

Trump has traveled several times to Missouri to campaign for Hawley, repeatedly describing the state’s 38-year-old attorney general as a “star.”

Polls close at 8 pm EST (6:30 am Tuesday IST).

NEW JERSEY

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez is facing a tough re-election fight, and it has nothing to do with Trump. Rather, allegations of corruption have alienated some New Jersey voters. His bribery trial ended last year with a hung jury. Prosecutors decided not to retry the case, but the Senate Ethics Committee followed up with a report that said his actions advancing the personal and business interests of a top donor “reflected discredit upon the Senate.”

Democratic groups have spent millions in the state to boost Menendez in his race against Republican Bob Hugin, a former pharmaceutical executive who has tapped his own wallet for $24 million to finance a TV-ad-heavy campaign.

Democrats have more than 900,000 additional registered voters than Republicans in New Jersey, and Trump’s low ratings in the Garden State could give Menendez a boost.

Polls close at 8 pm EST (6:30 am Tuesday IST).

TENNESSEE

Republican Representative. Marsha Blackburn is running against former two-term Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen in a state Trump won by 26 percentage points.

Blackburn would be the state’s first female senator, if elected. She has served eight terms in the House and is viewed as one of the more conservative members of that chamber.

Bredesen is trying to brandish his credentials as a centrist. He has said he will support or oppose Trump based on his specific ideas and how they affect Tennessee.

The two are running to replace retiring Senator Bob Corker, a Republican who has frequently clashed with Trump.

Polls close at 8 pm EST (6:30 am Tuesday IST).

ARIZONA

Democrats have high hopes for flipping this seat in Arizona, where Democratic Representative Kyrsten Sinema is running against Republican Representative Martha McSally.

They are running for the seat left open when Senator Jeff Flake, a sharp critic of Trump, opted to retire, acknowledging that he could not win a GOP primary in the current political climate.

McSally is a former Air Force fighter pilot who represents a moderate district that is based in Tucson. Sinema represents a district based in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe and is a former Green Party activist who transformed herself into a centrist Democrat. She has one of the most conservative voting records among Democrats in Congress and presents herself as a nonpartisan problem-solver.

Polls close at 9 pm EST (7:30 am Tuesday IST).

NORTH DAKOTA

Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is trying to fend off a strong challenge from Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer in a state Trump won by 36 percentage points.

Heitkamp has sought to draw differences with Cramer on health care and trade. She says she is working to improve the Affordable Care Act while he’s been working to eliminate it. Cramer has argued that Trump’s approach on trade must be given time to work.

Heitkamp’s campaign stumbled when it identified victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and rape in an ad. Heitkamp apologized after she learned that several of the women named in the newspaper ad either hadn’t authorized being named or are not survivors of abuse.

Polls close at 9 pm EST (7:30 am Tuesday IST).

TEXAS

Republican Senator Ted Cruz is seeking a second term against Democratic Representative Beto O’Rourke, a rising star in the Democratic Party who has shattered Senate campaign fundraising records despite shunning donations from outside political groups.

O’Rourke is trying to become Texas’ first Democrat to win statewide office since 1994, but faces long odds given the advantage that GOP candidates have in statewide elections.

Cruz has made nice with Trump despite the ugly words they exchanged during the presidential campaign in 2016. Trump held a campaign rally for Cruz in Houston, calling the candidate “Beautiful Ted.”

Polls close at 9 pm EST (7:30 am Tuesday IST).

MONTANA

Democratic Senator Jon Tester is seeking a third term against Republican Matt Rosendale, Montana’s auditor.

Trump has invested heavily in the race with four trips to a state he won by more than 20 percentage points. Rosendale has returned the admiration, describing himself as a Trump conservative.

Trump has blamed Tester for derailing the nomination of White House doctor Ronny Jackson to head the Veterans Affairs Department.

Facing all the GOP’s firepower, Tester has stuck with the populist approach that worked for him in his 2006 and 2012 elections, highlighting his life as a grain farmer and even the three fingers he lost as a child in a meat grinder.

Polls close at 10 pm EST (8:30 am Tuesday IST).

NEVADA

Republican Senator Dean Heller is seeking a second full term against Democrat Representative Jacky Rosen in the one true battleground state that features a Republican incumbent.

Heller, the only Republican running for re-election in a state Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, and Trump have embraced each other after a rocky start, with both highlighting their desire to get more of the president’s judicial nominees confirmed, a top priority for many social conservatives.

Rosen is a first-term congresswoman who could benefit from a wave of Democratic and female activism fueled by opposition to Trump.

Polls close at 10 pm EST (8:30 am IST).

First Published: Nov 05, 2018 21:45 IST