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#AceNewsDesk – US Midterms 2022: What we know — and still don’t know — after a surprising election day

A bearded man in an Uncle Sam costume applauds in a crowd
Millions of Americans cast ballots in the midterm elections, which determine the makeup of the House of Representatives and a third of the US Senate. (Reuters: Brian Snyder)none

Polls have closed in the US midterm elections, with American voters turning out in droves to have their say on the economy, abortion rights, and the future of President Joe Biden’s agenda. 

What was expected to be a red tsunami — wiping out Democrats in the House of Representatives and the Senate — is looking more like choppy seas for the incumbent party, which was hoping to hold on to its razor-thin majorities. 

By the end of election night, Republicans were on track to take back control of the house, but Democrats held on to several competitive districts, avoiding the bloodbath pundits and polls had predicted. 

Closely watched swing states such as Georgia, Arizona and Nevada, which may decide the balance of the Senate, could still take several days to finalise their counts. 

In Pennsylvania, Democrat John Fetterman finished the night by claiming victory over his Republican rival Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor recently disavowed by Oprah Winfrey

Meanwhile in Georgia, Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and his Trump-backed challenger, former football star Herschel Walker, are likely headed for a run-off if neither can secure 50 per cent of the vote. 

Each state has its own rules for when and how votes are counted, which means it could take several days until the national picture comes into focus. 

Here’s what we know so far. 

The first sign that the Republican wave wouldn’t come? Virginia

Before election day, the state of Virginia was described as the “canary in the coal mine” for early clues on how the midterms might play out for Democrats. 

On America’s east coast, the state is one of the first to start counting votes. 

Democratic representative Elaine Luria, who rose to national prominence on the January 6 committee, lost to state senator Jen Kiggans by around four percentage points. 

Luria’s fate, which may have been sealed by an unfavourable redistricting, was flagged as a test for her party and the popularity of the high-profile committee tasked with investigating the insurrection.

By comparison, representative Abigail Spanberger, who is also a Democrat, fended off a challenge from Republican Yesli Vega in the battleground seat. 

If she lost, the New York Times had predicted Republicans would likely go pick up 20 seats or more. Supporters of Democrat Abigail Spanberger gathered to watch her victory in the Virginia race. (AP: Shaban Athuman)none

A loss by Democratic representative Jennifer Wexton — who represents the left-leaning Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC — would have been a death knell for the Democrats. 

But she held on, defeating Republican Hung Cao. 

The mixed results gave the party hope that all was not lost. 

Inflation and abortion appeared to be the dominant issues 

Polls suggested Americans’ main concerns were the economy, abortion rights, crime and immigration. 

Like many countries around the world, the US is struggling to rein in inflation, which is stuck close to a 40-year high at 8.2 per cent. 

As a result, the US Federal Reserve has raised interest rates, making mortgages, credit cards and loans more expensive.

The Republican party ran its campaign hard on the health of the economy, placing the blame squarely on President Biden. 

Last month, 32 per cent of pro-Republican campaign ads focused on inflation, compared to just 8 per cent of pro-Democrat ones, according to an analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Exit polls suggest the strategy paid off, with 44 per cent of Republican voters naming inflation as their biggest worry.Exit polls show that 46 per cent of American women were “angry” with the change to national abortion rights this year. (Reuters: Jonathan Drake)none

Meanwhile, Democrats named abortion access as their biggest motivator, according to exit polls. 

Earlier this year, America’s highest court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion and sent the issue back to the states. 

Thirteen American states have since banned most abortions. 

Democrats had hoped the issue would drive outraged voters to the polls in huge numbers. 

It will probably take a couple of days to delve into the data and figure out how much abortion played into the race. 

But 46 per cent of women nationwide said they were angry about the change to abortion rights, while another 20 per cent said they were “dissatisfied”, according to NBC’s exit poll.

Ultimately it might not be quite enough for Democrats to keep control of the House of Representatives. 

But control of the Senate — something several forecasting models predicted would fall to Republicans — is now a toss-up. 

Election deniers cried foul in Arizona

A legal stoush is already brewing in Arizona, which became ground zero for election denialism in the wake of the 2020 election.Republicans gathered at a Scottsdale resort to watch the results come in. (ABC News: Cameron Schwarz)none

Just hours after polls opened, Maricopa County — the state’s most populous — reported technical issues with automatic vote-counting machines at around 60 polling locations. 

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer called the malfunctions “disappointing” and sought to reassure voters their ballots would be counted. 

But the delays were quickly seized on by some Republicans, including Trump-backed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and the former president himself. 

“Can this possibly be true when a vast majority of Republicans waited for today to vote?” Trump wrote on Truth Social. 

“Here we go again? The people will not stand for it!!!” 

Poll workers tried to allay the concerns of frustrated voters in line, as conspiracies theories began to swirl online, fuelling baseless claims of fraud. 

“No one’s trying to deceive anybody,” one poll worker says in a video circulated on Twitter. 

The county later attributed the source of the glitch to a printing problem, solved by changing the printer settings. 

“It appears some of the printers were not producing dark enough timing marks on the ballots,” county officials said in a statement. 

“This solution has worked at 17 locations, and technicians deployed throughout the county are working to resolve this issue at the remaining locations.” 

Even so, in a sign of what may be to come, Republican National Committee and several Republican candidates filed an emergency lawsuit calling for polls to remain open longer. 

The request was denied by a superior court judge, who said he didn’t see evidence that people were unable to vote. 

Lake, a former TV anchor known for relitigating the 2020 elections, has previously been cagey when asked if she would concede her own race. 

At her election night watch party, she was defiant, despite her Democratic opponent Katie Hobbs gaining a sizeable early lead. 

“We had a big day today and don’t let those cheaters and crooks [make you] think anything different,” she said. 

“I just want you to know it’s early.

“It’s very early and if we have to take this fight through we will. If it takes hours or days we will.” 

Biden vs Trump or maybe DeSantis? It’s full steam ahead to 2024 

Now that the midterms are drawing to a close, both Democrats and Republicans will turn their full attention to the presidential election two years from now. 

Voters almost always use the midterms as a chance to put pressure on the sitting president and voice their displeasure over policy decisions. 

After the 2006 midterms delivered the Democrats a huge landslide victory, Republican president George W Bush admitted that he’d been at the receiving end of a “thumping”. 

Four years later, when Democratic president Barack Obama saw his party run out of both houses of Congress, he called it a “shellacking”. President Biden had a better night than many political commentators expected. (Reuters: Kevin Lamarque)none

For Joe Biden, the much-feared red wave of Republican votes never crested. 

In the end, it might be more like a red swell that washes over Biden’s ankles. 

The better-than-expected result is likely to quiet any whispers about the president stepping down after one term and letting another Democrat run in 2024. 

With Donald Trump teasing a “big announcement” in the coming days, the next election may end up a 2020 rematch. 

The former president has hinted he’s gearing up for another tilt at the White House, saying in October: “I will probably have to do it again”. 

While he remains the frontrunner for the nomination, Trump appears to be increasingly concerned about the rise of his young protege, Ron DeSantis. Donald Trump has dangled the possibility of another run for the White House in 2024. (Reuters: Marco Bello)none

The Florida governor easily won a second term in office today, but he’s so far remained coy on whether he has loftier ambitions for 2024. 

“If he did run, I will tell you things about him that won’t be very flattering,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal earlier today. 

“I know more about him than anybody other than perhaps his wife.” 

With the “red wave” he predicted now failing to materialise, Trump may be left to wonder if his path to the nomination is as clear as some assumed.

US election results: What would a Republican-led Congress do? as the upper chamber of Congress, the Senate, remains too close to call.

Millions of votes are yet to be counted in the midterm elections, but early estimates suggest the Republican Party is on course to win back control of the US House of Representatives for the first time in four years.

By Anthony Zurcher: BBC News, Washington

In the 100-seat Senate, only 35 seats are up for election this year, and there are only a handful of closely contested races. A net change of one seat toward the Republicans would give them control.

After two years of unified Democratic control in Washington, the power dynamic in the nation’s capital is poised to shift. Here are four very real implications for American politics for the next two years.

The end of Joe Biden’s legislative agenda

US President Joe Biden
Joe Biden’s Democrats face a tough battle to keep control of Congress

In their two years in office, Joe Biden and the Democrats were able to enact a fairly substantive agenda, which included massive spending on the environment, healthcare and other social programmes. 

That would all end with a Republican victory.

Immigrants seeking asylum in the United States.
Immigrants seeking asylum in the US wait to be processed by border agents in Arizona

There’s the chance of some co-operation – for instance, Republicans and Democrats did join together to pass gun control and technology investment this year and infrastructure spending last year. However, big-ticket liberal priorities on abortion, education and voting rights will be dead in the water.

Republicans have their own agenda, focused on border security, law enforcement spending, budget cuts and fossil fuel extraction. But even if the Republicans take both chambers of Congress, Democrats will be able block passage in the Senate using the filibuster rule, or in the White House using Mr Biden’s veto power.

For the next two years, legislative gridlock will be the name of game. 

Republicans get the power to investigate

For two years, Democrats have been calling the shots – that’s meant an expansive investigation into the 6 January, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, and hearings on subjects including abortion, healthcare and voting rights.

If Republicans take control of congressional committees, the priorities will rapidly shift. 

House conservatives have already promised a hearing into Joe Biden’s son Hunter’s business ties to China. They also want to look into the Biden administration’s immigration policies, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the origins of the coronavirus pandemic in China.

The Senate Judiciary Committee handles review of presidential nominations to the federal courts. For the past two years, Democrats have set a modern record for the number of new judges seated to lifetime appointments. 

If Republicans also take control of the US Senate, expect the process for confirming Mr Biden’s nominees to come to a standstill. And if a Supreme Court vacancy opens up, there’s a good chance it could remain unfilled until the next presidential election.

Risk of government shutdowns

With Democratic control of Congress, the US had a two-year reprieve from the game of chicken that have led to government shutdowns and near default on the national debt. That’s about to end. 

Some Republicans, including Congressman Kevin McCarthy who is poised to become House speaker if Republicans take the chamber, are already threatening to force Democrats to agree to sweeping budget cuts.

Congressman Kevin McCarthy
Congressman Kevin McCarthy is already threatening to force Democrats to agree to sweeping budget cuts

The US has never defaulted on its debt. However partial government shutdowns due to the inability of Congress to approve annual spending legislation have become more common. It happened twice during the Trump administration and once under President Barack Obama.

If Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on a basic framework for government spending, another government shutdown by the end of next year seems highly probable. 

Biden’s perilous path ahead

Republican control of Congress would be a bitter pill for Mr Biden to swallow. He campaigned as someone who could unite Americans after a turbulent four years with Mr Trump as president. 

Instead he will face a nation as divided as ever, a hostile Congress, and the possibility that Mr Trump himself will seek to win back the White House.

Most presidents suffer through electoral setbacks halfway through their first term in office. Although some have bounced back to win re-election, losing Congress will be seen as a sign of Mr Biden’s continued political weakness. It could renew calls for him to step aside for another Democrat when the 2024 presidential campaign season begins. 

The president and his advisers all insist he will seek re-election. The White House has already announced Mr Biden will give a public speech addressing the election results on Wednesday. 

How he handles that speech, and how he deals with the adversity that is coming in the months ahead, will go a long way toward determining how much support he will have in his own party for another four years in office.

BBC/ABC/Local Media/

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