Today the midterm elections are being held across America. Ballots will be cast for senators, representatives and local officials in one of the most important contests in recent years. It has become tiresome to describe every American election as uniquely significant, but there is a lot at stake with these midterms as the chasm between Democrats and Republicans grows ever wider, and the supreme court decision to no longer protect abortion rights hangs in the air.
Despite a slim majority in Congress, Joe Biden and the Democrats have spent the past two years pushing through new laws on gun control, the climate crisis, child poverty and infrastructure – much more than many thought possible. But any change in the balance of power will bring that momentum to a grinding halt.
And for many Democrats this is not just an election about policy, it is a fight for democracy itself. Two hundred candidates are running, some of them in key seats, who believe that the last election was stolen from Donald Trump. Hearings on the January 6 insurrection have been shocking – and only two weeks ago the husband of the US House speaker Nancy Pelosi was attacked in their house. If Republicans were to enjoy a resounding success, it is far from clear they would accept any future Democratic victory in a presidential election.
I spoke to David Smith, the Guardian’s Washington DC bureau chief, about why these midterms matter so much and what the results could mean for America.
Five big stories
Climate | Low-income countries will need approximately $2tn (£1.75tn) in climate funding by 2030 to help cut their emissions and cope with the effects of the climate crisis.
Russia | Putin ally and influential Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin admitted to interfering in the US elections and has said that interfering will continue in the coming midterms.
Politics | A senior civil servant said that Gavin Williamson subjected them to a campaign of bullying when he was defence secretary, allegedly telling them to “slit your throat” and “jump out of the window” on two separate occasions.
Weather | The Met Office predicts severe flooding across England in February despite the country remaining in drought. The floods will be a result of La Niña, a weather phenomenon influenced by cooler temperatures in the Pacific.
Courts | Hollie Dance – the mother of Archie Battersbee, a 12-year-old boy who sustained a catastrophic brain injury in April and died in August – wants a coroner to examine the role of exposure to TikTok videos may have played in his death. Dance believes her son was hurt by taking part in an online challenge known as the “blackout challenge”.
In depth: ‘History suggests a good night for Republicans’
Midterm elections are usually high-stakes affairs, often viewed as a referendum on the sitting president. But this year’s are particularly consequential. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs, about one-third of the Senate, and 36 state governorships, among other local positions that have a say on how votes will be counted at future elections. As things stand, the Democrats have control in Washington – from the presidency to Congress to the Senate (the Senate is currently divided 50-50 but Vice-President Kamala Harris is the tie-breaking vote). But it’s famously hard for a sitting president to maintain an advantage, even more so during a cost of living crisis.
It’s conventional wisdom that Republicans will probably win the House at least, says David: “History suggests Republicans will have a good night because, on the vast majority of occasions, the party that holds the White House loses seats. And polling in recent days seems to underline that.” A win in the house would give Republicans the power to cut spending for aid to Ukraine and welfare spending. Republicans have also said they plan to disband the January 6 committee and start a slew of investigations into their Democratic opponents. There have even been calls to impeach Joe Biden, although senior Republicans have been downplaying the likelihood of that happening. A fully Republican Congress could also push for a national abortion ban – although any changes to such legislation would be vetoed by the president.
If the GOP wins the senate as well, they will be able to obstruct Biden’s political agenda, as well as blocking many of his cabinet secretaries and judicial appointments.
The key races
There are a number of contests that everyone is keeping a very close eye on. Perhaps the biggest is Georgia: “The rule used to be whichever way Florida goes, so goes the nation,” says David, but “Georgia has, in many ways, replaced Florida as the pivotal state in the nation.”
Georgia’s senate race is extremely important. Raphael Warnock’s win in 2021 was key to the Democrats securing control of the senate. Now Warnock faces off against Herschel Walker, a former football player who “has no discernible political experience or qualifications”, David says. Walker has been embroiled in controversy for a year as stories of his affairs, extramarital children and allegations of domestic violence came to light. Most recently, a former girlfriend asserted that he paid for for her to have an abortion, despite Walker running on a hardline anti-abortion platform.
And Georgia is also where Democratic favourite (and Star Trek’s president of a United Earth), Stacey Abrams, will again try to wrestle the governership from Brian Kemp. A victory for Abrams would ensure voting and abortion rights are bolstered in the state.
Other races to watch out for are Ohio, where author of Hillbilly Elegy, Trump critic turned sycophant JD Vance is running: “If Democrats win in a state that has really been trending Republican in recent years, there’ll be a lot of blame on Vance and perhaps Donald Trump for backing him,” David says.
Pennsylvania, home of Joe Biden, is another crucial state with TV personality Dr Mehmet Oz running against the 6’8” tattooed lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, in the senate race. Oz secured a Trump endorsement, as did Doug Mastriano, who is running for governor of the same state. Mastriano was part of the effort to overturn the 2020 elections and appeared outside the US Capitol during January 6 riots. He could be a key part of a Trump presidential run in 2024.
A divided nation
“It feels as if there are two separate campaigns and conversations happening, that are operating on different planets,” David says. “In the past, at least, there was a shared set of issues, and both parties would be looking to be the best on inflation or healthcare.”
Republicans have focused on inflation, specifically petrol prices, and the cost of living crisis. They have also made characteristic campaign points about crime and other culture war topics such as immigration. Conversely, Democrats have been focused on reproductive rights following the supreme court decision to overturn Roe v Wade, as well as the threats to democracy, voting rights and the climate crisis. “A lot of opinion polls are suggesting that Republicans’ issues are likely to win the day, because so often, people vote according to their pocketbook and the economy,” says David.
What it means for the rest of Joe Biden’s first term
Joe Biden’s presidential approval rating hovers around 40%. A poll conducted by Reuters and Ipsos found that 69% of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, while just 18% said it was on the right track. While the Democrats have managed to recover from a summer slump in the polls, a big Republican victory could further entrench his political weakness, freeze up his administration for its final two years and lead to calls for Biden to step aside for another Democrat in the presidential race in 2024.
The T word
Donald Trump has still had time to have a weirdly active role in these midterm elections, having endorsed more than 200 candidates on all levels of the political system. His senate endorsements in particular will be a litmus test for the Republican party. “In a normal world, if all of his candidates lost and they got wiped out, there could be a sense that Donald Trump really does not have the political midas touch that many believed he had,” David says. But this is not a normal world, and it’s likely that regardless of what happens, Trump will claim the victory as his own: “If they lose, he’ll say they failed to follow his advice, maybe they did not embrace the ‘big lie’ enough. Or he could just say the vote was rigged and it’s all another scam.”
However, if Trump candidates do win, he will be the first to claim it was all down to him and that he has been vindicated. It has been reported that Trump plans to launch his next presidential campaign around the week of 14 November on the back of any momentum from the midterms.
When will we know for the results?
Even though voters will be casting their ballots today, it might be days, perhaps even weeks, before there is a clear picture of results. Republicans might seem to have a huge early lead, but that will be because – for the second election in a row – their votes will be counted and reported first in several battleground states. It’s a deliberate change made by Republican officials in some states, making it easier to cast doubt on results when the final tally differs markedly from early announcements. This is coupled with the fact that Democrats traditionally use mail-in ballots far more than Republican voters, and those ballots can take longer to tally and tend to be reported in the days after the election.
There will be some idea of how the election went tomorrow morning. In the meantime, read more of the Guardian’s midterm elections coverage here.
What else we’ve been reading
There are so many parts of Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s latest column that will chime for parents – but for me it was the way she captures the constant change of early parenthood that really struck home, every shift gifting “a whole new phase, while mourning that which came before”. Toby Moses, head of newsletters
Benjamin Zand spent a year inside the incel community in the UK and abroad, uncovering a world marred by desperation, loneliness and violent misogyny. Nimo
Elle Hunt’s lovely feature, talking to the bands who had their music coopted by politicians, is perhaps best encapsulated by this quote from Friendly Fires’ response to Boris Johnson using their song as entrance music: “If we’d have intended them to use it, we’d have named the track Blue Bunch of Corrupt Wankers.” Toby
Georgina Sturge unpacks how “bad data” infiltrated British politics and what the implications are on policy when a government relies on erroneous or partial information. “Numbers hold enormous power,” Sturge writes, “but in the end, we must remember that we govern them – not the other way round.” Nimo
Ham in a can is back, and Stuart Heritage’s tour through the best Spam recipes from the great and good of the culinary world offers one particularly dangerous idea: Spam french fries, anyone? Toby
World Cup 2022 | Six out of 10 people in the UK think that the World Cup should not be held in Qatar because of its criminalisation of homosexuality. The same poll found that only 43% of people think that England and Wales should take part in the World Cup.
Football | Liverpool and Manchester United face tough European challenges against Real Madrid and Barcelona in the next round of Champions and Europa Leagues.
Football | Rio Ferdinand is typically thoughtful on the subjects of racism and homophobia in this revealing interview with Donald McRae.
The front pages
The Guardian leads this morning with “Poor nations ‘paying twice’ for climate breakdown”. The i has “Red alert for Earth: gravest warning yet on climate change” while the Metro covers Cop27 as well with “Sunak turns on the Sharm”, geddit? The Daily Mail asks “Just what planet are they on?” – it says incredulously that campaigners want the UK to pay $1tn in climate reparations to poorer nations. Other papers show Rishi Sunak embracing Emmanuel Macron at Cop27 but it is not their lead story. “Welfare and pensions set to rise with inflation” – that’s the Times while the Daily Telegraph has “Gas deal set to ease energy crisis” and the Daily Express goes with “Rishi: I will get ‘grip’ on migrant crisis”. The Mirror’s splash is inspiring but also a bit challenging: “Brave mum’s TV dissection to educate millions” (about cancer – the “extraordinary broadcast” will take place on Channel 4). It is still on the trail of Lord Lucan as well – a puff box says “Lucan brother: he DID escape and become a Buddhist”. The top story in the Financial Times today is “Chancellor lines up stealth raid on inheritance tax to shore up finances”.
Today in Focus
US midterms: is it still the economy, stupid?
The Democrats have learned hard lessons over the years about what happens when election campaigns neglect the economy, so has the party been strong enough in its messaging for today’s midterm elections? Lauren Gambino reports
Cartoon of the day | Steve Bell
A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad
During monsoon season in south-western Bangladesh, when there is little dry land on which to grow food, farmers keep their businesses afloat – quite literally – by growing vegetables on rafts made from invasive water hyacinths. These floating gardens help ensure food security in low-lying regions, where the climate crisis has resulted in waterlogging and flooding. Photographer Mohammad Ponir Hossain, who won a Pulitzer for his images of Rohingya refugees, has captured the practice and the people behind it.
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Bored at work?
And finally, the Guardian’s crosswords to keep you entertained throughout the day – with plenty more on the Guardian’s Puzzles app for iOS and Android. Until tomorrow.