WASHINGTON (AP) — A tumultuous election season that tugged again at America’s searing political divides and raised questions about its commitment to a democratic future comes to a close on Tuesday as voters cast ballots in the first national election of Joe Biden’s presidency.
Democrats braced for disappointing results, anxious that their grip on the U.S. House may be slipping and that their hold on the U.S. Senate — once seen as more secure — has loosened. The party’s incumbent governors in places like Wisconsin, Michigan and Nevada are also staring down serious Republican challengers.
Returning to the White House on Monday night after his final campaign event, Biden said he thought Democrats would keep the Senate but acknowledged “the House is tougher.”
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The GOP was optimistic about its prospects, betting that messaging focused on the economy, gas prices and crime will resonate with voters at a time of soaring inflation and rising violence. Ultimately, they’re confident that outrage stemming from the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion has faded and that the midterms have become a more traditional assessment of the president’s performance.
“It will be a referendum on the incompetence of this administration,” Minnesota Republican Rep. Tom Emmer, who’s running the GOP effort to retake the House, said of the election.
With polls open across most of the country, no major early voting problems were reported, though there were hiccups typical of most Election Days. Tabulators were not working in a New Jersey county — potentially requiring hand-counting instead — and some polling places in Pennsylvania were delayed in opening because workers showed up late.
In Philadelphia, where Democrats are counting on strong turnout in key races, people complained about being turned away as they showed up in person to try and fix problems with their previously cast mail-in ballots. But officials said there was still time Tuesday to reconcile those issues.
Some Arizona voters grew angry and suspicious in the Phoenix suburb of Anthem when they were told that one of the two tabulators at a polling site wasn’t working and they’d have to wait up to 30 minutes if they wanted to cast their ballots directly into the one functioning machine.
The election’s results could have a profound impact on the final two years of Biden’s presidency. Republican control of even one chamber of Congress would leave Biden vulnerable to a slew of investigations into his family and administration while defending his policy accomplishments, including a sweeping infrastructure measure along with a major health care and social spending package. An emboldened GOP could also make it harder to raise the debt ceiling and add restrictions to additional support for Ukraine in the war with Russia.
If Republicans have an especially strong election, winning Democratic congressional seats in places like New Hampshire or Washington state, pressure could build for Biden to opt against reelection in 2024. Former President Donald Trump, meanwhile, may try to capitalize on GOP gains by formally launching another bid for the White House during a “very big announcement” in Florida next week.
The midterms arrive at a volatile moment for the U.S., which emerged this year from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic only to confront sharp economic challenges. The Supreme Court stripped away the constitutional right to an abortion, eliminating protections that had been in place for five decades.
And in the first national election since the Jan. 6 insurrection, the nation’s democratic future is in question. Some who participated in or were in the vicinity of the deadly attack are poised to win elected office on Tuesday, including House seats. A number of GOP candidates for secretary of state, including those running in Arizona, Nevada and Michigan, have refused to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election. If they win on Tuesday, they would manage future elections in states that are often pivotal in presidential contests.