Democratic hopes of retaining control of the U.S. House and Senate hung in the balance Tuesday night, as polls began to close after a divisive midterm election providing the first nationwide voter test of Joe Biden’s presidency.

At the end of a campaign pitting a Republican outcry over inflation, crime and Biden’s agenda against Democratic warnings of extremism on the right, strategists in both parties said they expected Republicans to reclaim the House once all votes are counted. Democrats were forced on the defensive in deep-blue states and suburban districts held by the party, amid a wave of retirements and redistricting losses.

The battle for the Senate, fought largely on Democratic terrain, was widely seen as more competitive, after many first-time Republican candidates had fought to a virtual draw heading into Tuesday against more established Democrats with much deeper advertising budgets in states such as Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona. Control of the chamber might not be clear for days – or weeks, with the possibility of a December runoff in Georgia.

A Republican takeover in even one chamber of Congress would complicate Biden’s agenda for the next two years. House Republicans have signaled their intent to launch a series of investigations into issues ranging from the U.S. coronavirus response to the business dealings of Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. If handed the reins of power in the Senate, the Republican Party could make confirming Biden Cabinet officials and judges more difficult and wield more leverage in potential showdowns over spending.

As voters decided whether to break Democrats’ grip on power in Washington, Republicans were aiming to increase their hold on governor’s mansions around the country, with incumbent Democrats looking to hold off Republican challenges in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and more. Democrats also faced surprisingly strong challenges for the governor’s mansions in Oregon and New York, while Republicans lost control in Massachusetts and Maryland. In Maryland, former nonprofit chief Wes Moore, a Democrat, defeated far-right Republican Dan Cox to become the first Black person elected governor in the history of the state.

Lara Marrison, 26, checks the MiniVAN canvassing app while in a Royal Oak neighborhood for Reproductive Freedom For All, a group promoting abortion rights in Michigan. Nick Hagen/The Washington Post

Republicans clinched statewide victories in Florida, notching early if expected wins in the Senate and governor’s races. Elsewhere, future of abortion laws was on the ballot in some states including in Michigan, where there was a closely watched measure to determine whether to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.


All told, Republicans spent $359 million on broadcast advertising aimed at framing the contest as a referendum on Democratic policies around crime and inflation, while Democrats pushed back with $422 million in ads largely focused on Republican efforts to ban access to abortion and more broadly on what they cast as Republican extremism, according to AdImpact, which tracks television and digital political ads.

The starkly contrasting visions for the country were evident in interviews with voters from the Eastern Seaboard to the Southwest. In a Northern Virginia, a traditionally Democratic area, Niaz Ali, 29, walked out of an elementary school after casting his ballot and stopped to take a selfie. He wanted to record the day when he switched parties, from Democrat to Republican.

Ali, who is from Pakistan, said he has long supported Democrats but has lately been frustrated by inflation and illegal immigration. “They [messed up] everything,” he said of Democrats. “We need Trump back.” Ali voted for the Republican running for the House in Virginia’s 7th District, Yesli Vega, even though he said he didn’t know anything about her.

About a third of voters said inflation was the biggest issue affecting their vote, according to early network exit polls. That was more than other issues such as crime, gun policy and immigration, and just a bit higher than abortion. About three-quarters of voters said things in the country were headed in the wrong direction, according to a preliminary voter poll.

In Phoenix, Matt Kroski said he was voting against candidates on the right more than anything else, voicing worries about GOP efforts chipping away at abortion rights and eroding democratic guardrails. Kroski, 43, usually votes early, but after seeing reports of armed observers at local ballot drop boxes, he decided to cast his ballot in-person on Election Day.

“It’s just voter intimidation,” he said. “Emotionally, it made me fearful, because it’s our one chance to make our voice heard.”


Two years after Donald Trump and his allies pushed falsehoods about the 2020 election, spurring a violent mob to attack the U.S. Capitol and halt the democratic process of affirming the outcome, a majority of GOP nominees for Senate, House and key statewide offices had denied or questioned Biden’s 2020 victory, and Tuesday’s results could give many of them power over the 2024 elections in battleground states.

Historical precedent suggested Democrats were in for a tough night. Presidents with approval ratings below 50 percent, such as Biden, have seen their party lose an average of 37 House seats in midterm years, according to Gallup. For presidents above 50 percent, the losses tend to be far lighter – 14 seats on average.

While some House races could take days to clarify, strategists of both parties were watching some East Coast contests for early clues.

In Virginia, Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria, a former Navy commander, was fighting for reelection in a district that narrowly favored Biden in 2020 but swung dramatically toward Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin last year. Luria was trying to fend off Republican Jen Kiggans, a state lawmaker who also served in the Navy.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat and former CIA officer, was in competition with Vega, a county supervisor, in a district that Biden carried by seven points. And Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton,  a former prosecutor, faced Republican and retired Navy captain Hung Cao in an area where Biden trounced Trump by 18 points.

Angela Chapman, 47, left, of Columbus, Ohio, votes with her 7-year-old son, Noble Johnson-Bey. GOP Rep. Jim Jordan won a ninth term Tuesday and Republicans are hoping to end the 40-year career of Democrat Marcy Kaptur after redistricting put her in a reconfigured district that’s considered a toss-up. Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post

A victory for Luria, a prominent member of House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, would signal a better-than-expected night for Democrats, analysts said, while wins for Vega and especially for Cao would signal a good night for Republicans and potentially the red wave they long hoped for.


Some Democrats – such as Rep. Marcy Kaptur in Ohio and Rep. Sharice Davids in Kansas – remained highly competitive in red or purple districts in the final stretch before Tuesday, sometimes benefiting from polarizing or scandal-plagued GOP opponents. At the same time, many struggled in the final stage of the race in districts and states that Biden once carried by comfortable margins.

Democrats entered the day staring down several possible losses in New York, typically a stronghold for the party – including the House seat of Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

A Maloney loss to Republican state Assemblyman Mike Lawler – in a seat that Biden would have carried by 10 points in 2020 – would make him the first sitting DCCC chair to lose his seat since 1992. Republicans amped up their investment in the race in October as they grew increasingly bullish about seizing previously blue territory.

Americans cast their votes with the 2024 presidential election already looming, as Trump strongly hinted this week that he would launch another bid for the White House soon and sent Republicans scrambling to keep him from upending their prospects in the midterms.

In a Fox News interview the evening before the midterms, Trump said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has his support for speaker if the Republican Party retakes the House, and he harshly criticized Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

“I think we’ll probably have to live with him for two years,” Trump said.


Biden, who has warned of government shutdowns and potential breakdowns of democratic norms if Republicans prevail, has also said he intends to seek another term. But Tuesday’s results will hang over his efforts to rally a party that has shown some signs of interest in fresh leadership. Biden on Tuesday thanked Democratic leaders for their work on the election.

Other possible 2024 presidential contenders such as Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom were on the ballot Tuesday after campaigns that highlighted their national ambitions. DeSantis, whose simmering rivalry with Trump has become increasingly public, won a decisive victory Tuesday over former governor Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat, in a state where Democrats have grown increasingly gloomy about their ability to compete.

DeSantis’s administration on Tuesday blocked the Department of Justice from accessing polling places in South Florida, calling federal involvement “counterproductive” and saying it would send its own monitors. Other battles over the voting process itself played out across the country, with election officials urging patience with results and seeking to preempt baseless suggestions of malfeasance.

Some Republicans had long feared their Senate candidates – many were inexperienced and propelled to victory in their primaries by Trump – would dash their chances of seizing back the chamber in a favorable year. But those concerns eased as party loyalty kicked in for more Republicans this fall and as economic worries drew more middle-of-the-road voters toward the Republican Party.

Mary and Jeff King said they voted for Republican J.D. Vance in Ohio’s Senate race – even as Mary called Vance a “liar” and said, “I don’t think he’ll live up to any of the promises he made.”

“It’s more important to defeat the Democrats,” said Jeff, who went on to explain that as a Catholic, the number one issue driving his vote is abortion. “I’d like to see a complete ban in Ohio.”


Vance, a Trump critic-turned-champion, was in a close race with Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan in Ohio, where Trump won by eight points in 2020. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine was favored heading into Tuesday to win reelection by a double-digit margin. Democratic groups declined to invest heavily in Ohio despite continually close Senate polling, while Republicans spent tens of millions to shore up Vance.

Nevadans stand in long lines to cast their votes at Centennial Center polling place on Tuesday in Las Vegas. Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is facing a toss-up race with Republican challenger Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general and Trump campaign official. Melina Mara/The Washington Post

In Florida, another state that has trended toward Republicans, Sen. Marco Rubio defeated Democrat Val Demings, a former police chief, despite being vastly outspent.

In Georgia, Democratic Sen. Raphael G. Warnock faced off against GOP nominee Herschel Walker, a former football player and first-time candidate who has remained competitive despite mounting personal scandals, including accusations of domestic violence and claims by two former girlfriends that he pressured them to have abortions, despite supporting strict bans on the procedure while campaigning. Walker has denied the abortion claims.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman faced Republican nominee Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor, in a tight race for the seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey. Democrats’ initial polling lead dwindled this fall amid a surge of GOP ads often focused on crime and attention on the health of Fetterman, who suffered a stroke days before the primary this spring and struggled with his words during an October debate.

Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the first Latina elected to the Senate, entered the day in a toss-up race with Republican challenger Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general and Trump campaign official who played a prominent role in the former president’s false claims of widespread election fraud.

In Arizona, Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly faced Republican Blake Masters, a venture capitalist boosted by his mentor Peter Thiel, the conservative tech billionaire. In New Hampshire, which Biden won by about seven points, Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan was struggling to fend off Republican nominee Don Bolduc, an Army veteran whom Republican leaders worked to defeat in the primary because they viewed him as less electable.


And in North Carolina, a purple state where Democrats have repeatedly fallen short, Republican Rep. Ted Budd faced stiff competition from Cheri Beasley, a former chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court.

Voters around the country also weighed ballot measures to change election rules, legalize recreational marijuana and remove constitutional language allowing slavery as punishment in prisons, among other changes. South Dakota was expected to pass a ballot measure expanding Medicaid, which provides health insurance to low-income residents, over opposition from Republican leaders including Gov. Kristi L. Noem.

Several states also put abortion rights to a direct vote. In Michigan, voters weighed in on a ballot measure to guarantee abortion access in the state constitution, as the state’s near-total ban on the procedure from 1931 remains blocked by the courts. The measure was expected to boost Democratic turnout as Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer faced Republican Tudor Dixon, a former conservative commentator.

Kathy Hochul, New York’s first female governor – who ascended abruptly when Andrew M. Cuomo stepped down amid scandal – was in an unexpectedly tough contest with challenger Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., who has hammered on crime he blames on liberal policies and leadership.

In Wisconsin, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers faced Republican Tim Michels, the owner of a construction company, in another state where an old abortion ban – this one dating to 1849 – thrust the issue into the spotlight. Republicans hoped angst over the economy and crime would still push them to victory. Nevada Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak was in a tight race with Republican nominee Joe Lombardo, the sheriff of the state’s biggest county.

In key states around the country, Republican candidates who have denied the 2020 election results were in contention to oversee the voting process. Strategists from both parties agreed that a strong evening nationally for Republicans could lift even these extreme candidates to victory, alarming those who fear a repeat of Republican officials’ baseless efforts in 2020 to overturn election results.

Arizona state legislator Republican Mark Finchem, who has pushed to decertify the 2020 results and ban voting machines, was running against Adrian Fontes, a Democrat who oversaw the 2020 election in Arizona’s biggest battleground, Maricopa County. In Nevada, election denier Jim Marchant, a former Republican state assembly member, faced Democrat Cisco Aguilar.

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