Polling in US medterms showed voters stating health care as the reason for choosing candidate
Democrat Jennifer Wexton has unseated Rep. Barbara Comstock, R, in a closely watched race in Northern Virginia, giving Democrats the first of the 23 seats they would need to win on Tuesday to take control of the House.
Comstock's defeat was hardly a surprise: she had been seen as one of the GOP's most vulnerable incumbents, representing a swath of suburbia that had voted heavily for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. But the scale of her defeat was still surprising: with 67 percent of precincts reporting, she was down by 17 percentage point.
But – with polls still open in western states, and many key races too close to call – Democrats were still far short of the victories they need to take the House. None of the closely watched races for the Senate have yet been called, including the ones in Indiana and Florida where Democratic incumbents are fighting to hang on.
Polls have now closed across much of the East Coast, Midwest and Deep South, on a long-awaiting midterm election day that could signal the strength of Democrat-led backlash against President Trump – or reaffirm Trump's full hold on power.
As early returns came in, the Associated Press projected that Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., had won reelection, as expected. But none of the night's much-anticipated races for the House, the Senate, or governor had been called.
So far, anecdotal reports from around the country have indicated that turnout is far above the levels from other recent midterms – and, in some cases, turnout is even approaching the levels from the 2016 presidential election. But, until votes are counted, it's difficult to say for certain which party will benefit.
Earlier on Tuesday, new polling showed that voters cited President Donald Trump and health care as two of the most important factors as they chose their candidates in the midterm election, according to preliminary results from a Washington Post-Schar School survey of battleground districts. About 4 in 10 of those surveyed said one of those topics – Trump or health care – was among the two most important issues in their vote.
The economy and immigration were close behind, with roughly one-third saying each was one of the top two issues in their vote. Just over one-fifth said taxes was one of the top issues, followed by Supreme Court appointments. Fewer than 1 in 10 voters said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi – who could become the speaker if Democrats win control of the House – was one of the biggest factors in their vote.
"In some places, Trump was even more important to voters. In Virginia's 10th Congressional District, where Rep. Barbara Comstock, R, is seen as one of the most endangered Republicans in the House, 56 percent of voters said Trump was one of the two most important factors in their vote.
Roughly 8 in 10 voters rated the economy positively, after months of job and wage growth, but even so, a small majority said they thought the country was headed in the wrong direction. About four in 10 respondents said they felt anger about this year's election, while 2 in 10 said they felt patriotic.
The poll was conducted Monday and Tuesday among voters across 69 competitive congressional districts and released Tuesday afternoon, as top Democrats predicted their party would take control of the House.
Tuesday's midterm served as a referendum on the chaotic and divisive first two years of Trump's presidency. As the first national election since Trump's presidential upset in 2016, it gave Democrats an opportunity to capitalize on his low, 40-percent approval rating, a restive national mood and frustration with one-party leadership in Washington under the GOP.
At stake Tuesday was control of the House, the Senate, 36 governorships and hundreds of state positions, with dozens of key races remaining tight around the country. Republicans were cautiously optimistic about keeping their majority in the Senate.
Early voting tallies suggested record-breaking interest in the election, the most expensive midterm in history. With more than 38 million votes counted as early or absentee before Tuesday morning, 35 states reported early-vote totals that surpassed those in 2014. But it was impossible to tell from the numbers which party had the edge.
Democrats were upbeat about their chance of winning the House after campaigns that emphasized kitchen-table issues and sought to harness opposition to Trump among suburban women and college graduates. The party had entered Tuesday's contests with a historical advantage, since the president's party typically loses more than dozen seats in his first midterm elections.
Asked Tuesday if she was 100 percent sure of a Democratic victory in the lower chamber, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said "Yes, I am."
To win congressional majorities, Democrats would need a net gain of 23 seats in the House and two seats in the Senate, the latter posing a challenge in light of the 10 Senate seats Democrats are defending in states Trump won in 2016.
Republicans said throughout the campaign that Democrats would block Trump's agenda while allowing undocumented immigrants and liberal "mobs" to overtake communities.
Trump, in his final campaign swing, repeatedly told supporters that Democratic victories would threaten their safety and stability.
"They want America to be a giant sanctuary city for drug dealers, predators and blood thirsty MS-13 killers," he said at a rally in Cleveland on Monday.
"There's only one way to end this lawless assault on our dignity, our sovereignty, and on our borders, and that's by voting Republican tomorrow," he said.
In the past few weeks, Trump has proposed revoking birthright citizenship, repeatedly called a migrant caravan headed for the United States from Mexico as an "invasion," sent more than 7,000 troops to the border to block it from entering the country and released a campaign ad that major television networks deemed too racist to air.
This hard-line approach to immigration politics in the final stage of the campaign defied conventional wisdom among establishment Republicans, who wished Trump would focus on the good economy and the party's tax cuts. Trump said Monday that he regretted not having a "softer tone" at times, but returned to form hours later by attacking Democrats at campaign rallies.
Trump had no public events scheduled for Tuesday and spent part of the morning on Twitter promoting GOP candidates and criticizing Democrats. He campaigned on Monday in Ohio, Indiana and Missouri, states he won in 2016 where Republicans are hoping to flip Democratic Senate seats.
Senate races were down to the wire in several states where Democrats were defending seats, including Indiana, Missouri, Montana and Florida.
With Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) expected to lose to Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), the party would have to hold their other seats and pick up three of the four available in Nevada, Texas, Tennessee and Arizona to win a majority. Nevada and Arizona appeared to afford the best chance, though the races were tight headed into Tuesday.
Civil rights groups and election officials fielded thousands of reports of voting irregularities throughout the day.
In Snellville, a rural town in northern Georgia, people said that the line to vote at Annistown Elementary School was hours long because of problems with voting machines.
Gabe Okeye, chairman of the Gwinnett County Democratic Party, suspected foul play given the county's importance in the election.
"Look at the people here," Okeye said, pointing to the African American voters coming in and out of the school. "People here don't have time to wait. The people who came this morning and left, none of them voted. Once you discourage them like that, they're not coming back to vote. It's simple. Every advantage here is being chipped away. … If you're going to play tricks anywhere, you're going to do it here."
Political observers had a close eye on Georgia, where Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams was running in a tight race to become the country's first black female governor, and Republican Rep. Karen Handel's race was expected to serve as a bellwether for the direction of the House.
In Minneapolis, roughly 90 people had lined up to vote in the hip North Loop neighborhood as polling places opened at 7 a.m.
"I don't like the direction this country is going in as far as the White House," said Shannon Whiton, a 43-year-old engineer who identified herself as a Democrat. She said she wants her vote to support more political unity.
By 7:30 a.m. in San Antonio, only a few people had arrived to vote at a middle school on the city's overwhelmingly Mexican American south side.
"It's been a trickle so far, but there was very heavy early voting," said Tony Villanueva, 52, who stood at the parking lot entrance holding signs supporting a Democratic candidate for state legislature.
In the upscale San Antonio suburb of Alamo Heights, 30-year-old programmer Stephen Matheis said he voted a straight Republican ticket, though he dislikes Trump.
The self-identified Republican said he had benefited financially from Trump's policies and that electing a Democratic Congress would only result in gridlock. But he made clear that he takes issue with the president's approach.
"I don't like what he says, what he tweets, who he hangs around with," he said.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday showed that 50 percent of registered voters prefer Democratic House candidates, compared with 43 percent for Republicans.
Former president Barack Obama, stumping for Democratic candidates in recent days, had framed the campaign as a fight for America's soul.
"Today is the day," he wrote Tuesday on Twitter. "Today, it's your turn to raise your voice to change the course of this country for the better."
In an op-ed, Vice President Pence said the election was a choice between "results or resistance."
"President Trump and I urge the American people to re-elect Republican majorities to Congress to deliver more results. Imagine where we'll be two years from now," Pence wrote Tuesday in USA Today.
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