Next Tuesday (8 November), US voters will go to the polls in the country’s ‘midterm’ elections. Along with various local and state-wide offices, the elections will see the entirety of the US lower chamber – the House of Representatives – up for election along with a third of the country’s senators, who are elected on a rolling basis for six-year terms.
The contrast between victory and defeat for the Democrats has never been starker. President Biden has been able to achieve a surprising amount with wafer-thin majorities in the House and Senate, including the country’s largest spending commitment in tackling climate change and a trillion-dollar investment into infrastructure.
However, resistance in the Senate to reforming archaic ‘filibuster’ rules, which essentially require a 60-40 vote to pass meaningful legislation, means that much of Joe Biden’s agenda has fallen by the wayside.
If the Democrats hold the House and make gains in the Senate, the possibility emerges of protecting abortion rights and voting rights with national legislation. But, if the Republicans take either chamber, Biden risks becoming a lame duck.
What’s more, extreme Republican candidates who have promised to reject the results of a 2024 presidential election if it did not put Donald Trump into the White House are running for local positions.
As election night approaches, which races will be the most significant?
Georgia – Stacey Abrams steps up to the plate
It is no understatement to say that Stacey Abrams saved the first half of the Biden presidency. After losing Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial race, Abrams spent the following two years organising African-American voters in the state.
It was these voters who turned out in record levels to not only flip the state in the 2020 presidential election, but to also deliver the Democrats a Senate majority with the elections of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
This year, Abrams is back on the ballot with a rematch against Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp. While Kemp has embodied the worst of Republican extremism, passing draconian voter suppression legislation and a six-week abortion ban, a personal feud with Trump has helped Kemp to brand himself as a moderate.
As a result, Abrams is trailing Kemp in the gubernatorial race. Meanwhile, Warnock’s re-election battle against Herschel Walker is neck-and-neck, despite Walker being accused of:
- Domestic abuse
- Paying for a then partner to terminate a pregnancy, despite promoting a nationwide abortion ban
- Lying about having been an FBI agent
- Dismissing the reality of climate change, along with stating that Georgia’s “good air” goes to China, whose “bad air” comes back to the state.
How Georgia votes in 2022 will show to what extent Biden’s electoral coalition is holding together, particularly among African-Americans. Any long-term coalition for democracy in the US will have to rely not just on the record turnouts of 2020 being matched, but exceeded.
The comparison between the two races may well also show a dark path forward for Republican extremism. Voters seem relatively unfussed by extreme policy views, provided that the candidate espousing them is seen as ‘presentable’. If Kemp wins re-election while Walker fails to unseat Warnock, it may well show that ‘Trumpism without Trump’ has an electoral future.
Pennsylvania – call the doctor?
Pennsylvania, another swing state, also features a state-wide double bill.
At the Senate level, Democrat Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman is taking on TV doctor Mehmet Oz for a Republican-held Senate seat. Even before 2022, Oz was well-known as a quack selling bogus alternative remedies, including the use of the drug hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19.
On the campaign trail, Oz’s clear lack of connection to Pennsylvania and ludicrous wealth have proved liabilities, as he has been slammed for a bizarre campaign video in which he misidentifies a local supermarket and for downplaying the extent of his property holdings.
Competing for the governorship are Democratic State Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Republican conspiracy theorist Doug Mastriano. Mastriano has promulgated the notorious ‘QAnon’ conspiracy theory, and took part in the ‘January 6’ insurrection at the US Capitol.
This election will show a lot about the future of US politics. Many voters were energised by the upbeat campaigns of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, while others turned out for the first time to reject Trump’s extremism in 2020.
While Fetterman’s punchy campaign has recaptured much of the 2008 uplifting spirit, the Shapiro/Mastriano contest is more redolent of the ‘battle for the soul of the nation’ spirit of 2020. The comparative results of each campaign may well show which is the more effective long-term strategy.
Nevada – Democratic strongholds slipping?
Nevada was in recent years seen as a Democratic stronghold. The state has stayed blue since 2008, and Democrats hold a hat-trick of the state’s two senators and governor. This has been seen as in large part due to the state getting more diverse, with residents of Hispanic and Latino descent increasing from 20 percent of the overall population in 2000 to 29% in 2020.
However, Democrats have been accused of taking these voters for granted, treating them as a universal bloc to get to the polls, rather than a complex electorate in need of persuading to vote blue.
Nowhere is this clearer than Nevada, one of the few states where Biden won by a narrower share than Hilary Clinton did in 2016, with his vote share among Latino voters decreasing to 61% from Clinton’s 66%.
Not only is Democratic senator Catherine Cortez Masto at risk of losing her seat, but so too are Governor Steve Sisolak and all three of the state’s Democratic House Representatives.
Cortez Masto’s race has attracted the most public attention. Although the first Mexican American to serve in the US Senate, she has failed to attract a high profile to her work. While her opponent, Adam Laxalt, has had a scandal- ridden campaign (Cortez Masto was even endorsed by fourteen members of Laxalt’s own family in a recent campaign video), she has so far failed to impress Nevada voters.
Losses in Nevada may point to more dissatisfaction with Democrats across a wide range of demographic groups.
More races to watch include…
Arizona – where conspiracy theorist TV star Kari Lake is attempting to win back the governor’s mansion for the Republicans.
Alaska – where Sarah Palin is once again on the ballot, having been defeated in a special election earlier in the year. Alaska is currently the first state in the US to use ‘ranked choice’ voting to pick congresspeople, rather than first past the post.
Wisconsin – an opportunity for a Democratic gain in the Senate as former lieutenant governor Mandela Barnes is neck-and-neck with incumbent senator Ron Johnson.