US Republicans eye Senate control in midterm vote
WASHINGTON DC, USA – Americans voted Tuesday, November 4, in key midterm elections expected to hand control of the Senate to Republicans, an outcome that would dash Barack Obama's hopes for a productive final two years at the White House.
Many key races could go down to the wire, but polls suggest Republicans are on course to win the 6 Senate seats they would need to gain control of both chambers of Congress for the first time since 2006.
Democrats – who were working feverishly to draw voters to the polls in a last-gasp effort to stave off disaster – could lose Senate seats in as many as 10 states.
The party of an incumbent president historically fares badly in elections in the middle of his second term.
Every president since Ronald Reagan has left office with the opposition party controlling Congress, and Obama is likely to be no different.
Many Republicans have essentially based their campaigns on attacks against the president and his policies like his troubled health care reform.
Although the economy has improved gradually since the 2008 recession, the national mood is far from buoyant.
Economic gains have not translated into support in swing states with Democratic Senate incumbents such as Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado and Louisiana – all states Republicans could win if they have a good night.
Much media attention has focused on recent crises like Ebola and advances by Islamic State jihadists in Syria and Iraq, but polls suggest voters' minds were made up months ago.
"We've given the other side six years to have their way with things and it doesn't seem to be working out too good, so I think it's time to switch back to somebody else," construction worker Charles Kaster told AFP outside a polling station in Berryville, Virginia.
'Worst' map for Democrats
Obama – all too aware of how his low approval rating makes him a lightning rod for Republicans – acknowledged that this election cycle's Senate map has made it the toughest uphill battle for his party in half a century.
"This is probably the worst possible group of states for Democrats since Dwight Eisenhower," Obama told WNPR, a radio station in safely Democratic Connecticut.
Republicans have successfully capitalized on Obama's unpopularity to convince voters of a need for new leadership on Capitol Hill.
Democrats hold a 55 to 45 seat advantage in the Senate, where 36 seats are up for grabs. Republicans control the House of Representatives.
Republicans, whom several top forecasters give a 75% or better chance of winning the Senate, have expressed confidence in the home stretch.
"Victory is in the air, we're going to bring it home tomorrow night!" an ebullient Senator Mitch McConnell, the top Republican and potential new Senate majority leader, told a crowd in Kentucky on Monday, November 3.
Republicans have hammered home the message that a vote for Democrats is a vote for a tarnished Obama and his policies.
McConnell has said Republicans would be "responsible" Senate leaders, potentially cooperating with Obama on issues like tax reform.
But the party will seek to breathe life into their many stalled jobs bills, gain approval of the delayed Keystone XL pipeline, roll back some carbon emission regulations, and tweak Obamacare.
Experts predict the Republicans will gain seats in the House, where all 435 seats are in play.
Voters will also elect dozens of state governors and hundreds of local legislators, and decide on a variety of ballot initiatives including marijuana legalization.
A muddled picture?
However successful the Republicans are, a complete picture may not emerge Tuesday.
There are strong prospects for runoffs in Louisiana and Georgia, where rules require a second round if winners do not earn more than 50% of the vote.
Add to that a probable days-long ballot count in remote Alaska, where there is an unpredictable and tight race.
Louisiana's runoff would be on December 6, but a Georgia runoff would be on January 6, which means senators may not know who controls the chamber when Congress opens January 3.
Complicating matters, Kansas independent Greg Orman is running neck-and-neck with veteran Republican Senator Pat Roberts.
Should Orman win, he would have to choose which party he caucuses with, and he was giving no hints Tuesday.
"I'm not going there to represent the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. I'm going there to represent Kansas," Orman told CNN.
Democrats were meanwhile counting on their intense ground game – perfected during Obama's presidential runs – to get supporters to the polls until the very last minute.
"Our get-out-the-vote teams will be going full-throttle until then," embattled Alaska Senator Mark Begich wrote in a note to donors. – Rappler.com