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US midterm elections: Will Republicans clip Biden's wings?

There is a historical pattern of anti-incumbency winning, ie the President's party losing, in midterms. On top of that Biden's approval rating has also plummeted and the earlier momentum built up over abortion and gun violence has given way to issues like inflation, spiraling crime rates and illegal immigration. Economy takes precedence over social issues. However, the contests are nip and tuck, there is uncertainty who wins in the toss-up.

A media analysis sees Republicans winning the House with the Democrats losing 20 seats. In the Senate, a majority could give them (Republicans) the power to block Biden's nomination of judges, any new abortion law and gun controls etc., checkmating the Prez. They would even go for Biden's impeachment (in retaliation)! But that kind of majority may be elusive. Because the Republicans are a disunited political party right now.

by RM Nair

WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov 4: Early voting in the US midterm elections of November 8 is going on under the shadow of unprecedented inflation. President Joe Biden cast his vote in his hometown of Wilmington in the eastern State of Delaware last Saturday.

All the 435 seats in the House of Representatives are on the ballot, as also 35 (from 34 States) of the 100 Senate seats. Every time, that is every two years, a third of the seats of the upper chamber goes to the polls. A Senator serves a six-year term. On the other hand, every two years there is election to the full House. Five of the six non-voting members of territories are also elected this time.

Thirty six States and three territories will also have elections alongwith the midterms for Governors. There are also State legislatures, school boards and other local offices that will be on ballots. Notable Guv contests are Democrat Stacey Abrams against Republican Guv. Brian Kemp in Georgia, Republican Tudor Dixon vs Democratic Guv. Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan and Democrat Beto O'Rourke opposing Republican Guv. Greg Abbott in Texas.

Midterms take place halfway through the President's term of four years. Biden was elected in 2020, and so the midterms happen this year.

At present Democrats have control of both the chambers of Congress, apart from the presidency. Losing either will erode Biden's powers in the remaining two years. In the Senate both are 50:50 (Democrats 48 with two Independents supporting) but the Vice-President's tie-breaking vote can tilt the balance in favour of the Democrats. In the House too the balance is fragile: 220-212. There are two Democrats and one Republican vacancies. The majority mark is 218 in the House currently led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Complex numbers & Senate toss-up

In the present 50:50 Senate, of the 65 Senate seats not up for grabs, 36 belong to the Democrats and 29 to the Republicans. That is, of the 35 seats on the ballot, 14 are currently held by the Democrats and 21 by Rebublicans. Therefore, in the midterm the Republicans must win more than 21 of the 35 going to the polls. Six Republican Senators and one Democratic Senator are not seeking reelection. That is 15 Republicans and 13 Democrats are running for reelection. So most of the Republican new faces will have an uphill task. Small advantage for Dems!

Post-election scenario

There is a pattern that the ruling party takes the beating in the midterms - history charts pointing to an anti-incumbency push. It will not be surprising if the Republicans wrest control of Congress, especially as there is seemingly widespread voter discontent, giving tough time to the Democrats. Besides, Biden has currently a low approval rating. However, the contests are very close and there is uncertainty who wins.

If winning either chamber, Republicans will throw a spanner in Biden's works. Like any abortion Bill to negate the Supreme Court ruling of last summer will fail. They would even be able to impeach Biden. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has already declared the intention of some Republicans to go for Biden's impeachment in retaliation. They can challenge the search of former President Donald Trump’s private club and residence in Florida. They can also block Biden's nominations for appointments of federal judges countrywide with a Senate majority. During Trump's time they had occasion to make three nominations to the apex court.

Electoral forecast

The main issues are Inflation, crime, illegal immigration, voting rights, threat to democracy, abortion, gun violence, Ukraine, among others.

FiveThirtyEight forecast says the Republicans will win the House and the Democrats the Senate. A Reuters analysis sees a Republican wave and loss of 20 seats of the Democrats in the House.

Most pollsters say the Republicans have taken the lead recently while a month ago the Democrats seemed to have had the advantage especially after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and over issues of gun violence and democracy. Falling gas prices and Biden’s surprising legislative successes also contributed to that wave in favour of the Dems. But today, pollsters say the Republicans have turned the tables on their rivals. They have inflation and spike in crimes to beat the Dems with. Almost certainly they will take the House.

Moreover, the President’s party always loses in midterm elections. Biden's approval rating too is down to 40 % now.

Dems are on the defensive in New York, Rhode Island, California and Oregon. In the key Senate races, like Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada and Arizona Dem is neck and neck with the Republicans who have weak candidates in the running. The Senate races in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio are toss-up.

Michigan and Kansas may favour the Dems as abortion stays an issue there.

However, economy has come to take precedence over social issues like abortion.

Many have voted already. Till Thursday, 32 million had voted early. However, the turnout in midterms is usually low.

Biden's claims

After casting his vote Biden said midterms are not a "referendum" and that he is "feeling good".

But Biden claims the economy is doing better on his watch. “The economy is up, price inflation is down, real incomes are up, gas prices are down and need to come down further,” Mr. Biden told a rally of supporters in New Mexico Thursday. Biden also sought credit on his administration’s student debt relief programme. Kamala Harris boasted of Biden administration policies over child tax credit, the infrastructure bill and appointing the first Black woman to the Supreme Court.

Election laws

Election laws change from State to State vis-a-vis voter registration, absentee ballots, early voting, in-person voting etc.

What is absentee in-person voting? “Absentee in-person” refers to the process of voting in-person any time during the 45 days before Election Day. It is commonly referred to as “early voting.”

Where can one vote early? One can vote early at one's local general registrar’s office. There may also be additional locations where one can vote early. No application is required to vote early. The voter will simply go and vote with an ID.

Absentee voting: Citizens who are registered to vote may apply for an absentee ballot and can vote by post. Provisions change from State to State.

Tracking: One can track absentee mail ballot both ways.

Total all-party spending for the midterm is calculated at $16.7 billion, helped by billionaires. It was $14 b in 2018.

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