Election 2022: Turbulent campaign season is coming to an end

WASHINGTON (AP) — A tumultuous election season That once again tugged at America’s burning political divisions and raised questions about its commitment to a democratic future ends Tuesday as voters cast their ballots in Joe Biden’s first national election presidency.

Democrats braced themselves for disappointing results, fearing that their grip on the US House of Representatives is waning and that their grip on the US Senate – once considered safer – has eased. The party’s incumbent governors in places like Wisconsin, Michigan and Nevada are also eyeing serious Republican challengers.

Returning to the White House Monday night after his final campaign rally, Biden said he thinks Democrats would keep the Senate but acknowledged “the House is tougher.”

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The GOP was optimistic about its prospects, betting that messages focused on the economy, gas prices and crime will resonate with voters at a time of rising inflation and increasing violence. Ultimately, they are confident the outrage stems from the Supreme Court’s decision to abolish a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion has faded and that the midterms have become a more traditional assessment of the President’s performance.

“It’s going to be a referendum on the incompetence of this administration,” Republican Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, who is leading the GOP effort to retake the House of Representatives, said of the election.

With polling stations open across most of the country, no major problems with early voting were reported, although there were hiccups typical of most election days. Tabulators didn’t work in one New Jersey county — hand counting may have been required instead — and some Pennsylvania polling stations were delayed in opening because workers were late.

In Philadelphia, where Democrats count on strong turnouts for key races, people complained that they were turned away when they showed up in person to try to fix problems with their previously cast absentee ballots. But officials said there was still time Tuesday to reconcile those issues.

Some Arizona voters grew angry and suspicious in the Phoenix suburb of Anthem when they were told one of the two tabs at a polling station was not working and they would have to wait up to 30 minutes if they wanted to cast their ballot directly into the one working machine .

The election results could have profound implications for the final two years of Biden’s presidency. Republican control from even one chamber of Congress would leave Biden vulnerable to a series of investigations into his family and administration while defending his political gains, including a sweeping infrastructure measure along with a big health and welfare spending package. An emboldened GOP could also make it harder to raise the debt ceiling and limit additional support for Ukraine in the war with Russia.

When Republicans have a particularly strong election, they win Democratic congressional seats In places like New Hampshire or Washington state, pressure could build on Biden to opt out of re-election in 2024. Former President Donald Trumpmeanwhile, could be looking to capitalize on GOP gains by officially filing another bid for the White House during a “very big announcement” in Florida next week.

The midterms come at fickle timing for the US, which emerged from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic this year only to face sharp economic challenges. The Supreme Court abolished the constitutional right to abortion and removed protections that had existed for five decades.

And in the first national elections since the January 6 uprising, the democratic future of the nation is in question. Some who participated in or were close to the deadly attack are poised to win elected office Tuesday, including seats in the House of Representatives. A number of GOP candidates for secretary of state, including those running in Arizona, Nevada and Michigan, have declined to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election. If they win on Tuesday, they would lead future elections in states that are often pivotal in presidential elections.

Democrats acknowledge headwinds. With few exceptions, the president’s party loses seats in its first half. And Biden’s delayed approval left many contestants reluctant to compete with him.

According to an October poll, only 43% of US adults said they agree with the way Biden is handling his job as president from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In the same poll, only 25% said the country was on the right track.

Still, Biden’s allies have expressed hope voters will reject Republicans who have contributed to an extreme political environment.

“I think what we’re seeing now is that a party has a moral compass,” said Cedric Richmond, who was a senior Biden White House adviser and now works on the Democratic National Committee. “And one party wants to seize power.”

That’s a message appealing to Kevin Tolbert, a 49-year-old labor law practitioner who lives in Southfield, Michigan. He plans to support Democratic candidates amid concerns about the future of democracy.

“It’s something that needs to be protected and we protect that by voting and being out there and supporting our country,” Tolbert said. “It is a fragile space that we find ourselves in. I think it’s really important that we protect him because we could end up like some of the things we’ve seen in the past – dictators and stuff. We do not need that.”

But in Maryland, where Democrats have one of their best chances of flipping the seat of a Republican-held governor, Shawn Poulson said there were “too many questions, not enough investigation” into the results of the 2020 election.

“It shouldn’t be negative or illegal in any way to talk about what you’re going to do to improve safety,” said Poulson, a 45-year-old Kent County Republican Central Committee chairman.

Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general said there was no credible evidence the 2020 election was rigged. His fraud allegations have also been firmly dismissed by courts, including Trump-appointed judges.

Thirty-four Senate seats are up for grabs, with cliffhangers in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin and Arizona potentially deciding which party controls a chamber currently split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris being the deciding vote. Democrats are hoping for surprises in the Ohio and North Carolina Senate elections, while the GOP believes it can oust a Democratic incumbent in Nevada and possibly New Hampshire.

Thirty-six states are electing governors, with Democrats particularly focused on retaining control of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. All three of the presidency’s critical battlegrounds have Republican-controlled legislatures and GOP gubernatorial candidates who have championed Trump’s 2020 election lies.

Republican victories in the gubernatorial election could result in states adopting stricter electoral laws and ultimately refusing to block efforts to delegitimize the 2024 presidential election should Trump or another Republican candidate lose them.

Amid predictions of a Republican resurgence, Democrats are hoping abortion can strengthen their base while wooing independents and voters angry at the reversal of the Roe v Wade ruling.

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“People are realizing that fundamental freedom has been taken away,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which has teamed with other Democratic advocacy groups to spend $150 million to recruit “rare” voters for the midterms to mobilize.

“You see this is an economic issue, a health issue, a liberty issue,” added McGill Johnson. “And they’re angry.”

Still, Biden faced the possibility of presiding over a divided Washington on Monday. Returning from an event with Wes Moore, the Democratic nominee for Maryland governor, Biden was asked what his new reality would be like if Congress were controlled by Republicans.

His answer: “More difficult.”

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Associated Press writers Corey Williams in Southfield, Michigan, Gary Fields in Chestertown, Maryland, Anita Snow in Phoenix, and Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections. And learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections.

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This story has been corrected to show that part of the Kent County committee’s name is Republican, not Republican, and the committee chairman’s last name is Poulson, not Paulson.

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