A lot is riding on Tuesday’s midterm elections, from the future of health care to the fate of Trump’s presidency. But with 35 Senate seats up for grabs, 435 House contests, 36 gubernatorial elections and thousands of state legislative races and a horde of ballot measures as well, there will be a lot to track.
For those eager to get a sense of how the night will shake out, without having to wait till the very last election is called, here are five things to watch.
Are Democrats Poised for a Narrow House Win, a Commanding One, or a Loss?
Most political analysts believe that Democrats are probably going to make it to the requisite 23 seats necessary to give them a majority in the House.
However, there is a decent amount of disagreement as to how many more they could earn above that. There is also no guarantee they win the House either! It will be a long while before those pesky Californians tell us who they voted for.
But, in the meantime, there are races that should give us a clear sign of how the night will go.
Let’s start with Kentucky’s 6th District, where polls close at 6 p.m. ET. Here, Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) is being challenged by Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot who raised an insane $3.65 million in the third quarter of this year.
Kentucky’s 6th, which includes Lexington and Frankfort, has been represented by Barr since 2013 and he’s won handily in his last two elections. The district voted for Trump by about 15 points, which is smaller than his whopping victory statewide by about 30 points.
This is not a race that Democrats necessarily need in order to gain a majority and it was viewed as either a toss-up or a lean GOP contest.
But if McGrath wins here, it could signal a very positive night nationally for Democrats, especially as many candidates have out-raised their opponents in challenging, typically conservative districts. (UPDATE: Barr narrowly won the race, per the Associated Press.)
In the same vein, when polls begin to close in Virginia and Florida an hour later, we’ll get some more indications as to whether Democrats are winning just the easier races they need or pulling off some shockers in more red districts.
How Will the Top of the Ticket Affect Down-Ballot Races?
Republicans acknowledge that they’re almost certainly not going to win the gubernatorial election in Michigan and that they’re not going to come close in Virginia’s Senate election. So why are these two random races with nearly foregone conclusions important to the ultimate results on Tuesday night? Because their results will likely have down-ballot effects for tightly contested congressional races in those states.
Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee and former Minority Leader in the Michigan State Senate, has held a solid lead against Attorney General Bill Schuette. The RealClearPolitics average has her winning by more than 9 points. With that kind of potentially commanding win, Whitmer could also lift up a number of House candidates in difficult races. There are three that will be particularly interesting to watch.
In Michigan’s 11th District, which is bizarrely gerrymandered northwest of Detroit, Democrat Haley Stevens is favored to win the open House race.
Then in Michigan’s 8th Congressional District, where Trump won by seven in 2016, there are clear signs Democrat Elissa Slotkin has been gaining on incumbent Rep. Mike Bishop. If Whitmer really heads to a rout and the party overall is coasting on Tuesday night, look for an upset in Michigan’s 6th Congressional District where Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) has held the seat since 1993.
Now let’s go to Virginia.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) is going to coast to re-election against Corey Stewart, a neo-Confederate loving Trumpist who is trailing by an average of over 18 points. If Kaine juices turnout and has strong residual down-ballot effects, look for Reps. Dave Brat (R-VA) and Scott Taylor (R-VA) to be in possible trouble.
Finally, you may have heard of a guy named Beto O’Rourke. He’s running a closer-than-expected Senate race against incumbent Ted Cruz (R-TX). Cruz has led consistently—it’s Texas, after all—but the early turnout numbers are off the charts. O’Rourke could turn out a lot of enthusiastic voters, which could help tip some really close House races in Texas’ metropolitan areas.
Will Red-State Democratic Senators Cease to Exist?
People like to say that the Senate and House elections are taking place on basically different planets this year.
That’s true in the sense that Democrats are playing defense in 10 states won by President Trump. Democrats in these races are relying on protecting people with pre-existing conditions as a saving grace. But, the president is popular in a lot of the states and he’s riled voters up with immigration fear tactics. So how can we get an early sense of whose message will work?
By 7 p.m. local time, all of the polls will have closed in Indiana, where moderate Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) is in a very close battle to hold onto his seat against Republican Mike Braun. Donnelly has campaigned as a center-right Democrat, invoking the name of Ronald Reagan, castigating members of his own party for wanting to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency and even expressing openness to looking at legislation pertaining to birthright citizenship (something the president mentioned he’d be interested in ending via executive order).
If Donnelly can hold on, there might be some indication that other red-state Democrats will as well. If he can’t, then the Republican party is likely going to be on-track to keep their majority or make even more gains in the Senate.
What Are Young Voters Doing?
You hear it all the time: young people don’t vote, especially in the midterms. But that might not be the case this year.
First of all, overall turnout for everybody is up. A lot. According to the United States Election Project, there have been 36,123,589 ballots cast before Election Day which is about 25 percent higher than 2014. Overall, turnout in some 27 states had exceeded total early votes in the 2014 midterm elections by November 2. In terms of young voters, in Texas, the turnout has increased almost fivefold compared to 2014 and the same goes for Nevada. In Georgia, it’s about four times higher and Arizona about three times higher. Those states all have closely contested Senate and/or gubernatorial elections.
Who will these young people vote for? There are indications that many of them favor Democrats. According to a recent Harvard University survey, 40 percent of voters ages 18-29 said that they will definitely vote with a preference for Democrats to control Congress by a margin of 66-32 percent.
Polls close in Georgia at 7 p.m. EST, so early in the night we may get some indications as to whether these young and/or new voters are actually turning out and if they’re helping Democrats.
Is Trump’s Political Success Transferable?
The president, as evidenced by his recent blitz to red states with Senate races, can definitely make an impact where voters still favor his administration. But this year, Trump made specific interventions and endorsements in key gubernatorial contests, in some cases elevating candidates in contested primaries, who now face tough general election odds.
Take Ron DeSantis for example: a former Republican member of Congress, who tied himself to the president and appeared regularly on Fox News in order to lift himself in a primary against the more established and moderate Adam Putnam. Since the primary, he has trailed in most public polling against Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum. DeSantis had an early series of stumbles and now is not favored to win what is going to be a close election.
Similarly, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp romped over his opponent Casey Cagle in a runoff following a supportive tweet from the president. Now he is in a neck-and-neck contest with former Georgia House minority leader Stacey Abrams, in a race that could very well go to another runoff after Tuesday. Florida’s polls close by 8 p.m. local time.
With the caveat that every state is different, that result should give us an indication of whether or not Trump’s touch is, indeed, gold. And it could give us some read on how other candidates who’ve aligned themselves closely with the president will do; chief among them is Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach.