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Wednesday, 5 November 2014

News just in: The voting begins

News just in

Americans vote on Tuesday (Wednesday NZT) in a midterm election that has been cast as a referendum on President Barack Obama and that is all but certain to give opposition Republicans control of both chambers of Congress.

The question is whether Washington's legislative paralysis would deepen if the president's Democrats lose their majority in the Senate.

Polling across the board gives Republicans well over a 50 percent chance of turning out at least six incumbent Senate Democrats or capturing seats left vacant by Democrat retirements. Thirty-six Senate seats are on the ballot.

There was little suspense about the races for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, beyond the size of the new Republican majority. A gain of 13 seats would give Republicans their largest representation since it stood at 246 in 1946. Democrats concentrated on protecting their incumbents.

Democrats weighed down by Obama's low approval ratings kept their distance from him and looked to a costly get-out-the-vote operation in the most competitive Senate races to save their seats and their majority. They were working furiously to reach out to minority, women and young voters who tend to sit-out elections when the presidency is not at stake. Those voters tend to back Democrats.

About 10 Senate races have drawn most of the attention, but Democrats were at a disadvantage because these were either in Republican-leaning states carried by Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election or evenly divided swing states. In these competitive states, astronomical spending and uncountable attack ads have dominated campaigning - with few ideas offered on how best to govern the nation. Serious discussions about trade and energy policies, deficit spending, climate change, immigration and other knotty issues rarely emerged.

"The president's policies have just flat-out failed," House Speaker John Boehner said on Monday, campaigning for a 13th term in Congress and hoping for two more years as the top House leader. He and other Republicans vowed to change Obama's policies, but have offered little in the way of specifics.

The president's party traditionally loses seats in a midterm election. Obama and the Democrats face an electorate that remains deeply concerned about the direction of the economy, though it has shown signs of improvement. Terrorism has re-emerged as a top issue, as well as the threat posed by the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and polls showed Republicans have an edge on handling both issues. And Obama's administration has faced questions about its competency, from Secret Service scandals to the bungled roll-out of the president's health care program, known as Obamacare.

Democrats didn't so much defend the president as insist they were independent of him.

Republicans were all but assured of winning Democratic-held seats in West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota, and Democrats held out little hope that Senator Mark Pryor could win re-election in Arkansas.


Polls suggested that races for Democratic-held seats in Iowa, Colorado and Alaska have tilted for Republicans -although Democrats said their get-out-the-vote operation made any predictions unreliable.

Democratic incumbents also faced competitive races in New Hampshire and in North Carolina where Democrats said they had an edge - and Republicans disagreed.

Strategists in both parties said candidates in Louisiana and Georgia were unlikely to reach the 50-percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. The wildest wild card of all was in Kansas, where polls said 78-year-old Republican Senator Pat Roberts was in a close race with independent Greg Orman in a state that has only sent Republicans to the Senate for nearly 80 years.

Democrats had hoped to pick up the Kentucky seat held by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, but recent polls showed him building a lead over Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. McConnell would be in line to control the Senate's agenda as majority leader if Republicans win on Tuesday.

That left Georgia as the Democrats' best opportunity to pick up a Republican seat, with Democrat Michelle Nunn, whose father served four six-year terms in the Senate, facing Republican businessman David Perdue.

Also on the ballot were governor's races in 36 states, and an unusual number of incumbents from both parties appeared to be struggling.

Among the most closely watched is Wisconsin, where Republican Governor Scott Walker is in a bitter and tight race with Democratic challenger Mary Burke. Walker, a favourite of conservative Republicans, is often mentioned as a potential candidate in 2016, but his White House chances likely would evaporate if he loses.

In another hard-fought race, Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott is facing a tough challenge from Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor-turned-Democrat.

Early voting topped 18 million ballots in 32 states, and both parties seized on the number as evidence of their own strength.

That was news just in
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