The pivotal midterm election drew voters to the polls nationwide on Tuesday to decide which party should run the House and Senate for the rest of President Trump’s hitherto chaotic and divisive first term.
As key races remained tight around the country, Democrats were upbeat about their chance of winning the House after campaigns that emphasized kitchen-table issues and sought to harness opposition to Trump among suburban women and college graduates.
Republicans, who were cautiously optimistic about keeping their majority in the Senate, told voters that Democrats would block Trump’s agenda while allowing undocumented immigrants and liberal “mobs” to overtake their communities.
As the first national election since Trump’s presidential upset in 2016, the midterms gave Democrats an opportunity to capitalize on his low, 40-percent approval rating, a restive national mood and frustration with one-party leadership in Washington under the GOP. Former president Barack Obama and other prominent Democrats joined candidates on the campaign trail.
At stake Tuesday was control of Congress, 36 governorships and hundreds of state positions.
To win congressional majorities, Democrats would need a net gain of 23 seats in the House and two seats in the Senate, the latter posing a challenge in light of the 10 Senate seats Democrats are defending in states Trump won in 2016.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was upbeat on Tuesday about Democrats’ chance of winning the House. “Yes, I am,” she said when asked by reporters at a briefing if she was 100 percent sure that it will happen. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee later said its volunteers had knocked on 26 million doors and made 30 million calls.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) acknowledged this week that, while he believes the GOP will keep its House majority, the president’s party typically loses seats in his first midterm election.
Trump spent the final weeks of the campaign telling supporters that Democratic victories would threaten their safety and stability.
“They want America to be a giant sanctuary city for drug dealers, predators and blood thirsty MS-13 killers,” he said at a rally in Cleveland on Monday.
“There’s only one way to end this lawless assault on our dignity, our sovereignty, and on our borders, and that’s by voting Republican tomorrow,” he said.
In the past few weeks, Trump has proposed revoking birthright citizenship, repeatedly called a migrant caravan headed for the United States from Mexico as an “invasion,” sent more than 7,000 troops to the border to block it from entering the country and released a campaign ad that major television networks deemed too racist to air.
This hard-line approach to immigration politics in the final stage of the campaign defied conventional wisdom among establishment Republicans, who wished Trump would focus on the good economy and the party’s tax cuts.
Trump had no public events scheduled for Tuesday and spent part of the morning on Twitter promoting GOP candidates and criticizing Democrats. He campaigned on Monday in Ohio, Indiana and Missouri, states he won in 2016 where Republicans are hoping to flip Democratic Senate seats.
After rallying for Republican attorney general Josh Hawley on Monday in Cape Girardeau, Mo., Trump urged his Twitter followers in the state to turn out and help beat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Hawley “will be a tireless champion for YOU. He is great on jobs, great on tax cuts, and tough on crime. He shares your values, and he will always support our Military, Vets and Police! Get out tomorrow and VOTE for Josh!!” Trump tweeted early Tuesday.
By noon, polls were open in every state, including Hawaii and Alaska. Results will not be available until the evening, after the polls have closed.
In Snellville, a rural town in northern Georgia, people said that the line to vote at Annistown Elementary School was hours long because of problems with voting machines.
Takeya Sneeze, a 35-year-old African American woman, said poll workers were “pumping provisional ballots like crack dealers in the ‘80s.” She described herself as a voter advocate but declined to give her party affiliation.
“This was voter suppression at its finest,” she said.
Political observers had a close eye on Georgia, where Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams was running to become the country’s first black female governor, and Republican Rep. Karen Handel’s race was expected to serve as a bellwether for the direction of the House.
In Minneapolis, roughly 90 people had lined up to vote in the hip North Loop neighborhood as polling places opened at 7 a.m.
“I don’t like the direction this country is going in as far as the White House,” said Shannon Whiton, a 43-year-old engineer who identified herself as a Democrat. She said she wants her vote to support more political unity.
By 7:30 a.m. in San Antonio, only a few people had arrived to vote at a middle school on the city’s overwhelmingly Mexican American south side.
“It’s been a trickle so far, but there was very heavy early voting,” said Tony Villanueva, 52, who stood at the parking lot entrance holding signs supporting a Democratic candidate for state legislature.
Early voting tallies suggested wide interest in the election, the most expensive midterm in history. With more than 35 million votes cast before Tuesday, the total was up 66 percent over the 2014 midterm election. But it was impossible to tell from the numbers which party had the edge.
The DCCC said that at least 8.4 million early votes were cast because of its efforts in high priority swing districts, an increase of 113 percent over 2014.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday showed that 50 percent of registered voters prefer Democratic House candidates, compared with 43 percent for Republicans.
Obama, in recent days, had framed the campaign as a fight for America’s soul.
“Today is the day,” he wrote Tuesday on Twitter. “Today, it’s your turn to raise your voice to change the course of this country for the better.”
In an op-ed, Vice President Pence said the election was a choice between “results or resistance.”
“President Trump and I urge the American people to re-elect Republican majorities to Congress to deliver more results. Imagine where we’ll be two years from now,” Pence wrote Tuesday in USA Today.
Dudley Althaus in San Antonio; Robert Moore in El Paso; Tory Van Oot in Minneapolis; Sonam Vashi in Gwinnett County, Ga.; and Paul Kane and Matt Viser in Washington contributed to this report.