7 Nov 2018

Mid-term election results: A tale of two chambers

6:25 pm on 7 November 2018

The 2018 US mid-term election saw a record turnout and some surprising results. Here are some key takeaways and the most consequential results.

People watch the midterm election primary results on a screen at the Rockefeller Center in New York.

People watch the midterm election primary results on a screen at the Rockefeller Center in New York. Photo: AFP

It's a tale of two chambers.

The door to a Democratic-controlled Senate slammed shut with little suspense. Donald Trump will continue to have a Republican majority ready and willing to confirm his executive and judicial appointments. The only question now is the size of his party's advantage.

In the House of Representatives, however, the story is different. The path of least resistance for Democrats to a majority in that chamber led through educated suburban districts that had long voted for Republicans, but contained voters that may have been uneasy with Donald Trump's policies and rhetoric.

One by one, those districts were carried by the Democrats. In Virginia, Illinois and Florida, moderate Republicans lost. In places like Colorado, New Jersey, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Texas and New Jersey Democrats are poised for victory.

It won't feel like the tsunami many on the left were hoping for, but a steadily rising tide is still lifting Democrats to enough victories to give them control of the House for the first time in eight years. With that comes the ability to stop the Trump legislative agenda in its tracks and puts some teeth in congressional oversight of his administration.

The partisan trenches in America are getting deeper. And after two years in the darkness, Democrats have a means to fight back.

Senate slips away from Democrats

Democrats always faced an uphill fight in the Senate, with 10 incumbents running in states that Donald Trump carried in 2016. Even though the president won Indiana by 16 percent, Joe Donnelly was supposed to be one of the endangered candidates with a better chance to hold on.

Instead, he was the first to fall.

Mr Trump barnstormed the critical Senate battleground states in the final days of the campaign, effectively making the contests as much about him as they were about the individual candidates. It appears to have been an effective strategy in places like Indiana and Tennessee, an open Republican-held seat where Republican Marsha Blackburn staved off what could have been a serious challenge by former Governor Bredesen.

In West Virginia, however, Democrat Joe Manchin continued to defy political gravity by holding onto his seat. And in other previously Trump-friendly 2016 states - Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania - Democratic incumbents breezed to victory.

In all it makes for a muddled picture that as much reflects regional identities, demographic differences and specific candidate strengths as it does Mr Trump's political power.

It also, however, nearly closes the door on Democratic hopes to retake the Senate. In a best-case scenario, a political tailwind would push all the at-risk candidates across the finish line. Instead, some survive while others falter.

Signs of a wave?

If a Democratic wave election was coming, Virginia congresswoman Barbara Comstock was always going to be the one the first to disappear beneath the deluge. Her defeat, which was announced relatively quickly, wasn't a big surprise. But it's also one of the first data points to suggest that Democrats are doing what they have to do to take back the House of Representatives.

The southern Miami district that had long been the home of Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was expected to be another easy pickup for the Democrats - and it was.

Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump there by 20 percent in 2016. And though the Republican, charismatic young Spanish-language television host Maria Salazar, had run a strong race against former Clinton administration health secretary Donna Shalala, even the best candidates can't hold back the tide in districts with such a decided partisan tilt.

With polls closing all along the east coast, the biggest races are still too close to call. Democrats in the Senate who appeared poised to win easy re-elections - like Tim Kaine in Virginia and Sherrod Brown of Ohio - did so. Tighter Senate matchups, in Florida and Indiana, appear headed to go down to the wire.

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In fact, in that Indiana race - where Joe Donnelly is seeking re-election - Democrats may be starting to sweat. Donald Trump won the state by 16 percent in 2016, and if the incumbent falls here, it could be bad news for the four other Democrats trying to stay afloat in states the president won by double-digits.

What we learned from the exit poll

The 2018 US mid-term election has already set records for early voting, and turnout appears to be up across the board. But what is on the minds of Americans as they head to the ballot box? A CBS News exit poll offers some clues.

Donald Trump is a factor for 65 percent of American voters - and of those, 39 percent said they oppose him versus only 26 percent in support. The president has been ever-present in news coverage, holding numerous impromptu press sessions and formal interviews and criss-crossing the US, sometimes appearing at multiple rallies in the same day.

Unlike past presidents facing potentially unfavourable mid-term elections, Mr Trump hasn't shied from the spotlight - and it looks like he's succeeded in making this vote about him.

Overall, Donald Trump's approval rating among the electorate sits at 44 percent - which is nearly spot-on the current RealClear Politics poll average of 43.6 percent. If history is any guide, the party of a president with that level of support is in for a rough time in a mid-term election.

Perhaps the most striking finding of the poll is that 43 percent of American mid-term voters named healthcare as the top issue for them. Democrats have campaigned heavily on the topic - attacking Republican attempts last year to repeal Obamacare health insurance reforms. If that's what voters are thinking about, it's an indication that Democrats accurately had the pulse of the electorate.

Immigration, which has been Mr Trump's main focus in the final days of campaigning, is a distant second at 23 percent. The economy, which traditionally is at the top of voters' minds, is a close third with 21 percent.

In what could be another bit of good news for Democrats, 80% of voters in the exit poll said it was important to elect women this year. Nearly 200 Democratic women are running for Congress this year, compared to just 59 Republicans.

Other exit polls show similar numbers. And while the findings are far from definitive, they do suggest that the national playing field for Democrats this year is tilted in their favour.

- By Anthony Zurcher, BBC

"I Voted" stickers rest on the top of a ballot box inside a polling location in Modesto, California.

"I Voted" stickers rest on the top of a ballot box inside a polling location in Modesto, California. Photo: AFP

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