Washington (AFP) – Energetic Republicans are eager to regain power in Congress, working to break the one-party control of Democrats in Washington and put the future of President Joe Biden’s agenda on the line this election day.
With a narrow House of Representatives and an evenly divided Senate, Democrats can easily see their fragile grip on the slip of power as they face a new generation of Republican candidates. Among them are political newcomers to public office, including 2020 election skeptics and deniers and some Donald Trump-inspired extremists. They could bring new power to Capitol Hill with promises to end Biden’s one-day lofty ideas and begin investigations and oversight — even, perhaps, impeachment of Biden.
Tuesday marks the first major national election since the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, and emotions are raw. The violent assault on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband has stunned many, and federal law enforcement is warning of the growing threats across the country. Biden’s party is working to hold on to the most fragile of margins.
All 435 seats in the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate are contested. If the Republican arrivals help the party take control of the House, and possibly the Senate, the outcome will present new challenges to Congress’s ability to govern.
The party that controls the House of Representatives in the midterm elections will be able to choose the Speaker of the House. (CNN, HOUSE TV, CA DMV, POOL)
“I think this will eventually end with a period of government defined by conflict,” said Brendan Buck, a former top Republican speaker aide in the House of Representatives.
The historically divided government has offered the possibility of a bipartisan deal, but Republican candidates are instead campaigning on a platform to stop the Democrats.
Without a unified agenda of their own, Republicans are thrust into crisis and confrontation as they pledge to cut federal spending, refuse to raise the nation’s debt limit and refuse to support Ukraine in its war with Russia. All this points to a possible stalemate in the future.
“They’re going to make it very clear that there’s a new mayor in town,” Buck said.
House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, in line with wresting the speaker’s gavel from Pelosi next year if Democrats lose power, has recruited the GOP’s most racially diverse class of candidate, with more women than ever. But it also has a new cadre of Trump loyalists including election skeptics and deniers, some of whom were around the Capitol on January 6.
Trump endorsed nearly 200 House and Senate Republicans in the final ballot, though they weren’t always the first choice for McCarthy and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell as they worked to bolster their ranks.
In a sign of the country’s toxic political climate, Pelosi canceled most public appearances in the final week of the campaign after an intruder broke into her family’s San Francisco home in the middle of the night, demanding “Where’s Nancy” and bludgeoned the 82-year-old — an old man in the head with a hammer. Authorities said it was a premeditated attack.
“People say to me, ‘What can I do to make you feel better?'” Pelosi told grassroots activists in a video call. “I say: Vote!”
With polls closing Tuesday night on the East Coast, results in some of Congress’ early races could begin to set the pace.
In the battle for the House of Representatives, the high-profile race in Virginia between Democratic Representative Elaine Luria and Republican challenger Jane Keegans, both Navy veterans, offers a sneak peek. The two-term Democrat Luria, who was first elected in 2018 in a backlash against Trump, was elected as part of the committee investigating the Capitol riots on Jan. 6, but is now in danger of defeat.
The Senate’s battlefield focuses on four hotly contested states where slim margins could determine results — in Georgia, Arizona and Nevada, where Democratic incumbents are trying to hold out. In Pennsylvania, the race between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz for an open seat is seen as key to controlling the party.
Another closely watched Senate contest is in New Hampshire, where Trump-style Republican Don Bolduc attempts to oust Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan in a race that could signal the former president’s viability with voters two years after he left office.
Vote counting may extend beyond Election Day in many states, and Georgia in particular may head to a run-off on December 6 if no candidate reaches a majority. Both parties have already filed legal challenges in some of the cases that herald legal battles that may delay final results.
Republicans need a net gain of five seats in the House of Representatives to achieve a 218-seat majority and a one-seat net gain to control the Senate. The 50-to-50 Senate is now in Democratic hands because Vice President Kamala Harris can cast equal votes, in one of the longest stretches of a divided Senate in modern times.
Inflation, abortion, crime, and the future of democracy have been at the forefront of election campaigns as candidates seek to reach voters.
Democrats gained momentum on the abortion issue after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade this summer, and have been warning voters of conservative MAGA, an acronym for Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
But Republicans have focused voters’ attention on issues closer to home — high inflation and crime — while exploiting anxiety about the country’s direction.
Senate Republican leader McConnell has publicly taken the “candidate quality” that would likely cost his party’s victories, as Trump championed his favorite candidates to create a class of untested newcomers.
House Democrats have faced employment problems of their own, a situation exacerbated by the number of retired Democrats as legislators head out, some giving up the gavel on their committees rather than accepting a career in the minority party.
In one dramatic example of the challenging political environment for Democrats, House campaign chairman Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney is fighting for political survival against state Republican Representative Mike Lawler in New York’s Hudson Valley. He would be the first defeated Democratic campaign leader in two decades.
Outside groups have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars, often to support untested candidates, with mixed results.
“I find it almost funny that Republicans and Democrats are talking about what they’re going to do in the new Congress,” said Rory Cooper, a former Republican leadership aide in the House of Representatives. Neither side will get anything done unless Joe Biden has one last bipartisan deal.
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