10 races to watch on election night: Who will control Congress?

    People will be voting in booths like this one across the country on Nov. 6, 2018. (Lindsay D’Addato / WyoFile / CC BY 2.0 / MGN)

    Voters lined up at polling places across the country Tuesday, sometimes waiting hours in line for the opportunity to cast their ballot in elections that will decide which party controls the House and Senate for the next two years.

    After nearly two years under a Republican president and Republican majorities in both chambers, Democrats have urged Americans to hand them the reins of power to hold President Donald Trump's administration accountable. With the unemployment rate at the lowest level in 49 years and economic growth surging, Republicans say Democrats would halt the nation's economic progress if they are elected.

    "If Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi gain the majority, they will try to raise your taxes, restore job-killing regulations, shut down your coal mines and timber mills, take away your healthcare, impose socialism, and ERASE your borders," President Trump claimed in a tweet he reposted Tuesday morning, along with endorsements of more than a dozen GOP House, Senate, and gubernatorial candidates.

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    As results pour in from 35 Senate races and 435 House contests on Tuesday night, below are 10 match-ups that could prove decisive in the battle for control of Congress.

    If the midterms are a referendum on President Trump, these five Senate races—four of which are in states Trump visited in his final stretch of campaign rallies—should illustrate how far his political influence, both positive and negative, extends. Democrats are clinging to a slim hope of flipping two seats to seize power and Republicans are eyeing nearly a half-dozen opportunities to expand their majority.

    On the House side, dozens of races across the country are seen as toss-ups, but the five races here will help gauge whether Democrats have amassed a blue wave big enough to take control of the chamber or if all their enthusiasm and energy amounts to nothing in the end. The party must net at least 23 seats to reclaim control of the House.

    President Trump said Monday he has seen "great electricity" as he campaigned for Republicans in recent weeks, and he seemed unconcerned by the prospect of losing the House of Representatives.

    “You have to fight and you have to do what you do, and maybe it comes together and maybe it doesn’t You have to acclimate. That’s what I do. I acclimate,” he told Sinclair Broadcast Group's Scott Thuman.

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    A CNN/SSRS poll conducted Nov. 1-3 gives Democrats cause for optimism, with a 13-point edge over Republicans on a generic ballot. The poll found Democrats leading substantially among women, independents, and black and Latino voters, while men slightly favor Republicans. President Trump’s approval rating in the poll slipped to 39 percent, down two points from last month.

    Other recent national polls give Democrats a smaller lead of five to seven points, and some have Trump’s approval rating up in the mid-40s. When it comes what will happen in specific states and districts Tuesday, though, neither number is especially predictive.

    “We’ll see a result and it’ll be either a great result, a medium result or not such a great result, but I think we’re going to have really good numbers,” Trump said.

    This is where things stood before voters headed to the polls in some of the nation's most closely-watched congressional races:


    Florida: Bill Nelson (D) v. Rick Scott (R)

    Why it matters: Florida Gov. Scott, a close ally of President Trump, has poured more than $60 million of his own money into his effort to unseat three-term incumbent Nelson. The two candidates have drawn sharp contrasts on major issues, including the environment, taxes, and health care, in the most expensive Senate race in the state’s history.

    The outcome of the Senate contest is also seen as intertwined with the high-stakes gubernatorial contest between former Rep. Ron DeSantis and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum to succeed Scott. A win for Nelson indicates Democratic momentum that could also carry Gillum to victory, but if Nelson loses, the likelihood drops that enough progressive voters turned out to deliver the governorship for Gillum.

    What the polls say: A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday gave Nelson a 7-point lead, while two other new polls show him with a smaller advantage. A new HarrisX poll put Scott ahead by 1.7 points. FiveThirtyEight currently gives Nelson about a 70 percent chance of victory.

    Indiana: Joe Donnelly (D) v. Mike Braun (R)

    Why it matters: Both parties have expended a lot of political firepower in Indiana this fall. Trump made two stops in the state in the final five days of the campaign, and Vice President Mike Pence, the state’s popular former governor, has traveled there as well to support Braun. On Saturday, former President Barack Obama stumped for Donnelly and other Democrats in Gary, Indiana.

    Indiana is one of several states that Trump won in 2016 where Democrats are defending seats this year. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by nearly 20 percentage points there, so Donnelly has played up his support for Trump on some issues and distanced himself from the left wing of his own party, but he did oppose Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination.

    What the polls say: Reliable polling on Indiana is a bit scarcer. The latest HarrisX poll shows the race nearly tied, while Fox News and NBC News/Marist polls conducted in late October had Donnelly up by 7 and 2 points, respectively. The RealClearPolitics average shows Donnelly leading by 0.4 percent with many voters still undecided.

    Missouri: Claire McCaskill (D) v. Josh Hawley (R)

    Why it matters: President Trump is wrapping up his 11-rally spree in Cape Girardeau Monday night with Hawley and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh. The Trump campaign also listed Fox News host Sean Hannity as a “special guest,” but Hannity insisted, while he will interview Trump before the event, he will not actually participate in the rally.

    The fight between two-term incumbent McCaskill, and Missouri Attorney General Hawley has been heated at times, with her stressing her record of bipartisanship and him blasting her as out-of-step with a conservative state. A McCaskill loss would spell danger for Democrats relatively early in the night Tuesday.

    What the polls say: Several recent polls show Hawley slightly ahead, including a Trafalgar Group poll that puts him up by 4 points and an Emerson survey that gives him a 3-point lead. However, an NBC News/Marist poll released Monday has McCaskill up by 3 points among likely voters.

    Montana: Jon Tester (D) v. Matt Rosendale (R)

    Why it matters: Stung by Sen. Tester’s aggressive opposition to his nomination of White House doctor Ronnie Jackson to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, President Trump has been gunning for the incumbent Democrat since spring. Tester circulated several unverified allegations of misconduct by Jackson, and the doctor eventually withdrew from consideration.

    “He tried to destroy him, and I’ve never forgotten it,” Trump told a crowd in Belgrade Saturday.

    Rosendale has also attracted visits from Donald Trump Jr., Vice President Pence, and several top GOP senators. It is unclear whether any of that will be enough to wrestle the Senate seat away from Tester, a former farmer who maintains he has a better grasp on the challenges facing the rural state.

    What the polls say: Polling is limited on the Montana race, but Tester has led in nearly every poll since August. The latest HarrisX poll conducted Thursday through Saturday shows him ahead by 6 points, but a Change Research survey released Monday has Rosendale up by 3 points. In both cases, though, the lead is within the margin of error.

    Nevada: Jackie Rosen (D) v. Dean Heller (R)

    Why it matters: Nevada is one Senate toss-up state President Trump did not visit in his final six-day blitz, and along with Arizona, it is one of Democrats’ few viable prospects to take a seat from the GOP. Democratic ads have highlighted Trump’s public pressuring of Heller on health care in a state where a Morning Consult tracking poll shows the president’s net approval rating has plummeted by 17 points since he took office.

    Sen. Heller’s initial opposition to and subsequent support for efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the Senate have thrust the issue into the spotlight of this race, and polls show it is the most important for Nevada voters. If Rep. Rosen wins, it could complicate Republicans’ plans to try to unravel the law again and provide Democrats with evidence their health care message is resonating with voters as they gear up for the 2020 presidential campaign.

    What the polls say: Polling averages give Rosen a slight advantage in a very close race. The latest Emerson poll shows her leading by four points, but HarrisX has Heller up by 2. FiveThirtyEight estimates Rosen has a 56 percent chance of victory.


    Florida 26th: Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D) v. Carlos Curbelo (R)

    Why it matters: Rep. Curbelo was one of the Republicans who spearheaded a failed effort to get a moderate immigration reform bill to the floor of the House in June. He has been openly critical of President Trump on a number of issues—including a recent ad tying Democrats to an undocumented immigrant who killed police officers—but he helped write the Republican tax cut legislation last year and voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

    Hillary Clinton won the 26th District by 16 points in 2016, but Curbelo won his race by 12 points. If a moderate Republican who has actively tried to distance himself from the president cannot win Tuesday, the GOP may have a rough road ahead.

    What the polls say: Not many polls are available, but neither candidate has led by more than 2 points in any of them since September. A late October New York Times/Sienna College poll showed Mucarsel-Powell up by 1 point with 11 percent undecided, and a Mason-Dixon survey earlier in the month put Curbelo ahead by 1 with 9 percent undecided.

    Kentucky 6th: Amy McGrath (D) v. Andy Barr (R)

    Why it matters: With polls closing at 6 p.m. ET, this race in a traditionally red district offers an early test of Democrats’ chances to flip Republican-leaning seats and rack up wins on Tuesday night. President Trump has endorsed Barr and lauded him at a rally last month, but McGrath, a Marine Corps veteran and political novice, has outraised him.

    Trump won Barr’s district by 16 points in 2016, so a Democratic win there early in the night could signal a very large wave crashing against the GOP majority.

    What the polls say: FiveThirtyEight predicts a 55 percent chance Barr holds his seat. A New York Times/Sienna poll conducted over the weekend showed the race tied with 10 percent undecided and a 5-point margin of error, so a lot could still happen.

    Minnesota 1st: Dan Feehan (D) v. Jim Hagedorn (R)

    Why it matters: Hagedorn ran unsuccessfully for this seat in 2014 and 2016, but Republicans are hoping Minnesotans will overlook their nominee’s history of controversial behavior and reject Feehan as more liberal than retiring Democratic Rep. Tim Walz. Hagedorn, a former conservative blogger, has in the past described Democratic senators as “undeserving bimbos in tennis shoes” and trafficked in conspiracy theories about former President Obama.

    The National Republican Congressional Committee has run ads dubiously linking Feehan to liberal philanthropist George Soros and questioning the Iraq War veteran’s patriotism for defending former NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s activism in a 2016 tweet. Hagedorn has adopted the president’s rhetoric on immigration and other issues, making the race a clear test of how well Trump’s strategy of stoking divisions works for others in the GOP.

    What the polls say: One poll conducted in mid-October by SurveyUSA showed Feehan up by 2 points, but there does not appear to be any other recent public polling. FiveThirtyEight estimates about a 45 percent chance Hagedorn wins and flips the seat to red.

    New York 19th: Antonio Delgado (D) v. John Faso (R)

    Why it matters: This upstate New York faceoff has developed into one of the most racially-charged of 2018, with Republican ads highlighting Delgado’s brief rap career and trying to paint the Rhodes scholar and Harvard Law School graduate as too “offensive” for the predominantly white district.

    Rep.Faso has said Delgado’s rap lyrics “denigrated our nation” and “glorified pornography and drug use,” but he distanced himself from the controversial ads run by a GOP leadership super PAC. Still, if suburban women reject Trump and Trump-like campaign tactics as decisively as Democrats expect, Faso could be one of the most endangered Republican incumbents.

    What the polls say: A New York Times/Sienna poll conducted Thursday through Sunday put Delgado up by 1 point with 8 percent undecided. A late October Monmouth University poll showed Delgado ahead by 5, but a SurveyUSA poll conducted at the same time found the race tied.

    Texas 7th: Lizzie Pannill Fletcher (D) v. John Culberson (R)

    Why it matters: Rep. Culberson outperformed President Trump by 13 points in 2016 to secure his ninth term representing the Houston-area district. However, Hillary Clinton won the presidential vote in the district by 1.4 points, a massive reversal from Republican Mitt Romney 23-point margin of victory in 2012 and an indication of GOP vulnerability in suburban areas of even deep red states under Trump.

    Fletcher faced a bitter primary battle with activist Laura Moser that culminated in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee releasing its opposition research on Moser publicly to ensure the more moderate candidate won the nomination. Fletcher is also one of several Texas Democrats who stand to benefit from the surge of excitement surrounding Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, regardless of whether he wins his race.

    What the polls say: FiveThirtyEight gives each candidate nearly a 50/50 chance of victory. The only public poll conducted in October, by The New York Times and Sienna College, put Culberson up by 1 point with a 4.6 percent margin-of-error, so as with all of these races, nobody really knows what is going to happen on Tuesday.

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