Millions of Americans marched to the polls on Tuesday to vote in one of the hardest-fought, most expensive and perhaps most consequential midterm elections in political memory. Democrats and Republicans saw signs of powerful voter turnout across the country, all but certain to surpass the dismal turnout in the 2014 midterms.
Democrats kept their focus squarely on health care, counting on President Donald Trump to motivate their voters through his divisive rhetoric. Republicans, meanwhile, struggled to find a message and deflect tensions from a controversial president.
While candidates from Maine to California tried to focus on issues, the election became for many about something far larger: A referendum on American values in the Trump era.
Polls are closed in Georgia
At 7 p.m. polls closed in: Georgia, much of Florida, New Hampshire, the remainder of Indiana, Western Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia.
That means ballots will begin being counted in two of the most hotly contested governor’s races: Georgia and Florida. Democratic wins in both races would mark historic firsts for their states: Stacey Abrams would become the first black female governor in the country, and Andrew Gillum would become the first black governor in Florida.
Democrats are also hoping to pick up some House seats in Virginia, once a red state that’s become far more purple in recent elections. Virginia’s Seventh has been one to watch, with former C.I.A. agent Abigail Spanberger running a neck-and-neck race against incumbent Representative Dave Brat. Brat, a Republican, is famous for his surprise defeat of former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014. Strategists are also keeping a close eye on Representative Barbara Comstock’s Northern Virginia district. A large Democratic turnout in the affluent, highly educated area would show the power of the energized women whose opposition to Mr. Trump has powered much of the Democratic enthusiasm throughout the midterms.
In Vermont, Christine Hallquist, the country’s first openly transgender nominee for a major party in a governor’s race, is trying to oust a popular Republican incumbent.
All over but the waiting
TOPEKA, Kan. — After months of parades and debates and commercials and bus tours, it was time to wait.
Secretary of State Kris W. Kobach, the Trump acolyte running for governor of Kansas, stood in a hotel ballroom in Topeka as Election Day faded into election night. The sprawling room was mostly empty, but patriotic table decorations, Kansas-shaped chocolate bars and stacks of dinner plates were already in place. In a few hours, the polls would close. His supporters would arrive.
Mr. Kobach, who barely won the Republican primary for governor, had spent the last months locked in an exceptionally close race with the Democratic nominee, State Senator Laura Kelly. One poll would show a two-point lead for one candidate, another a one-point lead for the other.
“It looks like it’s high turnout in more conservative counties and high turnout in more liberal counties,” Mr. Kobach told reporters Tuesday afternoon as Fox News played on a giant projection screen beside him. “I’m thinking that a lot of the pollster models may be off. Which direction they are off, who knows. We’ll find out tonight.”
After Ms. Kelly cast her ballot earlier Tuesday, at a theater in another part of Topeka, she said she was putting the finishing touches on her election night speech. Multiple versions of it.
— Mitch Smith
Kentucky House race is one to watch
The first set of polls closed at 6 p.m. in most of Indiana and the eastern part of Kentucky, marking the beginning of the end of a lengthy campaign.
The states are home to two of the most closely watched and tightest contests in the country. In Kentucky, Amy McGrath, a former Marine, is trying to unseat incumbent Andy Barr, testing the strength of Democratic enthusiasm in a traditionally Republican state.
Senator Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, is trying to hold on to his seat in Indiana. A loss for Donnelly would deal a major blow to Democratic efforts to take control of the Senate. Strategists on both sides expect the party to lose the North Dakota senate race, leaving them little room for additional losses.
Both states had heavy voter turnout, as people waited on hourslong lines to cast their ballots.
— Lisa Lerer
Exit polls show voter pessimism
Early exit polls reported by CNN on Tuesday night showed a gloomy mood in the country after months of contentious campaigning against a recent backdrop of racial tensions and spurts of violence.
Fifty-six percent of voters said they thought the country was headed in the wrong direction, the cable network reported, with 56 percent disapproving of President Trump, 54 percent disapproving of the Republican Party and 55 percent disapproving of Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives.
That pessimism belied the positive impression most voters hold about the economy halfway through Mr. Trump’s term. Sixty-eight percent of voters said they believed the economy was in good shape, according to the exit polls, and when it came to personal finances only 14 percent of voters said they were worse off than a year ago. Eighty four percent said their finances were either better off or in the same position.
Mr. Trump has sought to frame the midterm elections as a referendum on his presidency and has campaigned on appeals to law and order and fears over illegal immigration. But exit polls reported by CNN suggested that most voters have been focused on something else: health care.
Forty one percent of voters said that health care was the most important issue facing the country, while only 23 percent cited immigration. The economy was the number one issue for 21 percent of voters, and 11 percent said they were most concerned with gun policy.
Overall, 39 percent of voters said they went to the polls to express their opposition to the president, while 26 percent said they wanted to show support for him. Thirty-three percent said Mr. Trump was not a factor in their vote.
— Liam Stack
4 political dynamics we’re watching tonight
What happens in the Midwest?
Midwestern states helped make Mr. Trump president. Democrats think that all changes tonight, while Republicans are hoping for a couple of crucial, high-profile wins.
In Senate and governor’s races, Democrats believe they are prepared to rebuild the “blue wall” that Mr. Trump breached in 2016, particularly in Michigan. The biggest prize of the night would be toppling Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, whose conservative agenda has diminished the power of labor unions in that state.
But Republicans are betting that Mr. Walker hangs on, and that the party could win the governor’s race in Ohio.
Is history made or not?
Much of the attention has centered on a few high-profile candidates, like Andrew Gillum, who would be the first African-American governor of Florida, and Stacey Abrams, who would be the first African-American female governor in any state. But other barriers are almost sure to fall, like the election of the first Muslim-American woman in Congress and the first openly gay man to be elected governor of any state (in this case, Colorado).
What issues will have the greatest impact?
If American voters had only followed the 2018 election through Democratic campaign ads, they may have thought that the campaign was entirely defined by health care.
If they score major victories in the House tonight, their strategy of focusing more on health care than President Trump will be vindicated.
For Republicans, the issue set is more divergent. Some of their candidates in more moderate areas have focused intently on trumpeting the health of the economy.
But other Republican contenders in more conservative-leaning areas have echoed Mr. Trump’s hard-line rhetoric on issues related to race and immigration, hoping that sounding Trumpian notes will lure his voters out to the polls in larger numbers.
What kind of night will President Trump have?
What’s not in much doubt Tuesday night is whether Mr. Trump will accept any blame if Republicans suffer losses. Spoiler: he likely will not.
The best possible outcome for the president would be if his party retains its House majority, no matter how narrowly, while adding to its one-seat Senate majority and minimizing losses in governorships.
A bad night for Mr. Trump would be if Republicans lost the House, most of the most competitive governor’s races and did not net any Senate seats.
A disastrous night for the president? Democrats take control of the Senate and the House.
Kemp on Georgia voting: ‘It’s been very smooth all day long’
WINTERVILLE, Ga. — Brian Kemp, the Republican nominee for governor of Georgia who is locked in an intensely competitive race against Stacey Abrams, said Tuesday afternoon that he was pleased with the day’s election management.
“It’s been very smooth all day long,” said Mr. Kemp, who as secretary of state is Georgia’s chief elections administrator. “Nothing unusual at all.”
Officials in Gwinnett County, near Atlanta, had said that four of the county’s precincts had suffered technical delays as voting began on Tuesday, while officials in Cobb County reported 90-minute lines at some polling stations.
“It’s a perfect storm,” said Janine Eveler, the director of the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration. “The turnout has been higher than any midterm that we’ve had before.”
A spokeswoman for Ms. Abrams’s campaign did not immediately respond to a message about reports of voting troubles, but other Georgia Democrats said that they saw few indications of widespread troubles.
“There have been a couple of little glitches, but all in all, things are going very smoothly,” said Carolyn Bourdeaux, the Democratic nominee for a House seat in a district near Atlanta.
Mr. Kemp noted Tuesday’s heavy turnout and acknowledged scattered reports of trouble in some parts of metro Atlanta, but he denied any widespread problems. “People in Georgia are voting,” he said.
Mr. Kemp himself did not encounter significant problems when he went to vote at the train depot in Winterville: He entered the polling place at 1:59 p.m. and emerged nine minutes later.
— Alan Blinder
Jammed machines and long lines frustrate New York City voters
A two-page ballot appears to have caused havoc for scanning machines at polling places across New York City, as scores of broken scanners brought voting to a standstill at many locations. Read more here.
Voters report suspicious text messages
Voters in several states told The New York Times they received a text message, claiming to be from a local or state-level political group, that directed them to an incorrect polling place. This may be an example of deliberate disinformation, or it may just be that some of the voter registration data used by campaigns in their peer-to-peer texting programs is outdated or incorrect. Either way, voters who need information about their polling places should check with their state election office, or on a trusted nonpartisan site like Vote411.
Voters in Florida have also reported receiving suspicious text messages that claim to be from volunteers with the campaign of Andrew Gillum, the Democrat running for governor there. According to a screenshot of one text message reviewed by The Times, the messages claim that Mr. Gillum plans to raise taxes on people earning over $25,000 a year, and that he opposes the state’s “stand your ground” law because it is a “racist ideology.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Gillum said the campaign did not send the message.
— Kevin Roose
‘I am against everyone who promotes racism’
ORLANDO — Frameyry Baez can summarize her Election Day emotions in a single word: “Excited!”
Ms. Baez, 33, the owner of Sportbike Parts & Export in Kissimmee, Fla., will cast her first ballot Tuesday afternoon as a U.S. citizen. An immigrant from the Dominican Republic, she was a legal permanent resident for some 20 years, forced to watch the political debates as an interested observer, never a participant.
She kept putting citizenship off, because she worried that her English was not good enough. Then came the 2016 election.
“I was part of that stampede that went running to immigration after Donald Trump was elected,” said Ms. Baez, now proudly bilingual.
She is worried about the anti-immigrant rhetoric dominating the news, and she planned to vote straight down the line for Democrats.
“I am against everyone who promotes racism,” she said. “Anything that does not represent minorities — I’m against that.”
— Frances Robles
Voters waited in long lines and poor weather to cast their ballots in the midterm elections, which is being viewed as a referendum on President Trump.
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