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WHAT TO WATCH: After turbulent campaign, it’s up to voters

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 6, 2018

Greyson Kieffer, left, and other Tabb High School students pass out sample ballots and literature outside the school on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in York, Virginia. Across the country, voters headed to the polls Tuesday in one of the most high-profile midterm elections in years. (Jonathon Gruenke / The Daily Press via AP)
Greyson Kieffer, left, and other Tabb High School students pass out sample ballots and literature outside the school on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in York, Virginia. Across the country, voters headed to the polls Tuesday in one of the most high-profile midterm elections in years. (Jonathon Gruenke / The Daily Press via AP)
By Ken Thomas Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Tweetstorms and a trade war. Kanye in the Oval Office. Kavanaugh in the hearing room.

President Donald Trump’s presidency has been a wild, turbulent, two-year ride. Now it’s time for voters to weigh in how much they’re enjoying it.

Republicans’ across-the-board control of Congress is at stake in Tuesday’s midterm election, along with command of governors’ offices and statehouses around the country.

The president has barnstormed the nation this fall, holding multiple rallies a week, mindful that his future will be shaped by Election Day. “Even though I’m not on the ballot, in a certain way I am on the ballot,” Trump said Monday.

A guide to what to watch as results come in Tuesday night. All times are EST.

The timeline

Polls start closing at 6 p.m. in Kentucky. But things will really get rolling at 7 p.m., when polls close in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina and Virginia. Another wave of numbers will begin coming in after 7:30 p.m. from North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia. A big chunk of data will come after 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. when states such as Texas, New York, Michigan and Pennsylvania begin reporting. The 11 p.m. batch of states includes California, home to several competitive congressional races. Alaska, where polls close at 1 a.m. Wednesday, will end the night.

Idaho polls close at 8 p.m..

Washington voters cast their ballots by mail, but they have to be deposited in drop boxes by 8 p.m., or postmarked by Tuesday. Those who are mailing their ballots today are urged to take it to a post office to be sure it gets postmarked by the deadline.

The early vote

Much of America has already voted . Based on reports from 49 states, through Monday, at least 36.4 million people voted in the midterms before Election Day. And in a sign of the growing influence of early voting, 30 states reported exceeding their total number of mail and in-person votes cast ahead of the 2014 midterm elections.

A big question: Does it mean a higher turnout?

Turnout in midterm elections is typically near 40 percent, much lower than presidential elections, where turnout has hit around 60 percent in recent cycles. University of Florida professor Michael McDonald, who studies voting patterns, estimated recently that about 45 percent of eligible voters could cast ballots this year, a turnout level that hasn’t been seen in nearly a half century.

In Washington, the statewide early vote turnout was at 47.6 percent as of 8 a.m. this morning, but was higher in some parts of the state, including in most counties for Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District. In Spokane County about 55 percent of the ballots were in.

Early tea leaves

For an early read on how things are going, keep an eye on two congressional races in Virginia: a district in the Washington suburbs represented by Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock and another in the Richmond area held by Republican Rep. Dave Brat.

Trump has struggled with college-educated women in the suburbs and Comstock’s district could be among the first casualties as she faces Democrat Jennifer Wexton. Brat, meanwhile, won his seat by upsetting then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the 2014 GOP primary. But this time he is facing a serious threat from Democrat Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer.

Another district to watch is in Kentucky – the Lexington-area battle pitting third-term Republican Rep. Andy Barr against Democrat Amy McGrath, a retired Marine fighter pilot. Trump won the 6th District by more than 15 percentage points in 2016. But McGrath has pushed Barr to the edge with the help of sharp campaign ads that went viral.

In Eastern Washington, watch the returns from Spokane, where 70 percent of the voters live for the race between GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Democratic challenger Lisa Brown. Most legislative districts are reliably Republican but Democratic legislative candidates did extremely well in the 6th District. If two or three Democrats win in the 6th, that could provide a boost Brown needs for an upset.

Late votes

Washington counts all votes that arrive in county elections offices for the next three weeks, provided they are postmarked by Tuesday. That means the winners of races that are a few percentage points apart won’t be known for days, and races separated by a handful of votes might not be called for weeks. If control of the House depends on outcomes in Washington, the national parties will be biting their nails until Thanksgiving.

AP votecast

The Associated Press will debut a new survey of the American electorate in Tuesday’s elections that aims to more accurately capture the story of how Americans voted and why.

The launch of AP VoteCast is the largest change in the way final information about voters’ choices is collected by media organizations since CBS News first conducted an exit poll in 1972.

VoteCast is conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for AP and Fox News. Both AP and Fox were members of the National Election Poll, which has for decades conducted the exit poll.

The remaining members of the pool – CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC – will again rely on an exit poll conducted by Edison Research. Several other major news organizations, such as the Los Angeles Times, will use VoteCast.

House stakes

Republicans have had control of the House since the tea party helped sweep them into power in the 2010 midterms. Nearly a decade later, the GOP is trying to avoid a “blue wave” that returns Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats to the majority.

Control of the House is expected to be determined by a few dozen districts , many of them in the nation’s suburbs. Democrats need a net increase of 23 seats to win back control – a number that many GOP officials concede is a very possible outcome.

The House races will offer clues to where Americans stand in 2018 on immigration, guns, health care, gender equality in the (hash)MeToo era – and determine who they want representing them in Washington during the next two years of Trump’s presidency.

Washington has three of its four Republican seats that are thought to close enough to be up for grabs: Eastern Washington’s 5th District between McMorris Rodgers and Brown; Southwest Washington’s 3rd District race between incumbent Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler and WSU professor Carolyn Long,; and a suburban, ex-urban, rural district east of Seattle with an open seat that pits former Republican legislator Dino Rossi against pediatrician Kim Schrier.

Senate stakes

Republicans hold a narrow Senate majority, 51-49, but have a huge advantage in these contests because the battle for control runs mostly through states that Trump won in 2016.

To put it simply: Democrats are on defense. Of the 35 Senate races, 10 involve Democratic incumbents seeking re-election in states won by Trump, often by large margins. Democrats’ hopes of recapturing the Senate hinge on all their incumbents winning – a difficult task – and on flipping seats in Nevada, won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, and a few states that lean Republican, most notably Arizona, Tennessee and Texas.

Trump has coveted seats held by several red-state Democrats, including Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Strategists from both parties consider Heitkamp the most vulnerable Democrat but say the Senate makeup could be shaped by a number of narrowly contested races, including Arizona, Missouri, Indiana and Montana.

Another epic clash to watch: a race involving Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump’s one-time GOP presidential rival, against Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who hauled in a massive $70 million during the campaign. Cruz is still considered the favorite – Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in 30 years.

Washington’s U.S. Senate seat, held by three-term incumbent Maria Cantwell, isn’t thought to be in play, although Republican challenger Susan Hutchison has predicted a red wave would sweep her into office.

Trump

Air Force One ferried Trump across the country on Monday for rallies in Ohio, Indiana and Missouri, and the president didn’t return to the White House until well after midnight. On Election Day, the president was appearing in local interviews around the country but wasn’t expected to make any public appearances at the White House.

But any viewer should keep a second screen handy to watch Trump’s Twitter feed. The president is known for offering his first take on many key events on Twitter – and that could certainly happen as the election results come into fuller view.

Year of the woman?

A record number of women are on the ballot – and could become the story of the 2018 election.

Two years after Clinton’s defeat, more women than ever before won major party primaries for governor, the Senate and the House this year. The results could significantly increase the number of women in elected office.

About 235 women won their primaries for the House, according to records kept by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. In the Senate, a record 22 women won their primaries. And a record 16 women were nominated for gubernatorial races.

Many Democratic women, including first-time candidates, have said Trump’s election motivated them to run for office. But the election is also following the emergence of the #MeToo movement, the massive women’s march after Trump’s inauguration and the pitched battle over the Supreme Court confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Women currently account for one-fifth of the 535 House members and senators. By next January, that number could change.

Making history

The night could witness a generational change in Congress and herald in a number of barrier-breaking officeholders.

In New York City, 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is expected to become the youngest woman elected to Congress. In Georgia, Stacey Abrams is vying to become the first black woman to be elected governor in the nation. Andrew Gillum could become Florida’s first black governor. And Ayanna Pressley is the favorite to become Massachusetts’ first black woman elected to Congress.

South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem could become her state’s first female governor. Vermont’s Christine Hallquist could become the nation’s first openly transgender governor. And Idaho’s Paulette Jordan is trying to become the country’s first Native American governor.

Native American women could also win seats in Congress. In New Mexico, former state Democratic Party chairwoman Deb Haaland is trying to become the first Native American woman elected to Congress. She could be joined by Sharice Davids of Kansas, a Native American woman who is also attempting to become the state’s first openly LGBT candidate to win a major office.

In Michigan, Rashida Tlaib could become first Muslim woman and first Palestinian-American in Congress. She could be joined by Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, who is also trying to become the first Muslim woman elected to Congress along with the first Somali-American elected to the House.

And no matter what, Arizona’s Senate race expects to make history. Democrat Kyrsten Sinema could become the first openly bisexual senator and the state’s first female senator. If Republican Martha McSally wins, she will become Arizona’s first female senator.

Two of the hotly contested congressional races in Washington feature two women, but the state could pick up another female House member if Long beats Rossi in a seat that is being vacated by Dave Reichert.

Voting problems

The elections will mark the first nationwide voting since Russia targeted state election systems in the 2016 presidential race. Federal, state and local officials have sought to reassure the public that their voting systems are secure.

So far, there have been no signs that Russia or any other foreign actor has tried to launch cyberattacks against voting systems in any state, according to federal authorities.

Some states have already dealt with voting problems. Voters casting ballots early have encountered faulty machines in Texas and North Carolina, inaccurate mailers in Missouri and Montana, and voter registration problems in Tennessee and Georgia. In other states, including Kansas, Election Day polling places have been closed or consolidated.

Indicted, yet victorious?

Two Republican members of Congress are trying to win another term while facing separate federal charges.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and his wife are accused of misspending more than $250,000 in campaign funds on everything from tequila shots to airfare for a family pet. Prosecutors say the couple tried to conceal the illegal spending as donations to charities, including groups for wounded veterans. Hunter faces Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar in a GOP-friendly district in the San Diego area.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., is accused of illegally leaking confidential information about a biopharmaceutical company to his son and the father of his son’s fiancee that allowed them to avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock losses.

Collins’ most serious charge carries a potential prison term of up to 20 years. If Collins wins in the western New York district and is later convicted and forced to resign, a special election would be held.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is still under indictment – he pleaded not guilty to two felony counts of securities fraud. But the Republican is favored to win a second term, helped by a positive assessment from Trump, who singled him out at a rally in Houston as doing a “great job.”

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