Midterm elections to determine direction of US
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Every four years the entire US House of Representatives and one third of the 100 Senate seats are up for election. This year the stakes are high for both parties, with Republicans hoping to keep control of both houses and Democrats fighting for a slim majority in the House.
The Republicans’ Senate majority is considered safe, as Democrats have to defend 24 seats, compared to the Republicans’ eight. The House could see a shift in power, as Republicans’ have a 23-seat majority in the 435-seat chamber. Also up for election are 36 of the country’s 50 governors and hundreds of state and local positions around the country.
Healthcare, and access to insurance after the partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act, has emerged as a major issue for voters on a national level. However, President Donald Trump has been shifting the focus to immigration, calling for troops to be sent to the southern border to fend off a group of Central Americans currently making their way through Mexico.
Virginia's African American voters
In Virginia incumbent Democratic Senator Tim Kaine is running against Republican Corey Stewart. Voters will also elect all of the state’s 11 House representatives. There are special elections one of the districts of the state’s House of Delegates, where Republicans currently hold 50 seats, and Democrats 49.
The special election is for the seat vacated by Greg Habeeb (R), who stepped down. Republicans have a 21-19 majority in the state Senate, and a Democratic governor: Ralph Northman, a pro-Clinton Democrat who was elected in February this year.
Kaine was Hillary Clinton’s running-mate during the 2016 Presidential elections, which helped turn Virginia “blue”, making it the only southern state to back Clinton over Trump. In the latest polls, Kaine is 20 points ahead of his opponent.
One in five residents of Virginia is African American, and racial tensions in the state culminated during white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville in August 2017. At the time, Trump created an outcry when he blamed “both sides” for the violence that resulted in de death of Heather Heyer.
Because of Charlottesville and the persisting national and local deadly shootings, the discussion on gun control, especially mandatory background checks, has been pushed to the foreground.
Turnout key to Texas
The junior Senator for Texas, and one-time presidential candidate, Ted Cruz, is facing a challenge from Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic representative, who has been campaigning intensely.
Texas is staunchly Republican; Donald Trump won in the state with more than 52 per cent of the vote in 2016. Democrats are hoping that they can turn that around and usher in a so-called "blue wave" of Democratic office-holders, as O’Rourke has galvanised voters in Texas and beyond.
The key to the race will be voter turnout, which is typically much lower in midterm years than presidential years. Democrats have been encouraging young people and first-time voters to come to the polls and early voting, which ended on 2 November, brought out historic numbers of people, almost as much as came out in total for the 2014 midterms.
Republicans still hold the advantage, though Cruz has warned his supporters against being too complacent, encouraging them to vote. If he wins, the question will be by how much.
Even if O’Rourke loses, there is still the potential for a shift from Republican to Democrat on a state level, as dozens of other positions are up for election, including all of the state representatives, half of the state senators and all of the executive positions.