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Republicans needed to pick up just six seats in Tuesday's elections to wrest control of the Senate. In the House, the key question is how big the GOP gains will be. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell won re-election, which brings him closer to his goal of being majority leader now that Republicans have taken control of the Senate.
- Live NPR updates
- 10:53 p.m. Congress has 100 women for first time in history
- 9:49 p.m. Oregon, DC voters OK use of pot
- 9:37 p.m. GOP takeover: Republicans surge to Senate control
- 8:29 p.m. Republicans clinch control of Senate
- 7:52 p.m. Governors' races: Incumbent Rick Scott beats Charlie Crist in Florida
- 7:24 p.m. GOP pick up 5th Senate seat with win in Colorado
- 7:13 p.m. Louisiana Senate race heads to runoff
- 6:42 p.m. Scott Brown fails in second-state Senate bid to New Hampshire's Jeanne Shaheen
- 6:34 p.m. Marijuana on the ballot: Washington DC voters OK legalization
- 6:08 p.m. Fight for the Senate: Republicans oust Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor
- 5:07 p.m. GOP steers toward hefty House majority
- 4:35 p.m. McConnell wins Kentucky as GOP bids for Senate majority
- 3:55 p.m. Senate control, Obama's agenda at stake in midterm elections
Alma Adams, already a state representative, won a special election Tuesday to make her the 100th woman in Congress, according to multiple reports. Since it was a special election, she'll be sworn in immediately, putting 100 women in Congress for the first time in history.
"My friends, we did it," Adams said on stage with her grandchildren, the Washington Post reports. "And ain't no stopping us now."
The next Congress's makeup may be different come January, but for now, there are 20 women in the U.S. Senate and she'll make the 80th in the House of Representatives, NBC News reports, citing the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
It's still a long way before the number of women in Congress will equal the number of men, though. According to a recent study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, that won't come until 2121 — another 107 years. And that's "an optimistic model," the institute's study director Jeffrey Hayes said, McClatchy DC reports.
It's also easier in the House than in the Senate, according to Matthew Wasniewski, editor of congressional report "Women in Congress," McClatchy DC reports.
"Women serve as mentors or leaders for younger women members to pattern themselves after," Wasniewski said, McClatchy DC reports.
Slate credited the recent numbers of women being elected to Congress to the influence of Emily's List, which has supported female pro-choice candidates since 1985.
The first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives was Jeanette Rankin, a Montana Republican, who took office in 1917 — before women had the right to vote.
Read more about the history of women in Congress in this Center for American Women and Politics fact sheet below:
— Mike Roe/KPCC
Voters in Oregon and the District of Columbia approved ballot measures Tuesday allowing the use of marijuana by adults, elating legalization activists who hope to extend their winning streak across the country.
Oregon will join the company of Colorado and Washington state, where voters approved the recreational use of pot two years ago. And the District of Columbia is on the same path unless Congress, which has review power, blocks the move.
Still to come were results from Alaska, which also had a marijuana-legalization measure on its ballot Tuesday.
Other volatile issues on state ballots include gambling and abortion. Two competing measures in Washington state gave voters a choice on whether to expand background checks for gun sales.
The District of Columbia's marijuana measure does not provide for the legal sale of marijuana, leaving that matter up to the D.C. Council. That's different from the measures in Oregon and Alaska, which would follow the example of Colorado and Washington state in setting up systems for regulating and taxing retail sales of marijuana.
The Drug Policy alliance, one of the leaders of the legalization campaign, said Tuesday's results would bolster its efforts to push through a ballot measure in California in 2016
"The pace of reform is accelerating, other states are sure to follow, and even Congress is poised to wake from its slumber," said Ethan Nadelmann, the alliance's executive director.
The campaign in D.C. included a debate about race — the measure's supporters said blacks in the city had been disproportionately targeted for marijuana arrests.
Gary Fulwood, a support staffer for the city's fire and EMS department, voted for the initiative.
"The criminal justice system is getting bogged down by marijuana use, and a lot of the people who use marijuana aren't criminals," Fulwood said. "I don't see it being any worse than alcohol."
In Florida, a measure that would have allowed marijuana use for medical reasons fell short of the 60 percent approval to pass; near-complete returns showed it getting about 57 percent of the vote. Twenty-three states allow medical marijuana.
Some of the other questions before voters Tuesday:
In Colorado and North Dakota, voters rejected measures that opponents feared could lead to bans on abortion.
The Colorado proposal would have added "unborn human beings" to the state's criminal code. It was the third measure on Colorado ballots in recent years seeking to grant "personhood" to the unborn.
North Dakota voters rejected an amendment that would have declared in the state constitution "the inalienable right to life of every human being at every stage of development must be recognized and protected."
In Tennessee, voters approved a measure that will give state legislators more power to regulate abortion. Opponents fear it will lead to tough new laws that would jeopardize women's access to abortions.
In Massachusetts, voters passed up a chance to say "No" to casinos. They rejected a measure that would have repealed a 2011 law authorizing development of a slots parlor and up to three resort casinos. There are none in the state now, but casino plans have been approved for three cities across the state.
A victory for the anti-casino forces would have marked the first time — at least since the modern era of U.S. gambling began in 1931 — that a state reversed a major legislative decision to expand gambling.
Voters in Arkansas and Nebraska approved increases in their states' minimum wages. In Arkansas, it will rise from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 by 2017, in Nebraska from $7.25 to $9. Two other states — Alaska and South Dakota — also were voting on minimum wage increases.
Massachusetts voters approved a measure that supporters say will establish the nation's strongest requirement for providing paid sick time to workers. Workers will be able to accrue up to 40 hours of paid sick time in a given year, earning one hour for every 30 hours worked. Companies with 10 or fewer employees would be exempt.
Teachers take stands
In Missouri, voters defeated a measure — bitterly opposed by teachers' unions — that would have tied teachers' jobs and salaries to the performance of their students.
Teachers unions were supporting an initiative in Washington state that would reduce class size and increase staffing support in grades K-12. State financial experts believe the measure would eventually cost the state about $2 billion a year to pay for thousands more teachers and other school staff.
Colorado voters rejected a measure that would have required labeling of certain genetically modified foods. The proposal would have applied to raw and packaged foods produced entirely or partially by genetic engineering, but not apply to food served in restaurants.
A similar measure was on the ballot in Oregon.
Opponents of the requirements — including food corporations and biotech firms — said mandatory labels would mislead consumers into thinking engineered ingredients are unsafe, which scientists have not proven.
Washington state had two competing gun-related measures. One seeks background checks for all gun sales and transfers, including private transactions. The other would prevent any such expansion covering purchases from private sellers.
Supporters of the expanded checks, bolstered by gifts from Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, have spent far more than the anti-expansion campaign.
Six states require universal background checks for all sales and transfers of firearms. Washington's law, like the federal law, requires checks for sales or transfers by licensed dealers but not for purchases from private sellers.
If both measures on Washington's ballot pass, it might be up to the courts to sort out the confusion.
Of the 147 ballot measures nationwide, the two that generated the most campaign spending were health-policy proposals in California. One measure would allow more expensive malpractice lawsuits and make California the first state requiring many doctors to submit to random drug and alcohol tests; the other would require the state insurance commissioner's approval before health insurance rates could be changed.
Riding a powerful wave of voter discontent, resurgent Republicans captured control of the Senate and tightened their grip on the House Tuesday night in elections certain to complicate President Barack Obama's final two years in office.
Republican Mitch McConnell led the way to a new Senate majority, dispatching Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky after a $78 million campaign of unrelieved negativity. Voters are "hungry for new leadership. They want a reason to be hopeful," said the man now in line to become majority leader and set the Senate agenda.
Two-term incumbent Mark Pryor of Arkansas was the first Democrat to fall, defeated by freshman Rep. Tom Cotton. Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado was next, defeated by Rep. Cory Gardner. Sen. Kay Hagan also lost, in North Carolina, to Thom Tilllis, the speaker of the state House.
Republicans also picked up seats in Iowa, West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana, all states where Democrats retired. They had needed a net gain of six seats to end a Democratic majority in place since 2006.
In the House, with dozens of races uncalled, Republicans had picked up 11 seats that had been in Democratic hands, and given up only one.
A net pickup of 13 would give them more seats in the House than at any time since 1946.
Obama was at the White House as voters remade Congress for the final two years of his tenure — not to his liking. With lawmakers set to convene next week for a postelection session, he invited leaders to a meeting on Friday.
The shift in control of the Senate, coupled with a GOP-led House, probably means a strong GOP assault on budget deficits, additional pressure on Democrats to accept sweeping changes to the health care law that stands as Obama's signal domestic accomplishment and a bid to reduce federal regulations.
Obama's ability to win confirmation for lifetime judicial appointments could also suffer, including any Supreme Court vacancies.
Speaker John Boehner, in line for a third term as head of the House, said the new Republican-controlled Congress would vote soon in the new year on the "many common-sense jobs and energy bills that passed the Republican-led House in recent years with bipartisan support but were never even brought to a vote by the outgoing Senate majority."
Said outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, " The message from voters is clear: They want us to work together."
Legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada is likely among the disputed issues to be debated.
There were 36 gubernatorial elections on the ballot Tuesday, and several incumbents struggled against challengers. Tom Wolf captured the Pennsylvania statehouse for the Democrats, defeating Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn lost in Illinois, Obama's home state. Republican Larry Hogan scored one of the night's biggest upsets, in Maryland.
In a footnote to one of the year's biggest political surprises, college professor Dave Brat was elected to the House from Virginia, several months after he defeated Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary.
House Republicans defeated 19-term Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall in West Virginia, beat Rep. John Barrow in Georgia and picked up a seat vacated by a lawmaker in North Carolina.
After years of a sluggish economic recovery and foreign crises aplenty, the voters' mood was sour.
Nearly two-thirds of voters interviewed after casting ballots said the country was seriously on the wrong track. Only about 30 percent said it was generally going in the right direction.
More than four in ten voters disapproved of both Obama and Congress, according to the exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks.
Still, a majority of those polled supported several positions associated with Democrats or Obama rather than Republicans — saying immigrants in the country illegally should be able to work, backing U.S. military involvement against Islamic State fighters, and agreeing that climate change is a serious problem.
No matter which party emerged with control of the Senate, a new chapter in divided government was inevitable in a nation marked by profound unease over the future and dissatisfaction with its political leaders.
Several Senate races were close, a list that — surprisingly — included Virginia.
There, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner held a narrow lead over former Republican Party chairman and Bush administration official Ed Gillespie.
There was a little good news for Democrats in New Hampshire, where Sen. Jeanne Shaheen was re-elected after a difficult race against former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown.
But in Georgia, Michelle Nunn lost to businessman David Perdue, depriving the Democrats of their last chances to take away a Republican seat. In Kansas, 78-year-old Sen. Pat Roberts fended off a challenge from independent Greg Orman, shutting off another avenue for the Democrats.
Among the newly elected Republican senators was Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the first member of her party to win a seat there in more than a half century.
State Sen. Jodi Ernst of Iowa also won, after a campaign that took off when she aired an ad saying she had learned how to castrate hogs as a girl growing up on a ranch.
In statehouse races, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York won a second term.
Former Republican Rep. Asa Hutchinson was elected governor of Arkansas more than a decade after playing a prominent role in President Bill Clinton's impeachment and trial, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott won a tough race for a new term.
Also winning new terms were Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican and potential presidential candidates in 2016.
Another possible White House hopeful, Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, also won.
The elections' $4 billion price tag spending was unprecedented for a non-presidential year.
Republicans have seized control of the Senate for the first time in eight years, according to AP projections.
The deciding race was the victory by Republican Thom Tillis over Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan in North Carolina.
Tillis' win gives the Republicans the six seats they need for a majority in the Senate that takes office in January.
Republicans picked up seats earlier Tuesday in Arkansas, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia.
Gov. Rick Scott will hold on to his job in Florida, NPR projects, as the Republican narrowly defeats Charlie Crist, the former GOP governor who was running as a Democrat.
The governors' mansions in several other states are certain to have new occupants next year: Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island all have open seats.
Arkansas voters elected Asa Hutchinson as their new governor.
Republicans are closing in on control of the Senate with the defeat of Democratic incumbent Mark Udall in Colorado.
Republican Cory Gardner's win gives Republicans five of the six seats they need for a Senate majority.
Key contests remain undecided in Alaska, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, North Carolina and Virginia.
And Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is headed to a Dec. 6 runoff with Republican Bill Cassidy.
Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell won re-election earlier Tuesday. He would become majority leader if Republicans win the Senate.
The Senate race in Louisiana won't be decided until a runoff on Dec. 6. Neither the Democratic incumbent, Mary Landrieu, nor Republican Bill Cassidy was able to get more than 50 percent of the vote.
Republican Scott Brown has failed in his effort to represent a second state as a U.S. senator. Brown was defeated in the New Hampshire Senate race by incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.
Brown served as a senator from Massachusetts from 2010 to 2013.
Shaheen had seemed to be heading toward a safe re-election, but had to spend heavily, as outside groups attacked her.
In Nebraska, Republican Ben Sasse won election to the seat that had been held by Republican Mike Johanns, who chose not to run again.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin won re-election in Illinois.
Republicans have so far gained three additional Senate seats. They need three more to control the new Senate.
In the House, Republicans are on track to retain their majority if remaining incumbents win as expected.
In the first of several widely watched votes on marijuana in the midterm election season, voters in Washington, D.C., have approved the legal use of marijuana for recreational purposes.
Supporters of the D.C. marijuana measure had a 64-31 percent lead as of 8:15 p.m. ET, with 16,585 voting in favor.
Pot is also on the ballot in Oregon, where Measure 91 would legalize recreational use, and in Alaska, where Ballot Measure 2 would do the same thing. The provisions restrict use to adults who are at least 21 years old.
In Florida, voters will decide how they feel about legal medical marijuana. And voters in Guam reportedly legalized medical marijuana use today.
The D.C. case could create friction between the city's leaders and Congress — particularly if, as many expect, Republicans take control of both chambers. The District's Initiative 71 includes provisions that allow residents to grow six or fewer marijuana plants in their homes and possess up to 2 ounces of the drug for their own use.
With a loss by Sen. Mark Pryor, the first Democratic incumbent fell in the 2014 midterms, bringing the Republicans closer to a Senate majority. The man who might lead them in Congress won reelection, as Sen. Mitch McConnell coasted to a win in Kentucky.
McConnell was projected to defeat Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes by a margin of 56 percent to 41 percent, with almost a third of the vote tallied.
In Arkansas, Sen. Mark Pryor (D) was projected to lose to Rep. Tom Cotton (R), a first-term member of Congress. Pryor had served in the Senate since 2003.
Confident Republicans steered toward a hefty House majority in Tuesday's elections, capitalizing on dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and the nation's pervasive malaise to push their numbers toward the highest levels in 65 years.
The GOP currently controls 234 seats and is a lock to re-establish its majority for the final two years of Obama's presidency. Aggressive in the midterms, Republicans were certain to win the seats of retiring moderate Democrats in North Carolina and New York while trying to make inroads in Democratic strongholds of Illinois, Minnesota and California.
The GOP also targeted five-term Democratic Rep. John Barrow in rural Georgia, one of the last of the white Southern Democrats.
Some two dozen Democratic incumbents were in jeopardy but just four Republicans faced competitive races as the 2010 GOP romp gave the party the upper hand in redrawing congressional districts favorable to Republicans.
Obama's low approval ratings, around 40 percent, were a drag on Democrats, as was the electorate's unease with the Islamic State group threat, Ebola outbreak and job losses. Promising economic signs of a drop in the unemployment rate and cheaper gasoline failed to help the president's party, which typically loses seats in midterm elections.
The GOP was widely expected to exceed its tea party-boosted total of 242 seats in 2010 and was likely to match the 246 of 1947-1949 when another Democrat, Harry S. Truman, occupied the White House. Democrats still hold the modern-day edge for most seats — 292 — in 1979.
"If we do, we're up in territory we've not seen," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "You're in pretty thin oxygen when you're up there as a Republican."
Republicans purposely lowered expectations at a gain of five to eight seats, but privately some said anything less than a net of a dozen seats would be a disappointment.
A solid GOP majority means Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, can afford defections from his increasingly conservative caucus and still get legislation passed while Republicans would hold more committee seats to guide the party agenda. Republicans are counting on partnering with a GOP-led Senate.
Boehner raised $102 million to ensure that Republicans would tighten their grip on the House.
For Obama, a dozen House losses would be an ignominious distinction. The president, whose party lost 63 seats in 2010, would become the two-term president with the most midterm defeats, surpassing Truman's 74.
National Democrats worked furiously to keep the losses at a minimum, outraising Republicans $172 million to $131 million. But they were outspent by GOP-leaning outside groups that targeted Democrats, pumping $7 million in an Illinois race and another $7 million against first-term Rep. Ami Bera in California.
Here's a look at some of the most noteworthy contests in the country:
The rival had a familiar face as Republicans in New York, New Hampshire, Arizona and Illinois challenged Democrats in a half dozen rematches. First-term Reps. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., and Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., faced former GOP lawmakers Bob Dold and Nan Hayworth, who had her gay son in a last-minute ad question the labeling of his mom as a tea party extremist. Maloney is one of the openly gay members of Congress.
The election is certain to provide surprises with Republicans and Democrats pointing to the high number of undecided voters in the closing days. However, it's hard to imagine any result topping the June primary loss of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to little-known and underfunded professor Dave Brat. Giant-slayer Brat is expected to win in the Richmond-area district.
Cantor was the lone Jewish Republican in the House. At the tip of New York's Long Island, state lawmaker Lee Zeldin hopes to be the House's new Jewish Republican, but he's locked in a close race with six-term Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop.
Republicans have struggled to win over female voters in presidential elections. Two likely House winners are certain to help with the GOP's image. In Utah, Mia Love would be the first black female Republican while in New York, 30-year-old Elise Stefanik, a former aide in President George W. Bush's administration, would be the youngest House member.
Two-term Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., faces a 20-count indictment on tax fraud and other charges, and got no help from national Republicans. He still may win re-election as his faithful Staten Island voters prefer him over Brooklyn Democrat Domenic Recchia in a district straddling the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. In Louisiana, Republican Rep. Vance McAllister, who was caught on tape kissing a married aide, could survive for a Dec. 6 runoff after the state's open primary that includes Republican Zach Dasher, nephew of "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson.
The election will determine whether white Southern Democrats survive. Barrow and 19-term Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia were the most vulnerable. Democrats were counting on Gwen Graham, daughter of former Sen. Bob Graham, to knock out two-term Rep. Steve Southerland in Florida and breathe new life into the party.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell won a hard-fought sixth term Tuesday, putting him a step closer to his lifelong dream of becoming majority leader and getting the GOP off to a good start in its goal of taking control of the Senate.
Helping his chances was Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito's capture of the West Virginia seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller. Her victory, while not a surprise, gave Republicans the first of six new seats they will need to control the Senate for the first time in eight years.
Kentucky Democrats once had high hopes for challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky's young secretary of state. But the hill was too steep in a state President Barack Obama lost by 23 percentage points in 2012.
McConnell, like Republicans in every competitive state, relentlessly tied his opponent to the president, whose approval ratings have sagged. McConnell's allies taunted Grimes for refusing to say whether she had voted for Obama.
If Republicans gain at least six new seats, McConnell, 72, is positioned to become the Senate's majority leader. That would give him substantial powers to decide what legislation reaches the floor for votes, and when.
Democrats privately said they hoped to limit their net Senate losses to five seats, which would barely keep them in control. But even that would require them to win several races Tuesday where they were struggling. Potential runoffs in Louisiana and Georgia, and possible slow vote counts in Alaska, could leave matters unclear for some time.
The GOP seemed certain to pick up three seats where Democratic senators are retiring: in South Dakota and Montana, along with West Virginia.
Republicans were bullish in Arkansas, where freshman Rep. Tom Cotton aimed to oust two-term Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor. They felt almost as optimistic about ousting Sen. Mary Landrieu in Louisiana — although a Dec. 6 runoff seemed likely. First-term Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska was another top target.
Victories in those six states would give Republicans the Senate majority, provided they don't lose any seats they now hold. Their biggest worries in that regard were in Georgia and Kansas.
In Georgia, where GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss is retiring, Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue were locked in a tight battle.
In Kansas, three-term Republican Sen. Pat Roberts was scrambling to fend off independent candidate Greg Orman, who had persuaded the Democrat to leave the race and help him consolidate anti-Roberts sentiment. Orman hasn't said which party he will caucus with, however, so a Roberts loss doesn't automatically endanger the GOP's chances.
Elsewhere, contests for Democratic-held seats in three closely divided states could prove crucial.
In North Carolina, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan was facing state House speaker Thom Tillis. The race set records for campaign spending, with airwaves drenched in political ads. Obama carried North Carolina in 2008, and lost it in 2012.
In Colorado, first-term Democratic Sen. Mark Udall faced a strong challenge from GOP Rep. Cory Gardner. In New Hampshire, Democrats said they believed Sen. Jeanne Shaheen could hold off Republican Scott Brown, a former senator from Massachusetts.
Few campaigns were as feisty and close as Iowa's, where long-time Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin is retiring.
Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst was facing Democratic U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley in a race that featured TV ads about castrating hogs, and a leaked fundraising video from Texas.
Barring a GOP wave, it's possible that control of the Senate won't be known for days or even weeks.
Slow vote counts in Alaska could make Republican Dan Sullivan's challenge against Begich too close to call for a while. In Louisiana, many expect a Dec. 6 runoff between Landrieu and GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy. And a Jan. 6 Georgia runoff between Perdue and Nunn also was possible.
If a runoff — or a vote recount in any closely contested state — will determine which party controls the Senate, the spending and politicking will be extraordinary.
A Republican takeover of the Senate would be huge politically, but its impact on governing is unclear. Even with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, many of the dynamics that have fed federal gridlock for years would still be present.
Obama could veto legislation passed by a Republican-controlled Congress. And Senate Democrats, if relegated to the minority, could use the filibuster to thwart scores of GOP initiatives, just as Republicans have done to the Democrats for years.
A new Republican Senate majority could be short-lived. The 2016 Senate election map heavily favors Democrats, just as this year's map was ideal for Republicans.
In 2016, Republicans will be defending seats in seven states that Obama won, and in another three closely divided states. Most of the nine Democrats on the ballot will be solid favorites.
Months of on-the-ground campaigning and a whopping $4 billion in spending culminate tonight in a midterm election that will determine control of the U.S. Senate and the fate of President Obama's legislative agenda for his final two years in the White House.
Republicans need to pick up just six seats to gain control, and while political oddsmakers say such a gain is likely, analysts have been confounded by an aggressive get-out-the-vote operation and persistent questions about whether traditional polling methods capture a younger, more diverse electorate that doesn't own landline telephones.
Early hints about the direction of the Senate could come in a handful of key states that have suffered long, expensive campaigns, including New Hampshire and North Carolina. But at least two closely watched Senate contests could be headed for runoff elections — Louisiana, in December, and Georgia, in early January. What's more: Alaska's polls don't close until midnight on the East Coast, with many ballots in far-flung locations that could remain uncounted for hours if not days.
"I would describe the race for the Senate as very, very close," says Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the Cook Political Report. "We don't see a huge wave developing out there but we might see some ripples in some states."
This much is clear, says NPR political editor Charles Mahtesian: "The road to the Senate majority runs through the South."
Senate races to watch
The race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss has been a tossup for weeks. Businessman David Perdue, a Republican running for national office for the first time, has come under fire for his support of outsourcing jobs and his comments on possible tax increases. Democrat Michelle Nunn, meanwhile, has been campaigning as a political moderate in the mold of her father, retired Sen. Sam Nunn, and her former boss, President George H.W. Bush, whose Points of Light Foundation she ran for years.
Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, says he wouldn't be surprised if neither candidate reaches 50 percent, setting up a runoff election in January 2015. "For someone like me, this will be like being in heaven," Abramowitz says. "But for the average person, I think they'll be bombarded by attack ads until Jan. 6."
Democrat Kay Hagan is vying for a second term in one of the most competitive races of 2014. She's defending the Affordable Care Act and trying to shrug off the unpopularity of President Obama. Her opponent is Thom Tillis, the Republican state House speaker. Democrats and minorities have been emphasizing Tillis' support of voting rights legislation in North Carolina that's considered the toughest in the nation, in part for its restrictions on early voting. Political analysts say the key to the race is whether Hagan persuaded voters to focus on Tillis and not the White House.
That theme, says Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report, resounds beyond North Carolina. "I think this election is about President Obama and it's up to Democrats to change the conversation," Gonzales says. "Wherever Democrats are successful in competitive races, it will be because they changed the conversation from President Obama."
If longtime GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell wants to become the majority leader next year, he'll have to win his own race for a sixth term in office first. McConnell, 72, has emphasized his clout in the Senate and his support for the local coal industry. Challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky's secretary of state, argues he's out of touch with voters and, in one ad, that he doesn't know how to brandish a hunting rifle. But Grimes has paid a price for refusing to answer whether she voted for President Obama. Recent polls show her trailing, and many political analysts believe McConnell now has the contest in hand.
Arkansas features another Democratic incumbent, Mark Pryor, struggling for re-election against Republican Rep. Tom Cotton. Cotton is an Iraq War veteran and rising star in his party who has been trending upward in polls. Pryor is the lone remaining Democrat to represent the state in Congress, but despite campaign support from Arkansas native and former President Bill Clinton, he may soon be out of a job.
Sen. Mary Landrieu wants a fourth term in office. But to get there, Landrieu will have to get past GOP challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy. Landrieu has been focusing her energy on get-out-the-vote efforts in New Orleans and forging her own path outside the shadow of the White House, but many political hands believe a runoff election in December is inevitable and that Landrieu would be the clear underdog.
Incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen is facing an unexpectedly difficult race against challenger Scott Brown, a former Republican senator from Massachusetts. Brown has stressed the Obama administration's handling of the extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State, and recent polls suggest the tactic may have helped close the gap with Shaheen.
Republicans enjoy a real chance to pick up a seat in Colorado, bolstered by the strength of their candidate Cory Gardner, a House member who's made few mistakes on the campaign trail. Democrat Mark Udall, seeking a second term, has focused on women, running so many ads about reproductive rights that it has alienated men in the state as well as the editorial board of the Denver Post, which endorsed the challenger.
In the fight to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, Republican Joni Ernst appears to have an edge. Ernst has endeared herself to Iowans with savvy TV ads depicting herself as at home on the farm. That's an issue her opponent, Democrat Bruce Braley, fumbled when he appeared to disrespect the state's farming tradition. Braley, a former trial lawyer who has served Iowa in the House since 2007, has also been cast as litigious and ornery — a characterization at odds with Iowa's Midwestern politesse.
Incumbent Republican Pat Roberts has been on the defensive for months after disclosures he no longer owns a home in the state he's represented for three terms. Challenger Greg Orman is a businessman running as an independent. Orman says he hasn't decided with whom he'll caucus if he wins the seat. But in the waning days of the race, Roberts has tried to argue Orman is really a Democrat masquerading as a maverick to win over voters.
House races of note
In the House, there's far less suspense. Republicans currently enjoy a 234 to 201 majority and Democrats would need an overall pickup of 17 seats to seize control, a possibility that seems remote, at best. And if history is any guide: Midterm elections in a president's second term typically see a loss of 25 seats for the president's party, NPR's Mahtesian says.
"The president's low job approval rating has cast a shadow over the competitive landscape," says Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report. "The question is, how many seats do Republicans gain and are Democrats digging themselves into a hole it will take them multiple [election] cycles to get out [of]?"
Gonzales sees a rare chance, too, for House Republicans to diversify the overwhelmingly white and male caucus. He cites a likely victory by Mia Love, an African-American running for a House seat in Utah, and two credible openly gay GOP candidates, Carl DeMaio in San Diego and Richard Tisei, the former majority leader of the state House in Massachusetts, who's in a tough race against Democrat and former Marine officer Seth Moulton.
Another race to watch: whether John Barrow, the last white Democrat in the Deep South, can pull off yet another re-election in Georgia. Other incumbents, analysts, say, are mostly safe with a few prominent exceptions. One is Rep. Nick Rahall, a Democrat in West Virginia, who has been in the House since 1976. Another, New Hampshire Democrat Carol Shea-Porter, is fighting Republican opponent Frank Guinta for the third time in a row. She lost to him in 2010 but defeated him in 2012. The race revolves around her support for the Affordable Care Act, a law she says represents her proudest accomplishment.
And in Florida's Panhandle, Democrat Gwen Graham is giving two-time Republican incumbent Steve Southerland a run for his money. Graham, a lawyer, has enjoyed plenty of campaign cash and a boost from her father, retired senator and former Florida Gov. Bob Graham. Southerland, meanwhile, has attracted controversy for a men-only fundraiser and other missteps on the trail.
Across the statehouses
Emory's Abramowitz echoes many political analysts when he calls the Florida gubernatorial race one of the most closely watched contests of the year. "Of all the governors' races, if I had to single out one, it would be Florida because it's such a big state and such a crucial state," he says.
Add in the characters: Incumbent Rick Scott, a Republican, earned his fortune in the health care industry before refashioning himself as "one tough nerd." But his awkwardness in office and in debates against opponent Charlie Crist, a former GOP governor who's now running as a Democrat, made national headlines and earned lampooning coverage on late-night TV shows.
In Wisconsin, all eyes are on Republican Gov. Scott Walker, an incumbent with presidential aspirations in 2016. Walker rose to national prominence by picking and winning a fight against public employee unions in the state. Walker's unpopularity is huge in the blue-state capital, Madison, and his challenger, Mary Burke, has attracted leading Democrats including President Obama to campaign alongside her.
In Kansas, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is facing an unexpected challenge after his heavily promoted tax cuts put the state in an economic bind and alienated virtually all of Brownback's GOP allies. Abramowitz says a decision to vote Brownback out of office "could be sending a message to the Republican party that if you push too hard, too fast, you lose your constituency."