Want to know how the story of the 2022 midterms is going to end as soon as possible on election night? Strategists in both parties are zeroing in on a handful of East Coast races that could be called early in the evening, giving us a rough road map to the entire country. (Here’s when to expect the results in every state.)
The simplest strategy is to follow three House races in Virginia that will function on Tuesday like a gauge along a flood-prone coastal plain — telling us whether this election will be a red ripple, a red wave, a red tsunami or something closer to a modest blue riptide. Polls close there at 7 p.m. Eastern.
Red ripple: The most vulnerable Democrat in Virginia is Representative Elaine Luria, a former Navy commander whose district is the military- and veteran-heavy area around Virginia Beach. Biden won the area by 1.9 percentage points in 2020, but during last year’s race for governor in Virginia, it went Republican by double digits. Watch Virginia Beach County, which swung from a five-point victory for Democrats in 2020 to an eight-point loss a year later.
If Luria survives, Democrats will be ecstatic. It might mean that a few Republicans, like Representatives Steve Chabot of Ohio or Don Bacon of Nebraska, are in trouble.
Red wave: Next up is Representative Abigail Spanberger, a former C.I.A. officer who faces Yesli Vega, the daughter of Salvadoran refugees. The district includes a mix of suburban and rural areas southwest of Washington. Republicans think they have a shot at ousting Spanberger even though Biden won the area by 6.8 percentage points in 2020.
Remember: Rural areas usually count faster, so Spanberger will appear to be way down before the most populous county in her district, Prince William, tallies its votes. Take note of just how easily Republicans are winning in Spanberger’s rural counties. Last year, Glenn Youngkin carried Greene County by 36 percentage points on the way to the governor’s mansion.
Red tsunami: If Representative Jennifer Wexton, the Democratic incumbent in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, loses to Hung Cao, a Navy veteran who is running for office for the first time, Democrats are in for a brutal night. The only remaining question will be just how brutal — Biden won the upscale Virginia exurban area by 18.1 percentage points, though Youngkin closed that gap against Terry McAuliffe in 2021.
If Wexton hangs on but Luria and Spanberger lose, Republicans will still pop the Moët early: Of the 88 House seats deemed even remotely competitive this year, there are 45 more districts where Democrats won a smaller share of the vote in 2020 — 26 of which are currently held by the party.
Many or all of them could flip. A suburban Democrat like Representative Angie Craig in Minnesota would need to worry, as would once-comfortable Democratic incumbents in West Coast states like California.
Virginia could also provide clues to the national mood of Black voters, whose tepid enthusiasm for Biden has worried Democrats. Sean Trende, a political analyst who served as a special master during Virginia’s redistricting process, suggested looking at the returns in Hampton City and Surry Counties to gain insight into how turnout among Black voters in both urban and rural areas is shaping up.
A seven-point swing in Spanberger’s district would also suggest that polls have been overstating Democrats’ support elsewhere. In that scenario, some Democratic governors might fall: Tony Evers in Wisconsin, Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, even Tim Walz in Minnesota. It would signal that Republicans are likely to retake the Senate, where they need to flip just one seat.
But, but, but …
With apologies to Tip O’Neill, all politics is national now. But local factors — unique demographics, strong and weak candidates, well-run and hapless campaigns — still matter at the margins, where races are often won and lost.
There are otherwise vulnerable Democrats like Representative Marcy Kaptur of Ohio and Representative Chris Pappas of New Hampshire who might stave off defeat because they face flawed Republican opponents. In a wave year, though, even those seemingly fortunate Democrats might go down.
“If Marcy loses, we lose every single seat Trump won and probably every seat Biden won by 2 or less,” said Brian Stryker, a Democratic pollster at Impact Research. That’s 14 seats.
There are also comparatively strong Republican candidates elsewhere along the East Coast like Allan Fung, who could win an open seat in Rhode Island that Biden won by more than 14 points. And if George Logan, a Republican business executive, defeats Representative Jahana Hayes, a Democrat, in staunchly blue northwestern Connecticut, it would suggest that Republicans are persuading Democratic voters to break ranks.
What if Luria loses and Spanberger wins, but just barely? Pour yourself a cup of coffee and settle in. Things are going to get interesting.
The Senate: Brace for uncertainty
While most analysts in both parties expect Republicans to win the House fairly easily, it will probably be much longer before the balance of power in the Senate becomes clear.
Polling in most, if not all, of the major competitive Senate races is within the margin of error, suggesting the results could be close in either direction.
And because rural counties tend to count the fastest, it might initially look as if Republicans are far ahead in many states until more Democratic votes are tallied in populous urban areas.
The Associated Press and the major TV networks use mathematical models to determine the winner before all the votes are in. But this year, a definitive outcome could take days to unfold, Democrats have cautioned leaders of the news media in a recent round of briefings.
Pennsylvania, for one, mandates that in-person ballots be counted before mail-in and absentee votes. If the Senate race there between Mehmet Oz and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman turns out to be as close as the polling indicates, every one of those late-counted votes could matter. In New Hampshire, election officials are warning that a surge of write-in votes could slow the count.
In 2020, the Senate special election in Arizona came down to just 78,806 votes, though The A.P. declared Mark Kelly the winner on election night. In Georgia, Jon Ossoff was behind Senator David Perdue by about the same number. But since neither candidate reached 50 percent, they went to a runoff two months later.
Democrats did not secure their majority until the runoff contests on Jan. 5, 2021, when both Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, who ran in a special election against Senator Kelly Loeffler, narrowly defeated their Republican opponents.
We could be headed for another runoff in Georgia if neither candidate wins an outright majority. And if Democrats win three of the other battleground races elsewhere, control of the Senate will again come down to the Peach State. Can Warnock bank enough votes in the sprawling Atlanta suburbs to offset the rural strength of his rival, Herschel Walker?
Counties to watch
While you’re waiting, here are some places to home in on:
New Hampshire: It’s smaller than the other states, and could be the one where we first learn the winner. Here, the county to monitor is Hillsborough, which Hillary Clinton and Senator Maggie Hassan both lost narrowly in 2016. Biden then flipped it convincingly in 2020. Home to Manchester and Nashua and their suburbs, it’s the state’s most populous county.
Nevada: The state has only two significant urban areas: Clark County, home of Las Vegas and a Democratic stronghold; and Washoe County, home of Reno and a swing region. When Catherine Cortez Masto defeated Joe Heck to win her Senate seat in 2016, she lost every county but Clark — where she bested him by more than 82,000 votes. Two years later, Jacky Rosen won big in Clark County and defeated Senator Dean Heller, the Republican incumbent, in Washoe County, too. If Cortez Masto isn’t running up the score in Vegas, big-time, she probably won’t win.
Arizona: Statewide races are won and lost in Maricopa County, which contains Phoenix and 62 percent of the state’s population. In 2020, Kelly won it by around 80,000 votes. The state’s other major population center is deep-blue Tucson, while Mohave, Pinal and Yavapai Counties are typically shades of red. Watch the outcome in State Senate District 4, a swing seat in Paradise Valley, a suburb of Phoenix — the results there could signal larger trends.
Pennsylvania: The state’s recent bellwether has been northwestern Erie County, which Biden flipped after Clinton lost it to Donald Trump in 2016. But the suburbs around Philadelphia are where Democratic candidates typically try to run up huge margins over their Republican opponents. Pay attention to blue-collar Bucks County in particular — Oz has campaigned heavily there. Biden won it by 4.4 percentage points in 2020.
Ohio: Keep an eye on the returns in Delaware County, a suburb of Columbus that has trended blue in recent years even as the state as a whole has turned deep red. If J.D. Vance wins big here, it’s over. And according to Stryker, the Democratic pollster, if Representative Tim Ryan isn’t within two or three percentage points of Vance in Delaware, “weaker Democratic candidates are probably getting their clocks cleaned in the suburbs.”
What to read
As the nation prepares for another Election Day, suspicion and fear have become embedded in the mechanics of American democracy and voter intimidation has crept up to levels not seen for decades, Nick Corasaniti and Charles Homans write.
In his newsletter The Tilt, Nate Cohn explores the battle for Congress and lays out four potential scenarios that could unfold tomorrow night.
Kate Zernike examines how, while the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade outraged many women and galvanized them heading into the midterms, men remain passive by comparison.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has tried to show that the Justice Department can operate above partisanship. But Donald Trump’s apparent plan to make an early announcement of a 2024 presidential bid is testing that approach, Katie Benner writes.
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