U.S. political balance looks set to shift as early midterm results come in

The U.S. political balance appeared set to shift Tuesday as early results came in from a momentous midterm election seen as a watershed moment in the tumultuous Donald Trump presidency.

At stake was control of at least one house in the United States Congress, and with it Trump’s ability to drive ahead with an unconventional style of government that has divided Americans like rarely before.

Democratic candidates had won or were leading in a net dozen or so House of Representative seats held by the Republicans by about 8:30 p.m., apparently on target for gaining the 23 extra districts needed to seize a majority in the House.

But Republicans appeared bound to hold onto the Senate, and possibly even pick up a couple of seats.

Meanwhile, two of the most-watched races – for governor and senator in Florida – appeared headed for the kind of nail-biting close finish for which the state is famous.

Across the country, despite Democratic gains, there were few signs of an overwhelming blue wave.

Drawing attention like few other midterm contests, the election has pitted competing visions of the country against each other, with race often being front and centre, punctuated by two racially tinged crimes.

In a string of rallies attracting thousands of supporters in battleground states and districts, Trump leant heavily on his anti-immigration views, portraying a caravan of central-American migrants as a dire threat, and the other party as pandering to illegal immigrants.

“Democrats are inviting caravan after caravan, illegal immigrants to flood into our country,” he said at a rally on the election’s eve Monday.

Trump also touted a booming U.S. economy that continues to pump out jobs and raise average wages But his economic arguments were overshadowed by those appealing to nativist sentiments, such as a promise to end the right of anyone born in the States to citizenship.

Democrats themselves sought to root their campaigns in more bread-and-butter issues, such as health-care and what they portrayed as Republican assaults on the popular aspects of Obamacare.

Voters cast their ballots in the midterm elections on Nov. 6, 2018, in Appleton, Wisconsin.

But former President Barack Obama was among those who directly targeted Trump and his personal style and beliefs, saying at one point “the character of the country is on the ballot.”

Indeed, the election was in many ways a referendum on the president himself, two years after he beat most predictions and took the White House, even as he lost the popular vote.

According to CNN, exit polling showed that two thirds of voters considered the election to be about Trump, whose approval rating remains below 50 per cent.

In a possible sign of American interest in the election, advance voting was at levels above those in 2014 in at least 35 states, and reports suggested a heavy turnout on Tuesday as well.

The election saw all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of 100 in the Senate up for grabs, as well as 36 governorships, many of those state races toss-ups according to the polls.

Going into election day, the Democrats needed a net gain of 23 seats to take over a majority in the House, and polling indicated that they stood an excellent chance of doing that.

Voters go to a polling place to cast their ballot during the midterm elections on Nov. 6, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona.

The Republicans were likewise expected to keep their slim, 51-49 advantage in the Senate, or perhaps even add to their majority in the chamber. A disproportionate number of the seats up for election were in traditionally Republican states with Democratic incumbents.

Opposition control of the house could seriously impede Trump’s plans for the next two years, which include trying to build a wall along the Mexican border, possible new tax cuts and more attempts to dismantle Obamacare.

A Democrat-controlled House was expected to pursue anti-corruption and voter-rights legislation, and hold multiple investigations on controversial aspects of the Trump administration, not least being allegations of collusion between his 2016 campaign and Russia. They have also talked about pushing for improvements to the Obamacare system.

The future of the special counsel investigation headed by Robert Mueller could also depend on whether Democrats take control of one of the houses.

Should he conclude that Trump committed a crime, a Democratic House could launch impeachment proceedings, but the process would likely come to a halt in a GOP-held Senate.

The midterms also featured some potentially historic candidates, including Stacey Abrams, who would be the first black woman to be governor of Georgia if she won.

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