Tuesday’s midterm elections aren’t only about control of Congress.
The results will also offer clues as to where American politics is going, how President Biden will fare in the rest of his first term and who might be vying for the presidency against him in 2024
Here are five of the biggest questions that will be answered when the voters deliver their verdict.
How bad does it get for Democrats?
The U.S. Capitol building is seen in Washington, Monday, March 21, 2022.
Momentum has been on the side of the GOP in the campaign’s final weeks.
The hopes Democrats once harbored about retaining their slim House majority have dimmed. But the president’s party colleagues still believe they have a fighting chance of holding on to the Senate.
As with so much else in politics, how the result pans out relative to expectations will be crucial.
If Republicans were to end up with a House majority of 10 or so seats and fail to capture the Senate, most Democrats would be content to lick their wounds and fight another day.
But big Republican gains would force a much tougher reckoning. And that kind of result is not out of the question.
In the House, there are around 35 truly competitive seats, and 25 of them are currently in Democrats’ hands. The final projection from University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato and his team, released Monday, suggested Republicans would make a net gain of 24 House seats — enough for a majority of almost 40.
In the Senate, it’s possible that tight races in Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania could all go against Biden’s party.
If that happens, the recriminations will begin within hours.
There have already been some signs of infighting, with California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and Faiz Shakir, the former campaign manager for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) 2020 presidential bid, complaining about their party’s messaging.
How do the MAGA candidates do?
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) speaks before former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in support of the campaign of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) at the Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition in Miami.
Former President Trump looks to be on the cusp of declaring his 2024 candidacy.
It’s even possible that he could announce as soon as Monday evening, when he is scheduled to address a rally in Ohio.
One of Trump’s most fervent backers in Congress, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), offered a rationale for doing just that on Twitter.
“His candidates won the primaries. Biden’s central message was the ‘ULTRA MAGA’ scare. And we are going to win BIGLY! Trump deserves all the credit for this wave election & announcing tonight he will seize it,” Gaetz wrote.
Whether or not Trump takes the plunge on Monday, Gaetz’s tweet showed just how much the midterms are being seen as a proxy election for Trump himself.
The bullishness in Trump’s camp is understandable. Even his more controversial picks are polling more strongly now than they were earlier in their campaigns.
Former football star Herschel Walker has come through earlier struggles to have at least a 50-50 chance of ousting incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).
In Ohio, author and GOP Senate nominee J.D. Vance now appears to have a significant edge over Rep. Tim Ryan (D).
Arizona gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake — one of the most Trump-like of all the candidates in major races — appears to have a slight advantage over Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.
For all that, though, no one knows better than Trump that the polls don’t always predict the right outcome.
An unexpectedly poor night would sharpen questions, eve within the GOP, about the electoral consequences of the former president’s inflammatory approach.
What is the electoral impact of the abortion issue?
A voter wearing a Roe Roe Roe Your Vote t-shirt is at an early voting polling site at Frank McCourt High School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City on November 1, 2022.
This is one of the biggest — and most important — unknowns on Tuesday.
The Supreme Court took its most seismic action in years in late June when it struck down the constitutional guarantee of a right to abortion established by 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision.
In the aftermath, Democrats ticked up in the polls — for a while.
Of late, however, Democratic fortunes have waned again, suggesting to some that the political impact of the Supreme Court decision might have begun to lose its edge.
Still, polling on abortion is notoriously tricky, in part because so much depends upon the phrasing of the question.
A NewsNation-Decision Desk HQ poll conducted at the end of October found about 17 percent of registered voters citing abortion as the most important issue in determining their vote — a sizable number, for sure, but well behind the 44 percent who chose inflation.
On the other hand, an Economist-YouGov poll taken at roughly the same time found that 51 percent of all adults — and 60 percent of women — said they would be thinking about abortion “a lot” as they cast their votes this year.
Another factor to consider is that voters in five states will be weighing in on abortion-related ballot measures on Tuesday.
One thing’s for sure: If Democrats have an unexpectedly good night on Tuesday, the abortion issue will be a big part of the explanation.
Does the Democratic hold on Latino voters weaken further?
In this Sept. 14, 2020 file photo, Trump gives a thumbs up to the cheering crowd after a Latinos for Trump Coalition roundtable in Phoenix.
One of the most striking — and surprising — macro political developments of recent years has been the dilution of Latino support for the Democratic Party.
Trump performed better with Latino voters, despite his hard-line rhetoric on illegal immigration, than the 2012 GOP nominee, the much more conventional Mitt Romney.
Trump even showed some improvement between 2016 and 2020 as he went down to overall defeat.
In the 2020 election, for instance, Biden carried Florida’s Miami-Dade County by just 7 points. Four years previously, Hillary Clinton had won there by 30 points.
Republicans have also been enthused about the inroads they have made in the border counties of South Texas.
At least two of Tuesday’s marquee Senate match-ups are in states with significant Latino populations: Arizona and Nevada. In the latter, the nation’s first Latina senator, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D), is in serious peril.
But keep an eye on three Texas House races too — the 15th District, the 28th District and the 34th District.
The results there will be seen as a broad harbinger of what is to come in the battle for Latino voters.
How do potential 2024 candidate fare?
DeSantis speaks during a televised debate against Democratic opponent Charlie Crist, at Sunrise Theatre in Fort Pierce.
Beyond Trump, who faces only a verdict by proxy, there are other 2024 contenders who will receive much more direct judgements on Tuesday.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is expected to win reelection comfortably over his Democratic challenger, former Rep. Charlie Crist. The same goes for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), against whom former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) appears to be headed for another defeat.
The margin of victory for DeSantis will be particularly important, given Florida’s status as a battleground state, albeit one that is increasingly shaded Republican red. A big win would boost his allies’ argument that he could be the most electable GOP nominee in 2024.
But it’s not as if ramifications for 2024 will be felt only on the Republican side.
A really bad night for Democrats would unquestionably stoke chatter that Biden should step aside at the end of his first term.
In that scenario, there are already other Democrats, including Newsom, who might want to fill the gap.
There is also the possibility of a Democrat outperforming the national party in a way that might vault him or her up the presidential rankings.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) is the most obvious example, so long as she fends off her Republican challenger, Tudor Dixon.