US Midterms 2018: Election Night Guide

Photo credit: Dave Lawler

By Rhys Thomas

Tuesday night’s Midterm elections are the most important in a generation. President Donald Trump has had the full support of the legislative branch over the past two years, enabling a raft of moves and measures including two right-wing Supreme Court nominees which will affect American life for generations to come.

The Senate and House of Representatives could flip from Republican to Democrat – if at least one succumbs to the Blue Wave, Trump will have his first taste of divided government and an even tricker time passing key legislation.

Washington, D.C isn’t the only place that could see a power change – every state has local races, with thirty-six electing Governors. Gubernatorial races have been a strong point for Republicans in recent years as Democrats have failed to get to grips with power at the state level.

No matter where you look, there’ll be surprise winners and losers all through the night. Read our guide to some of the most interesting and important races in the country, as America votes.


Republicans hold the majority with 51, whilst the Democrats form the opposition with 47 (two Independents caucus with the Dems). If there is a 50-50 split then the GOP holds the advantage, as Vice-President Michael Pence casts the deciding vote.

Florida – Democrat Bill Nelson was first elected at the same time George W. Bush controversially defeated Al Gore in The Sunshine State in 2000. He will be facing off against Rick Scott, the incumbent term-limited Governor. Both men enjoy positive poll numbers from Floridians, but with Trump winning the state in 2016 and Nelson being the only state-wide elected Democrat, he is vulnerable.

Missouri – The success of Claire McCaskill is crucial if the Democrats are to have any hope of controlling the Senate. In a state that has been increasingly leaning Republican, she is in a dead heat with state Attorney General Josh Hawley. She has been eager to point out that she’s not an enemy of the President and votes with him “more than half the time”, whilst Hawley hasn’t uttered a critical word about Trump. However her votes against both of his Supreme Court nominees have made the Democrat’s task even tougher in the shifting sands of Missouri.

North Dakota – Heidi Heitkamp is on the back foot. She won by fewer than 3000 votes in 2012, and President Trump won this state with 63% of the vote – Republican Kevin Cramer is hoping to ride the Trump wave, but the incumbent has pointed to her support for much of the President’s policies in Congress. The President had called her a “good woman”, but there are no more warm words as the GOP scent blood in the state.

Tennessee – The Volunteer State is not a place where many would expect a Democrat to win. Former Governor Phil Bredesen has a real chance of bucking the trend, with polls showing him in a dead heat with Marsha Blackburn, self-identifying as “politically incorrect and proud”. She is a big Trump supporter, certainly further to the right than outgoing GOP Senator Bob Corker, who has refused to endorse either candidate.

Texas – Lucifer in the flesh”. That’s what incumbent Texas Senator Ted Cruz was called by a senior Republican – and that’s one of the nicer comments. Whilst he is loathed in the Senate, especially by GOP colleagues, Texan voters seem to think he’s alright. He’ll be running against Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who has been blowing Cruz out the water in terms of fundraising. Despite a media whirlwind, Cruz is still firm favourite in a state where Democrats haven’t won a state-wide office since 1994.

House of Representatives

Every member of the House is up for re-election. The Democrats only need to take 23 seats off the Republicans to control the chamber, and the power to initiate impeachment proceedings against the President, for the first time since the days of Barack Obama in 2011.

Iowa 1 – Polling has consistently shown a tossup here, with sitting Representative Rod Blum of the Republicans facing off against Democrat Abby Finkenauer. There has been nastiness in this race, with Blum accusing his opponent of voting to “allow the sale of fetal body parts” – an outright lie. 29-year old Finkenauer was able to call on the services of former Vice President Joe Biden for a campaign stop, perhaps a portent of things to come.

Minnesota 1 – Democrat Tim Walz is standing down, having taken over from a Republican when he triumphed in the 2006 midterm elections. Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 15 clear percentage points in the 2016 Presidential race, and this is one of the few seats where Republicans have a realistic chance of winning a Democratic seat. Dan Feehan is the man tasked with keeping the seat for his party against Jim Hagedorn.

New York 14 – This district is most notable for its Democratic Primary. Long-term Representative and one of the most powerful Democrats in the House, Joe Crowley, was defeated by self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In a quirk of New York politics, Crowley will still be on the ballot as he won the Working Families Party nomination – but he has not been campaigning for election.

Washington 8 – Incumbent moderate Republican Dave Reichert is retiring, with Dino Rossi taking his place on the ticket. The district has voted Democratic in every Presidential election since George Bush Sr’s defeat of Michael Dukakis in 1988, but has always voted for Republican candidates for the House since the creation of the district in 1982. Kim Schrier has made a point of not being a career politician (she’s a paediatrician) but faces a struggle against Rossi’s moderate image.

West Virginia 3 – Richard Ojeda is a retired US Army officer and the grandson of an illegal Mexican immigrant. He voted for Donald Trump and is the Democratic candidate. He supports marijuana legalisation and gives Trump credit for boosting the coal industry. In short, he’s not your average Dem – Ojeda has a good chance of unseating Incumbent Carol Miller who has sealed herself off from the press and big event, but her commitment to the President is her biggest asset in this district.


There are Gubernatorial races in 36 states across the nation, with Republicans controlling 26 and Democrats only 9. Governors serve as the executive of their state, and have important power and influence over issues like boundary redistricting which are crucial in Presidential elections.

Alaska – The only state with an independent Governor, ‘The Last Frontier’ is unique in American politics. Bill Walker won election in 2014, but had seen his poll numbers slide and dramatically quit the race. Former Senator Mark Begich is Democratic candidate, but Republican Mike Dunleavy currently has the polling lead – but only just. Big issues include a crime wave across the state and the effects of climate change on the fishing industry.

Florida – Republican Incumbent Rick Scott is term-limited and cannot run for re-election. Despite being a swing state in Presidential elections, no Democrat has been sent to the Governor’s mansion in Tallahassee since 1994. The race between the GOP’s Ron DeSantis and Mayor Andrew Gillum has been ill-tempered, with harsh words exchanged all campaign – including DeSantis telling Florida voters not to “monkey this up” by voting for Gillum, an African-American. Perhaps more than any other Governor’s election, this personifies the stark battle lines in the America.

Michigan – One of the ‘Rust Belt’ states that Donald Trump famously won, this state was famed for its car industry. GOP Governor Rick Snyder is term-limited, so Bill Schuette takes up his party’s mantle. Gretchen Whitmer blitzed her Democratic primary opponents by winning every single state, and won plaudits when sharing her story of sexual assault in the Michigan State Senate. Her victory here would be an important precursor for the 2020 Presidential election.

Nevada – Both Republican Adam Laxalt and Democrat Steve Sisolak and received visits from big names in their respective parties. Donald Trump, Barack Obama and Eric Holder have all visited the Silver State with billions flooding in from the money men on each side. Departing incumbent Brian Sandoval is a Republican but has a frosty relationship with Laxalt – he has refused to endorse his party’s nominee.

Wisconsin – Current Governor Scott Walker made his name by bashing the state’s trade unions, and then being bulldozed by President Trump in the 2016 Republican primaries. He faces state schools supreme Tony Evers, and polls show that the state is a toss up – Walker has held the position since 2011 and would be a huge scalp. Both candidates have made late policy changes, with Evers announcing his opposition to tax rises and Walker becoming open to trying to put part of Obamacare into state law.

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