US midterm elections: Outcome is likely to be a more conservative America

With a President almost unrivalled in his unpopularity, Republicans are ready to celebrate victory

At last the campaigning is over, and $4bn (£2.5bn) later - more than 10 times the money committed by the United States to fight Ebola – the candidates fighting for 33 of the 100 seats in the US Senate and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives will await their fate as the results begin to roll in on Tuesday.

That’s not all. Voters in more than half of the US states will also be electing governors, as well as other state office-holders such as secretary of state and attorney general.

On top of that, a total of 158 ballot initiatives will be put before voters in 48 states, asking them to answer specific questions of law and policy on issues ranging from the environment to abortion, gambling, pot smoking and hunting rights.

The big enchilada is control of the Senate. About 10 of the Senate contests are too close to call, but the Republicans should pick up the  six seats they need to become the majority, while consolidating their existing majority in the House of Representatives. But watch Louisiana and Georgia where third-party candidates could force run-offs, possibly delaying a final Senate verdict for one or even two months.

Only once before in modern political history have midterms been held with a sitting President as unpopular as Barack Obama. (The exception is George W Bush in 2006.)

And the national mood is uneasy, whether because of a slow recovery, the rise of Isis, doubts about Obamacare, jitters over Ebola or glaring economic inequalities.

The outcome is likely to be a more conservative America and, if the Senate does turn Republican, a country all the more inclined to block Mr Obama’s progressive agenda and, where possible, roll it back.

However, Republicans know their new majority might last only two years, assuming, that is, they first obtain it by picking up those six net seats, as many predict they will.

The 2016 Senate election map is far more favourable to the Democrats. The contest to replace the term-limited President will add further distractions and uncertainty. But Wednesday is the Republicans’ big chance.

The key issues

29-AntiAbortion-AFP-Getty.jpgAbortion

There has been a raft of new laws passed in Republican- controlled states since 2010 curtailing a woman’s right to seek an abortion – which may soon culminate with the US Supreme Court revisiting its 1973 landmark Roe vs Wade ruling making abortion legal within certain limits.

Colorado, Tennessee and North Dakota are asking voters today to approve measures that further  that trend.

Voters in Colorado will be asked to accept a “personhood” measure which will hold that a woman’s egg becomes a person at the moment of fertilisation – a position that could make even miscarriages open to criminal inquiry.

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Obamacare

Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senator who stands to be the new Senate leader assuming he hangs on to his Kentucky seat, admitted last week that a full repeal of Mr Obama’s healthcare law would be beyond the party’s reach – the President would of course use his power of veto – but rowed back when the right of his party erupted in fury. But if the GOP controls all of Congress, it will certainly attempt to chip away at the law – for instance, doing away with a provision obliging companies of a certain size to give coverage to all employees, and undoing some of the tax provisions within the legislation  that make the system financially viable.

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Military

A Republican Senate would make John McCain chair of the Armed Services Committee, a perch from which he would demand a more aggressive US response to the rise of Isis. He may not push for boots on the ground, but that would be his broad direction. Also, expect to see wider support for National Security Agency eavesdropping and less support for the effort to reform the agency that Edward Snowden tore the lid off. And watch out Hillary Clinton, Republicans would push to investigate the 2012 Benghazi debacle in Libya when the US ambassador was killed in an attack on the consulate, if it serves to damage her 2016 prospects.

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Environment

Whether it is the eight towns and counties that will be voting on whether to ban fracking within their borders or the tens of millions spent by hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer in support of candidates committed to fighting global warming – like Charlie Crist running for Governor in Florida – the fight over environmental policy has raged during these elections. Voters in several states will be asked to devote more state resources to environmental protection. Fracking takes place in several states with competitive Senate contests, including Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia.

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Economy

On the campaign trail, economic issues have been a main focus of Democrats trying to protect their seats, calling for pay equality for women, a higher federal minimum wage and more investment in infrastructure. Expect those issues to wither if the GOP take control of the Senate. And expect assaults also on existing laws passed under President Obama regulating big banks and Wall Street and protecting consumers from corporate excess. A Republican Congress will be about less regulation and lower taxation. Meanwhile Arkansas, Alaska, South Dakota, Nebraska and Illinois will decide whether to increase minimum wage.

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White House

The midterms were always, in part, about 2016 and the next race for the White House as big-name hopefuls darted about, ostensibly to buoy vulnerable party candidates. Especially popular destinations were Iowa and New Hampshire, key early voting states in the primaries. Busiest have been Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and an array of putative Republican candidates such as Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and even Mitt Romney. Huge sums meanwhile flowed to both sides in the governor’s race in Florida. It is a key state in any presidential year and both parties want to control the levers of power there.

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