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Democrats gain in House races; Fox News projects they will take control

Fox News projected that Democrats would win control of the House, although it did not predict the margin of victory or elaborate on how it made the call.

People cast their ballots at a community centre during early voting in Potomac, Maryland, two weeks ahead of the key US midterm polls. Picture: AFP

WASHINGTON - Democrats picked up at least 10 Republican-held seats as they moved closer to winning control of the US House of Representatives on Tuesday, but faced an uphill climb to wrest a majority from President Donald Trump’s party in the US Senate.

Fox News projected that Democrats would win control of the House, although it did not predict the margin of victory or elaborate on how it made the call.

Democrats need to pick up 23 seats to capture the House after a contentious campaign season, enabling them to slam the brakes on Trump’s agenda and exercise renewed oversight of his administration.

The first national elections since Trump captured the White House in a 2016 upset became a referendum on the polarizing president, and a test of whether Democrats can turn the energy of the liberal anti-Trump resistance into victories at the ballot box.

Many of the races that will decide the balance of power in Congress and shape the future of Trump’s presidency were still too close to call, including dozens of vital battleground districts.

In the Senate, where Republicans were heavily favored to keep control heading into Tuesday’s voting, Republican Mike Braun captured incumbent Joe Donnelly’s seat in Indiana. In North Dakota, Republican Kevin Cramer beat incumbent Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp.

That means Democrats, who needed to gain two Republican Senate seats to win control, now must pick up four.

In the House, Democrat Jennifer Wexton ousted incumbent Republican Barbara Comstock in suburban Virginia, and Florida Democrat Donna Shalala, a former Cabinet secretary under President Bill Clinton, captured the seat of a retired Republican.

Democrat Mary Gay Scanlon won a Republican-held seat in Pennsylvania, while Democrat Jason Crow won a Republican-held House seat in Colorado.

There were competitive Senate races still too close to call in Florida and Texas.

Incumbent Democratic Senator Joe Manchin won a hotly contested race in conservative West Virginia, and Marsha Blackburn held a Senate seat for Republicans.

Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a 2016 Democratic presidential contender, and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential nominee in 2016, easily won re-election, news networks projected. Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown was projected to hold his seat in Ohio.

High-profile races for governor in Georgia, Florida and Ohio also were too close to call.

The Democrats were favored by election forecasters to pick up the 23 seats in the House, but opinion polls showed they had slimmer hopes in the Senate. All 435 seats in the House, 35 seats in the 100-member Senate and 36 of the 50 state governorships were up for grabs.

The volatile midterm campaign was marked by clashes over race, immigration and trade. In the final stretch, Trump hardened his rhetoric on issues that appealed to his conservative core supporters, issuing warnings about a caravan of Latin American migrants headed to the border with Mexico and condemnations of what he called U.S. liberal “mobs.”

Many Democrats, already benefiting from anti-Trump enthusiasm, focused on bread-and-butter issues like maintaining health insurance protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions and safeguarding the Social Security retirement and Medicare healthcare programs for the elderly.

If Democrats capture the House, they could launch congressional investigations into Trump’s administration, including his tax returns, possible business conflicts of interest and the nature of his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia.

A Republican victory in both chambers of Congress would be a validation for Trump’s polarizing style, a month after he solidified a conservative majority on the Supreme Court when the Senate confirmed his nominee Brett Kavanaugh after a fight over sexual misconduct accusations against the jurist.

Striking a dark tone at a rally in Indiana on Monday evening, Trump accused Democrats without offering any evidence of “openly encouraging millions of illegal aliens to break our laws, violate our borders and overrun our country.”

Ahead of the results, US stocks closed higher, with the benchmark S&P 500 Index ending the day at a two-week high. US Treasury securities prices fell, and the 10-year yield closed at its highest level since 2011. The dollar was unchanged.

SOME VOTING PROBLEMS REPORTED

Problems with voting machines prevented Americans from casting ballots in a dozen states, US rights advocates said, following complaints about registration problems, faulty equipment and intimidation received during early balloting.

A US Department of Homeland Security official said the reports of voting technology failures appeared so far to have had no significant impact in preventing people from voting.

Voter turnout, normally lower when the presidency is not at stake, could be the highest for a midterm election in 50 years, experts predicted. About 40 million early votes were likely cast, said Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida who tracks the figures. In the last such congressional elections in 2014, there were 27.5 million early votes.

At least 64 House races were considered competitive, according to a Reuters analysis of the three top non-partisan forecasters, and Senate control was expected to come down to a half dozen close contests in Arizona, Nevada, Missouri, North Dakota and Florida.

In his time in office, Trump has pushed tax cuts through Congress and overseen a period of economic and jobs growth but has failed so far to deliver on presidential campaign promises to replace the Obamacare healthcare law and build a wall on the Mexican border that he has said is needed to battle illegal immigration.

DEMOCRATIC PUSHBACK

A Democratic victory in the House would further hinder the border wall plan and complicate congressional approval of a deal to update the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump also could face more pushback from Democrats on trade tariffs he has introduced, especially in farm states hard hit by retaliatory measures from China or manufacturing states hit by higher steel and aluminum prices.

A debate about whether Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric encouraged extremists erupted in the campaign’s final weeks after pipe bombs were mailed to his top political rivals allegedly by a Trump supporter who was arrested and charged, and 11 people were killed in a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

It was the first national election in the United States since the 2016 race in which Russia interfered, according to US intelligence agencies, with a campaign of hacking and propaganda to sow discord, harm the Democratic presidential candidate and boost Trump’s chances. Russia denies meddling.

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