As polls begin to close around the country on Tuesday, the results in a handful of regions and House districts will offer clues about the broader outcome of the midterm election.
Key metrics in those decisive battlegrounds could offer windows into how well Republicans will perform overall.
Will Republicans win big among Hispanic voters in Texas districts along the border? Can Democrats hold onto a cluster of northern Virginia seats that they picked up in 2018? Will GOP Senate candidates in marquee matchups, such as Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania or Sen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, run up the score in rural areas of their states to insulate themselves against their Democratic rivals’ stronger performance in cities?
Who wins or loses the midterm elections will depend on the answers to those questions.
Atlanta and its suburbs
Republicans are eyeing the Georgia Senate seat occupied by Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock as one of their top prizes heading into Election Day, and whether he remains in Congress will depend on how many votes Warnock can bank in the city of Atlanta and its surrounding suburbs.
Republican Herschel Walker is expected to capture much of the rural vote in Georgia, so Warnock will need to beat him soundly in urban Atlanta to give himself a cushion.
Democrats performed well there in 2020, but the political landscape has shifted dramatically since then.
The affluent Atlanta suburb of Cobb County, for example, chose President Joe Biden by 14 percentage points in 2020.
With Biden deeply unpopular and crime and inflation hitting Atlanta as much as the rest of the country, however, Warnock will have to hope Walker’s personal struggles and negative headlines can prevent too many Atlanta-area voters from abandoning his party.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) is among the most vulnerable Democrats in the House as he fights to hold onto his Texas border district.
He isn’t the only Democrat struggling in the region.
Two other House districts in Texas that have historically stayed in Democratic hands are at real risk of flipping red thanks to a combination of voter frustrations with the immigration crisis, rising crime, and inflation.
In Texas’s 28th Congressional District, 34th District, and 15th District, Republicans are upbeat about their chances of making gains, and they can thank their growing support among Hispanic voters for the opportunity.
Democrat Michelle Vallejo is facing an uphill battle to keep the open seat in the 15th District, which is located in the Rio Grande Valley, in the Democratic column. Her Republican opponent, Monica De La Cruz, has attracted big-name endorsements, including one from former President Donald Trump.
Rep. Vincente Gonzalez (D-TX) is facing off in the 34th District against a Republican who won an upset victory in a special election, Rep. Mayra Flores (R-TX), under the old congressional map.
If Republicans sweep all three seats, it will likely be a sign of the salience of the border issue in the midterm elections.
Orange County, California
Several Democrats are potentially on the chopping block in affluent Orange County, California, where the blue wave of 2018 swept some rising Democratic stars into power in places where Republicans have historically performed well.
Democratic Reps. Mike Levin and Katie Porter were both elected to their House seats in 2018, and both face serious, well-funded challenges from the GOP.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, the political action committee associated with House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, has poured millions of dollars into unseating both Levin and Porter.
Porter has made a name for herself in progressive circles by embracing more liberal causes, but her far-left beliefs could put her out of step with a district that is not as safely Democratic as those represented by other House progressives.
The Washington suburbs in northern Virginia have historically trended bluer than the rest of the state — it was one of the only regions Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe carried when he lost the governor’s race last year.
But inflation and crime have heightened concerns even among voters in these high-income areas.
Reps. Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton, as well as Rep. Elaine Luria in southeastern Virginia, are all among the top targets for Republicans looking to take back control of the House. The GOP has invested heavily in all three races.
With Virginia polls among the first in the country to close, the early returns out of their trio of districts could offer early insight into whether Republicans are poised to perform well overall.
All three were elected in the blue wave year of 2018, so their defeat in 2022 could signal another wave year is on the way.
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