U.S. voters head to the polls Tuesday in midterm congressional elections that will shape the final two years of President Barack Obama’s presidency. Republicans are favored to gain seats in the Senate and House of Representatives in an election framed by a sour national mood and security concerns at home and abroad.
All 435 seats in the House are at stake in Tuesday’s voting, as well as 36 of the 100 Senate seats and 36 of the 50 state governorships.
Most analysts predict Republicans will expand their House majority and have an excellent chance to win back a majority in the Senate. Republicans need a net gain of six seats now held by Democrats to win a majority.
Polls show voters are unhappy with President Barack Obama and the direction of the country.
“I would say sort of undergirding everything else that Americans may be concerned about, the economy and the availability of jobs clearly is at the top of Americans' minds this year," said Frank Newport of the Gallup polling organization.
The midterm stakes are important for President Obama, who has been urging Democrats to ignore the bleak predictions from experts and get out and vote.
“Cynicism did not put anybody on the moon. Cynicism has never ended a war. It has never cured a disease. It did not build a business. It did not feed a young mind. Cynicism is a choice and hope is a better choice," Obama told voters.
But the president may be fighting history. Two-term presidents usually suffer party losses in Congress in the second midterm election and Obama’s low public approval ratings may be hurting Democratic candidates around the country.
Republicans like former national committee chairman Mike Duncan are cautiously optimistic about the chances of retaking a majority in the Senate.
“But these races, particularly the Senate races, are very local races. And we have good candidates this time. I think we do have the wind at our back, but it is not over yet. We can not take this for granted," said Duncan.
Duncan says Republicans are doing all they can to nationalize this year’s elections as a referendum on the president and his policies.
“Well, I think the headline is that the country turns away from President Obama. We are moving the country back to being the center-right country that the American people want," he said.
Midterm elections usually center on domestic issues. But this year the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East and fears about the spread of Ebola have shaken the public in the final weeks of the campaign.
Norman Ornstein is a political analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.
“You have individual candidates and Republican candidates who have some serious weaknesses and the best way to go around that is to nationalize an election at a time when people are unhappy and believing that things are out of control and the government is not working and that the president is not competent." said Ornstein.
Several of the key Senate races this year are in Republican-leaning states and late polls show many of those are trending Republican in the final hours of the campaign.
The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that spending on this year’s elections will reach about $4 billion, the most expensive congressional elections in history.