Polls close in key state where Trump’s election deniers top the ticket


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(CNN) — Polls are closed in Arizona, where all four GOP nominees at the top of the ticket — for governor, Senate, attorney general and secretary of state — have echoed former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.

Arizona is a key battleground this year for governor and Senate and likely will be again for president in 2024, sparking warnings that the GOP’s embrace of Trump’s election falsehoods and conspiracy theories could put democracy at risk if they were to sweep to power.

Already on Tuesday, right-wing media seized on tabulator problems in Maricopa County to raise the idea of fraud — despite assurances to the contrary from county officials — in a clear echo of some conservatives’ repeated attempts to cast doubt on Maricopa’s results in 2020.

Charlie Kirk, the founder and president of right-wing group Turning Point USA, tweeted a false claim about two-hour wait times in the county, which was the site of repeated partisan “audits” in 2020. A Maricopa County judge on Tuesday night denied a bid by Republicans to extend polling hours by three hours, saying there was no evidence that any voters were precluded from exercising their right to vote.

In addition to Arizona, polls have closed in more than three dozen states in a midterm election dominated by anxiety over inflation and high gas prices that will determine control of the narrowly divided House and Senate, as well as governor’s mansions across the country.

Republicans are increasingly confident of winning the House in a victory that would allow them to constrain President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda, while the race for the Senate hangs on key contests in North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Georgia that are too early to call.

Two early calls in Florida underscore GOP strength in the state. Sen. Marco Rubio will be reelected, CNN projects, defeating Democratic Rep. Val Demings. And Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential challenger to ex-President Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primary in 2024, will win reelection in a victory that will supercharge his national ambitions.

And in Alabama, Republican Katie Britt, who was backed by Trump, will easily win the seat being vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Richard Shelby, becoming the first elected female senator from the state. In another history-making race, CNN projects that Arkansas Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s former White House press secretary, will become the state’s first female governor, a post that was once held by her father, former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

Early results are trickling in from Georgia, which is home to the critical Senate race between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker — which could go to a December 6 runoff if no candidate wins a majority — as well as the high-profile gubernatorial rematch between Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams. Though polls closed at 7 p.m. ET in Georgia, judges ordered six precincts to stay open past that time because they opened late.

Polls have also closed in Virginia, where two suburban House races will offer an early indication of how vulnerable Democrats are. Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria is facing a challenge from Republican Jen Kiggans in a district that includes Virginia Beach and some of the exurbs of Norfolk. Another Democrat elected in the 2018 blue wave, Rep. Abigail Spanberger is defending her seat, in a district that became bluer in redistricting, against Republican Yesli Vega.

Early exit polls reveal a nation in the grip of economic pessimism, potentially bad news for Democrats, given their monopoly on political power in Washington. Roughly three-quarters of voters felt negatively about the economy with about 4 in 10 deeming it downright poor, according to the preliminary national results of the exit poll conducted for CNN and other news networks by Edison Research. A third of the electorate said inflation was the most important issue to their vote while about 27% cited abortion — the issue Democrats hoped could give them a boost after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

At 6 p.m. ET, the first polls closed in House districts in parts of Indiana and Kentucky. In the next hour, polls are scheduled to close in one of the key Senate battlegrounds — Georgia — but judges ordered six precincts to stay open past that time because they opened late.

Republicans have already promised to launch investigations into the administration and cripple its agenda if they win the House majority, and many of their nominees have echoed former President Donald Trump’s election falsehoods, leading to Biden’s repeated warnings about threats to democracy.

But it’s the economy that’s been top of mind for voters this fall. With all 435 House seats in contention on Tuesday, Democrats are on defense even in seats Biden would have won comfortably two years ago. His low approval ratings — paired with the historical challenges that face a president’s party in their first midterm cycle — have made Republicans bullish about their chances of building a sizable majority in the chamber, where they only need a net gain of five seats. Between Labor Day and Election Day, nine of the 10 House races that saw the most ad spending featured Democratic incumbents — a sign of the peril the party in power finds itself in.

Control of the Senate, which is currently split 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote, remains on a razor’s edge as Democrats cling to seats in battleground states. Republicans only need a net gain of one seat to win the majority.

But as they try to hold off Republicans, Democrats are also trying to pick up seats to guard against their losses. Their best opportunity is in the perpetual pivot state of Pennsylvania, where Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz are vying to replace retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey in what became the most expensive Senate contest in the country this fall. Democrats are also trying to defeat Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, a close ally of Trump who remains the Senate’s most vulnerable GOP incumbent, as he faces off against Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

The economic blows of the Covid-19 pandemic, followed by soaring gas and grocery prices, have forced many working-class Americans to dip into their savings and cut back on everyday expenses, creating a sour mood within the electorate as voters brace for a potential recession. In a recent CNN poll conducted by SSRS, three-quarters of Americans said they felt like the US was already in a recession.

Though there are many factors driving inflation — including lingering supply chain issues and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine — voters are also registering their disappointment with Biden, whose approval rating was 41% in the latest CNN poll.

The frustration with Washington’s inability to significantly lower costs has left Democrats on shaky ground even in reliably blue states like California, Oregon and New York. The latter two feature surprisingly competitive gubernatorial contests. And there are more than enough contested House seats in those states alone for Republicans to win the House majority.

Democrats had hoped that the Supreme Court’s late June decision overturning abortion rights would help them reverse the unfavorable tide. But while the ruling helped closed some of the enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats, it may not have had as much of an effect than Democrats had hoped in some key races.

Biden, as he’s stuck to stumping in mostly blue states, has repeatedly warned that “democracy is on the ballot” after Trump promoted scores of Republican candidates who echoed his lies about the 2020 election. But like abortion access, the fragility of democracy has consistently ranked lower than the economy and inflation when voters are asked about their biggest concerns heading into the election.

Still, talk about the threat to democracy has been prominent in some gubernatorial and secretary of state races because of the prospect that pro-Trump election denying candidates could end up capturing positions that will allow them to administer the 2024 presidential election.

The midterms will serve as a critical proving ground for Trump, who has cast a long shadow over the Republican Party as he’s used appearances for the nominees he elevated to tease his likely presidential run in 2024.

Appearing in Ohio on Monday night for his hand-picked Senate nominee J.D. Vance, who has been in a surprisingly tight race against Democrat Tim Ryan in a state Trump twice won, the former president said he’d be making a big announcement at his Mar-a-Lago resort on November 15. CNN had previously reported his aides were eyeing the third week of November for a campaign launch — timing that would allow Trump to take credit for GOP successes in the midterms. He’s hoping that a good night for his candidates — including a full slate of election deniers in Arizona — could help him build momentum for a third White House bid.

Ahead of a potential rematch with Trump, Biden’s dragging approval ratings have made him an unwelcome presence on the campaign trail in swing states. He spent election eve rallying in Maryland for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wes Moore and in New York several days earlier for Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Republican momentum in the closing stretch of the campaign — especially in the race for the House — has put the White House on notice about the potential coming frustrations of governing in a divided Washington. The GOP has already promised relentless investigations and hearings focusing on the Justice Department, the administration’s border policies, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the president’s son, Hunter Biden. In an exclusive interview with CNN on Sunday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy left the door open to beginning impeachment proceedings against the president.

A divided government in Washington could allow Biden to wield his presidential veto to frustrate Republican plans of prolonging Trump-era tax cuts and any attempt to pass a national ban on abortion. But it could also trigger fiscal showdowns and the threats of government shutdowns. A clash could also be looming over raising the debt ceiling.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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