Have you heard there’s an election coming up?
Just kidding. Unless you’ve been sent to Mars on a SpaceX mission to find the strongest strain of interstellar weed for Elon Musk, you’ve probably had an unusual interest in American politics this year. An exhausting ten months of tariffs, bromances with dictators, Jeff Sessions bashing, and “horsefaces” have all led to the main event less than two weeks away: the 2018 Midterm Elections.
By all accounts, it’s set to be a historic day. The turnout among women, Latinos and young voters is projected to increase by double-digit percentages. Some experts think this year’s midterms could see the highest voter turnout in 50 years.
With Republicans holding a razor-thin 51-49 advantage in the Senate and 235-193 in the House, both chambers are in reach for the Democrats. Analysts believe they have a good chance of taking the 23 seats they need to win the House, but with a majority of seats up for election in the Senate falling in left-leaning districts, taking back both chambers will be much harder.
Will the Democrats be able to get the job done? Or are we in for at least two more years of Mitch and his band of angry white men?
The below three elections will be bellwethers for the country’s overall direction. Whether it’s because of their demographics, the history of the candidates, or recent events that have happened there, the results of these Senate and House races will reverberate far beyond their districts or states:
1. Texas: Ted Cruz vs. Beto O’Rourke (Senate)
If this midterm were high school, Texas would be the pretty popular girl and Dems would be the shy nerd who’s always dreamed about dating her but has never had a real shot. This is a cliché metaphor but work with me. This year, the Dems have learned to play guitar, started a cool punk band, and the heroine has said “maybe!” when invited to a show.
That metaphor isn’t completely figurative: The Democratic candidate for Senate this year, Beto O’Rourke, actually does play guitar and was in a punk band in his late teens. The El Paso congressman’s youthful charisma and Kennedy-esque messages of inclusion have captured the attention of the nation at large, as he attempts to flip a Senate seat that Democrats haven’t been able to win in 24 years. He’s also got a boatload of cash; O’Rourke’s campaign raised $38.1 million in the third quarter alone, setting a new record for Senate fundraising.
His incumbent opponent is former presidential candidate Ted Cruz — a man so disliked that completely serious news articles have been written to analyze why people hate his face. Various people from the president to his classmates at Princeton have used descriptors like “nasty,” “sleazy” and “an odious figure lurking around” when talking about the junior Senator from Texas. What Cruz lacks in likability he makes up for in conservative policy: Texas remains a solidly red state, one that Donald Trump won by nearly double digits in 2016.
Though many polls still show Cruz with an edge, this race is significantly closer than most expected. Now that he’s vulnerable, the GOP is faced with the awkward task of helping out a guy who was once called “a miserable son of a bitch” by his own party. President Trump recently rallied for Cruz in Houston, claiming that he was done using the popular “Lyin’ Ted” moniker and that he was now giving him the name, “Beautiful Ted.” That makes about as much sense as anything else Trump has done since taking office, but we’ll go with it.
If Beto can pull off the unthinkable in Texas, it could usher in a new era of politics in the Lone Star state and go down as a signature victory of this year’s blue wave.
2. Pennsylvania District 7: Marty Nothstein vs. Susan Wild
This race hasn’t gotten the national attention of Texas or Florida, but it could still denote a significant change in politics. As a result of a Pennsylvania State Supreme Court ruling earlier this year, the district that was once so blatantly gerrymandered that it looked like two cartoon characters fighting was redrawn to include a more even cross-section of voters.
Pennsylvania has always been a swing state. Obama won it twice, but Trump edged out Hillary in 2016, winning by fewer than 50,000 votes. And while current Democratic governor Tom Wolf holds a comfortable lead over his Republican opponent, three out of the last four governors to serve before him were Republican. Republicans also hold comfortable advantages in both chambers of the state legislature. But the new 22nd’s demographics are considered relatively split between the left and the right.
Currently, Wild has a small lead over Nothstein, but it’s barely beyond the margin of error. Both candidates have relatively little political experience and are running fairly standard party-line campaigns: Wild supports an increase in the minimum wage and universal background checks for gun owners, while Nothstein argues for stronger borders and touts his “A” rating from the NRA. The previous representative, Charlie Dent, was a moderate Republican who had represented Pennsylvania in Congress since 1991. The widely-beloved Dent retired abruptly earlier in the spring, in part due to the GOP’s recent embracing of far-right ideology.
A tight race in a newly redrawn district comprised of both wealthy suburbanites and rural factory workers, in a swing state that seems to be leaning left but has been dominated by Republicans at the state level for decades. Pennsylvania’s 7th has all the qualities required of a race indicative of the way the average American feels about politics in 2018.
3. California District 22: Devin Nunes vs. Andrew Janz
If the Republican party at large has bowed to the will of their new demagogue-in-chief, Nunes’ nose is almost touching the floor. The longtime California congressman, who chairs the influential House Intelligence Committee, has earned a reputation as one of Trump’s most loyal foot soldiers thanks to several blatantly partisan policy decisions.
He released a memo undermining the FBI’s use of surveillance, after questioning the Obama administration’s “unmasking” of several officials on the Trump transition team. But reporters found out that the unmasking information was actually provided to him by the White House, an awkward situation that forced him to temporarily recuse himself from his committee chairman role and launched an ethics investigation into his conduct.
Most notably, in August he was recorded at a party discussing how important it was for congressional Republicans to protect Trump from the Russia investigation, since it was clear that Sessions and Mueller would not do so. That’s because their job as part of the Department of Justice is to, you know, seek justice — not protect the president.
California might be a liberal state, but it’s also responsible for 14 Republican representatives in Congress. Many are from agriculture-heavy districts in the central and northern parts of the Golden State, including the rural towns surrounding Fresno that comprise the 22nd. Democrats are hoping that Andrew Janz, a Fresno County prosecutor who has never held an elected office, can unseat Nunes.
But it won’t be easy. Nunes has been in Congress since 2002 and smashed his last Democratic challenger, winning by over 30%. And though he’s brought in millions through small online donations, Janz has been largely ignored by the national Democratic party, telling Politico in September that the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) wasn’t returning his phone calls. Current polls have Janz trailing anywhere from 5% to 14%.
If Janz could overcome the odds and flip the 22nd, it would rob Trump of one of his biggest allies in the legislative branch, a man he once suggested should be awarded a Medal of Freedom, or a similar “very important medal.”
Whatever the case may be, remember to vote in your local elections. It may determine the fate of the world – or at least upset one angry Twitter troll living in Washington.