Confidence, Anxiety and a Scramble for Votes Two Days Before the Midterms

DELAWARE COUNTY, Pa. — The turbulent midterm campaign rolled through its final weekend on Sunday as voters — buffeted by record inflation, worries about their personal safety and fears about the fundamental stability of American democracy — showed clear signs of preparing to reject Democratic control of Washington and embrace divided government.

As candidates sprinted across the country to make their closing arguments to voters, Republicans entered the final stretch of the race confident they would win control of the House and possibly the Senate. Democrats steeled themselves for potential losses even in traditionally blue corners of the country.

On Sunday, President Biden was set to campaign for Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York in a Yonkers precinct where he won 80 percent of the vote in 2020, signaling the deep challenges facing his party two years after he claimed a mandate to enact a sweeping domestic agenda. Former President Donald J. Trump planned to address supporters in Miami, another sign of Republican optimism that the party could flip Florida’s most populous urban county for the first time in two decades.

Their appearances will mark an unusual capstone to an extraordinary campaign — the first post-pandemic, post-Roe, post-Jan. 6 national election in a fiercely divided country shaken by growing political violence and lies about the last major election.

While a majority of voters name the economy as their top concern, nearly three-quarters of Americans believe democracy is in peril, with most identifying the opposing party as the major threat. Should Republicans sweep the House contests, their control could empower the party’s right wing, giving an even bigger bullhorn to lawmakers who traffic in conspiracy theories and falsehoods like Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Gaetz of Florida.

A central question for Democrats is whether such a distinctive moment overrides fierce historical headwinds. Since 1934, nearly every president has lost seats in his first midterm election. And typically, voters punish the party in power for poor economic conditions — dynamics that point toward Republican gains.

After days of campaigning across rural Nevada, Adam Laxalt, the Republican challenging Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, rallied supporters in and around Las Vegas this weekend, predicting a “red wave” that is “deep and wide.” Mr. Laxalt noted that Mr. Biden did not campaign in Nevada this year and blamed him for the state’s 15 percent inflation.

“He’s going to call you anti-democratic for using the democratic system to give us a change,” he told supporters on Saturday in Clark County, the state’s largest county. “But that change is coming.”

The midterm’s final landscape two days before Tuesday’s election hinted that voters were prioritizing fiscal worries over more existential fears. From liberal northeastern suburbs to Western states, Republican strategists, lawmakers and officials now say they could flip major parts of the country and expand their margins in Southern and Rust Belt states that have been fertile ground for their party for much of the last decade.

There were also some early signs that key parts of the coalition that boosted Democrats to victory in 2018 and 2020 — moderate suburban white women and Latino voters — were swinging toward Republican candidates.

In the House, where Republicans need to flip five seats to control the chamber, the party vied for districts in Democratic bastions, including in Rhode Island, exurban New York, Oregon and California. Republican strategists touted their surprisingly close standing in governor’s races in longer-shot blue states like New York, New Mexico and Oregon.

At the same time, the Senate remains a tossup, with candidates locked in near dead-even races in three states — Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania — and tight races in at least another four. Republicans need just one additional seat to win control.

“Everyone on the Republican side should be optimistic,” Senator Rick Scott, a Florida Republican and the head of the Republican Senate campaign arm, said in an interview. Mr. Scott predicted his party would flip the chamber, going beyond the 51 seats needed for control. “If you look at the polls now, we have every reason to think we’ll be over 52.”

For months, Democratic candidates in key races have outpaced Mr. Biden’s low approval ratings, aided by flawed Republican opponents who had been boosted to primary victories by Mr. Trump. Continuing to outrun the leader of their party has grown more difficult as perceptions of the economy worsened and as Republican groups unleashed a fall ad blitz accusing their opponents of being weak on crime.

“It’s a close race — it’s a jump ball for sure,” Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democrat running for Senate in Pennsylvania against Dr. Mehmet Oz, the television personality, told a group of supporters in suburban Philadelphia.

In North Carolina’s Johnston County, Representative Ted Budd, the Republican who has been locked in a tight Senate race for months, rallied canvassers with a sense that the national conversation had swung in his party’s direction in the past weeks.

“We’re talking about three things out there, because our policies are on the right side: When it comes to inflation, when it comes to crime, when it comes to education, those are the things that people are actually talking about,” Mr. Budd said.

Fifty miles north, in Rocky Mount, Cheri Beasley, his Democratic opponent and a former State Supreme Court chief justice, was pleading with a largely Black audience to get every voter to the polls.

“Somebody fought for us,” she told a cheering crowd under a bright blue sky outside a bandstand at Higher Ground Ministries. “So we have an obligation to fight for the next generation.”

In the House, the question is how large next year’s Republican majority will be. Some strategists have increased their estimates of how many seats the G.O.P. will gain from a handful to more than 25, which is well over the threshold for control of the chamber. Some of the Democratic challenges are structural: Republicans could pick up three seats just from redistricting according to some estimates, and a wave of Democratic retirements means more than a dozen seats in competitive districts lack incumbents to defend them.

Paired with the number of seats leaning Republican or considered tossups, those obstacles are the makings of a landslide if undecided voters break decisively for the party out of power.

“It’s not a surprise that this is a tough cycle,” said Sean Patrick Maloney, the head of the Democratic House campaign arm, who is in danger of losing his seat in New York’s Hudson Valley, which Mr. Biden won by 10 percentage points. “We’re very much aware of what we’re up against.”

In governor’s races, Republican candidates modeled after Mr. Trump face decidedly mixed prospects, reflecting their party’s struggles with his continued influence. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida seemed poised for re-election, while Kari Lake, the Republican nominee in Arizona, faces a tough battle. Doug Mastriano, the far-right nominee in Pennsylvania, was expected to lose, but Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia and Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, both of whom clashed with Mr. Trump, appear to have solidified their hold.

In some ways, the congressional elections are less consequential than some of the state elections, given that Mr. Biden will still be in the White House to block Republican legislation. In Wisconsin and North Carolina, the party is on the verge of breakthroughs in state legislatures that would give it almost total control of their governments.

If Republicans gain just a handful of House and Senate seats in North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, faces the prospect of a Republican supermajority, rendering his veto pen obsolete to stop policies like a state abortion ban. If Republicans flip only one of the two State Supreme Court seats up for re-election Tuesday, a Republican-controlled high court could ratify even more gerrymandered state legislative maps that would lock in Republican control for the foreseeable future.

“Yes, we’re concerned about it because the Republicans got to draw their own districts,” Mr. Cooper said. “We know this is a very purple, 50-50 state, yet we have a situation with unfair maps of maybe a supermajority.”

But the chaotic events of the post-Trump era along with questions about the very mechanics of elections have injected a heavy dose of uncertainty into the outcome of the 2022 midterms.

Democratic strategists have been enthusiastic about early voting, saying that it matched or was higher than the turnout two years ago when the party swept the House. More than 30 million ballots have been cast already, exceeding the 2018 total, and the Democratic advantage is 11 percentage points nationwide, even better than in 2018, according to Tom Bonier, the chief executive of TargetSmart, a firm that analyzes political data.

But Republican candidates have followed Mr. Trump’s lead in denouncing mail voting and encouraging their voters to cast their ballots on Election Day. So those early Democratic numbers could be swamped by Republican votes on Tuesday.

Republicans, meanwhile, point to polling averages that crept toward the G.O.P. in the final week. But a number of the polls were conducted by Republican-leaning firms, which could influence the outcome of those surveys. And after several cycles of polling underestimating Trump voters, it’s unclear whether pollsters have correctly captured the electorate.

“I’ve never been one who has put my bets on any poll, because I think particularly at this time people are not sharing where they are,” said Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat of Washington, who is facing a tough re-election battle in her blue state.

Hispanic voters are likely to play a crucial role in Tuesday’s election, though both sides remain uncertain how much the landscape has shifted. In two of the states that are likely to determine control of the Senate — Nevada and Arizona — they make up roughly 20 percent of the electorate. Latinos also account for more than 20 percent of registered voters in more than a dozen hotly contested House races, including in California, Colorado, Florida and New Mexico.

“The data itself right now is a picture of uncertainty,” said Carlos Odio, who runs Equis, a Democratic-leaning research firm that focuses on Latino voters. “We’re not seeing further decline for Democratic support, but the party has relied on very high margins in the past.”

For months, the midterm campaign ricocheted back-and-forth between the two parties. The overturning of Roe v. Wade in the summer, along with some Democratic policy wins and a drop in gas prices, gave the party hope that they could defy history and maintain control.

But as the shock of the Supreme Court decision faded and Republicans muddied the waters about their positions, the power of the abortion issue diminished with swing voters. While it still rallies younger women and the party base, many Democrats admit that it’s not the silver bullet the party hoped it would be.

Still, as the campaign entered the final days, abortion rights advocates argue that the issue may have staved off deeper losses. Democrats spent more than $400 million on ads mentioning the issue — more than double the amount that mention any other topic.

“Given where we are, abortion has really made these races competitive,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the abortion rights group that spent a record $50 million on the midterm races. “You just couldn’t not talk about it. It’s the biggest thing that has happened.”

Katie Glueck contributed reporting from Philadelphia and Kay Nolan contributed from Milwaukee.

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