US mid-term elections 2018: Americans vote in ‘poll of a lifetime’

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Polling stations opened at 06:00 (11:00 GMT) on the US East Coast

Americans are voting in nationwide elections that are being seen as a referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency.

Polling stations opened at 06:00 (11:00 GMT) on the East Coast, as Republicans and Democrats battle for control of the two houses of Congress.

Governor posts and seats in state legislatures are also up for grabs.

The mid-term elections come halfway through Mr Trump’s four years in office and follow a divisive campaign.

All 50 states and Washington DC are going to the polls, and experts say voter turnout could be the highest for mid-terms in 50 years.

Mr Trump attended three rallies on the final day of campaigning on Monday, telling his supporters: “Everything we have achieved is at stake tomorrow.”

Barack Obama – on the campaign trail for the Democratic party – said “the character of our country is on the ballot”. The former president tweeted the vote “might be the most important of our lifetimes”.

What is at stake?

Americans are voting for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of 100 seats in the Senate – the two bodies that make up Congress. Governors are also being chosen in 36 out of 50 states.

If Republicans maintain their hold on both the Senate and the House of Representatives, they could build on their agenda and that of President Trump.

But if the Democrats wrest control of one or both chambers, they could stymie or even reverse Mr Trump’s plans.

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Media captionHang on, what ARE the US ‘mid-terms’?

Pollsters suggest Democrats may win the 23 seats they need to take over the House of Representatives, and possibly 15 or so extra seats.

In the Senate, the Democrats are expected to fall short: They would need to keep all their seats and claim two Republican ones to win control.

Asked on Monday how he would handle a lower chamber controlled by his political opponents, the president appeared to concede it was a risk.

“We’ll just have to work a little bit differently,” he told reporters.

Trump’s invincible, but for how much longer?

Analysis by Jon Sopel, BBC North America Editor

Presidents have always commanded attention. Theodore Roosevelt called the White House his “bully pulpit” – the place from which he could demand attention and advance his agenda.

But Donald Trump has his own bully pulpit, 55 million Twitter followers and a penchant for saying the outrageous.

You feel that everything in American life is a reaction to what Donald Trump has said: his followers adoring it, his opponents deploring it and the candidates actually on the ballot trying to get a word in edgeways.

And this has generated real excitement in these elections – both for and against him.

Read the rest of Jon’s analysis here.

What happens on election day?

After months of campaigning, speculation, and billions of dollars spent on adverts, leaflets and bumper stickers, voters finally have their say.

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These people are voting in Fairfax, Virginia

Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives have raised $649m (£500m) from individual donors, more than double the $312m tally for the Republicans.

Democrats are hoping to achieve a “mid-term wave” – a sweeping victory that changes the shape of the political map in the US.

  • Hour-by-hour guide to election night
  • Should Trump be worried?

More than 38 million people have cast early ballots and the official number is probably higher, according to the US Elections Project, a University of Florida-based information source. That figure in 2014 was just 27.5 million.

In Texas, early voting has exceeded the entire turnout in 2014.

As the president observed at a rally in Cleveland, Ohio: “The mid-term elections used to be, like, boring. Now it’s like the hottest thing.”

However, thunderstorms are forecast for Tuesday along the eastern coast, as well as snowstorms in the Midwest, which could affect turnout.

What you need to know about mid-terms:

  • Why US mid-term elections matter The big issues explained
  • Can we tell yet who has the edge? Analysis of what we know so far
  • Follow the US election on the BBC How to keep up with the results
  • The A-Z of US mid-terms A guide to the terms you may hear

Five races to watch

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Kentucky’s 6th district

The first polls close at 18:00 EST (23:00 GMT) in Kentucky, and the state could provide some early indications of where the night is heading.

The race for the 6th district is between third-term Republican Rep Andy Barr and the Democrats’ retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath.

Mr Trump won there comfortably two years ago, so a Democrat victory would be a worrying sign for Republicans.

Florida’s governorship

A left-wing progressive, Andrew Gillum, and a Trumpist conservative, Ron DeSantis, are battling to become Florida’s governor.

It’s a tight race in a state that is usually evenly divided, so the result will also be looked at as a sign of things to come.

The BBC’s Anthony Zurcher witnessed the brutal, gloves-off run-up.

Georgia’s governorship

Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams will become the first female African-American governor in the US if she wins.

Republican opponent Brian Kemp’s office has been accused of voter suppression, one of the hot-button issues this year.

The contest has been divisive, and you can read more about how it developed here.

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Media captionCan liberal Beto O’Rourke end the Democratic drought in conservative Texas?

Texas Senate

This contest has received national media attention, with high-profile Republican Ted Cruz being closely challenged by Democrat Beto O’Rourke.

Mr O’Rourke is viewed as a rising star in the party and could become the first Democratic senator in Texas for more than two decades if he wins.

Arizona Senate

This race is as close as they come.

Martha McSally, a two-term Republican representative from Arizona, is running against Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.

Whoever wins will make history by becoming the first woman to represent the state in the Senate.

What are the key issues?

During his final campaign rallies in Ohio, Indiana and Missouri, Mr Trump returned to his key campaign issues, insisting that Democrats would damage the economy and allow more illegal immigration.

Democratic candidates, meanwhile, have tended to avoid directly confronting the president, focusing instead on so-called “kitchen table” issues, such as healthcare and economic inequality.

The party hopes younger voters, suburban moderates and minorities will be drawn to the polls to react against the president’s rhetoric.

Mr Trump has faced widespread criticism for his divisive language.

On Monday, Facebook, NBC and even Mr Trump’s favourite network, Fox News, announced they would stop broadcasting a 30-second ad paid for by his campaign, which featured an undocumented Mexican immigrant.

In an interview with ABC on Monday, the president said he wished he had taken “a much softer tone” throughout his presidency.

“I feel, to a certain extent, I have no choice, but maybe I do, and maybe I could have been softer from that standpoint.”

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Larry Merlo, president and chief executive officer of CVS Health Corp., speaks during an Economic Club of Washington discussion in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. Trump agenda at stake as voters decide control of U.S. Congress