More democracy than you can shake a stick at

LIVE BLOG: The US Midterm Election votes start to roll in

Howdy, and welcome to The Spinoff’s live blog of the 2018 US midterm elections, brought to you by Catherine McGregor, Toby Manhire, Alex Braae, and maybe some of your other mates at The Spinoff. We’ll see how it goes. 

9.07pm: Union-busting Wisconsin governor Scott Walker lost his re-election bid. The unions issued this six word statement in response.


7.20pm: Time for the official Spinoff ‘7.20pm stocktake’.

The Democrats are on course to win back the House majority, and they’re tracking towards a 7.2 percentage point advantage in the popular vote. The Republicans will retain the Senate.

Donald Trump thinks the day has been a “tremendous success”. It might be a tremendous relief that the vaunted “Blue Wave” was more like a ripple, but it’s quite obviously a setback for the Orange Tsunami. In practice, it is likely to bring what American commentators call “legislative gridlock”.

Can the author of The Art of the Deal find a way to reach accommodations with the party now commanding a majority in the lower house to push his agenda through? On the face of it, there are plenty of areas where his pro-worker stance chimes with Democrat values. But he’s also rumoured to have quite a volatile ego on him, and it’s hard to imagine how he’ll do deals with a House party loading pressure on him.

Because that much is inevitable. With control of the House Committees in their grasp, the Democrats will be loading up the subpoena barrels – demanding paperwork on links with Russia, for example, and, without a doubt, Trump’s tax returns.

They could commence an impeachment process, too. But most commentators seem to think that could backfire, setting off a protracted process and entrenching the polarisation that Trump thrives on. And it’s the Senate, after all, which would end up voting on impeachment.

7.01pm: Finally, a vote that matters.

6.29pm: Fuck.

5.50pm: Nancy Pelosi has just delivered a speech, saying that by giving the Democrats a House majority voters had signalled they “had enough of divisions”, and citing the founding fathers and the children, who are the future, and all that. As far as victory speeches go, it was a relatively muted address by the woman who as minority leader was pilloried, and demonised, by the Republican Party.

5.35pm: The latest from a keen social media user:

5.25pm: Some encouraging news in Iowa’s 4th district, where the incumbent, racist piece of shit Steve King, could be going down.

4.52pm: Democratic ironworker Randy ‘IronStache’ Bryce has lost his bid to replace Republican house leader Paul Ryan in Ryan’s home district in Wisconsin. Bryce briefly became a social media darling last year, raising huge sums online thanks to his compelling campaign launch ad and some early buzz, but his name has faded from the spotlight along with his hopes of winning the seat.

4.25pm: It’s gonna be a split government, with the Presidency and Senate controlled by the Republicans, and the House controlled by the Democrats. Tense.

4.19pm: Update on the Fox News House call, by Toby Manhire:

Fox News has ripped open its shirt and called the House: it’s going to the Democrats. Why?

“Well, we’re just that good,” explains Chris Stirewalt. “I don’t mean to brag. But our Fox News voter analysis and what we are starting to see … tell me that the Democrats are getting the kind of numbers they need.”

On Twitter, Democrat supporters are apoplectic, saying that Fox is deliberately trying to discourage voters in California, where booths are still open, from bothering.

4.15pm: It looks like the Zodiac Killer has struck again, with Ted Cruz projected by CBS to be re-elected as a Senator for Texas, beating Beto O’Rourke.


4.04pm: The current year is 2018.

3.52pm: The needle swings again.

3.47pm: Election punditry, NZ edition:

3.39pm: A very big call from the Fox News Congress correspondent.

3.32pm: General update on where things all stand as of this particular moment in time: The Republicans look almost completely certain to retain control of the Senate, and will quite likely even extend their majority there. As for the House, which was predicted to swing to the Democrats, that’s still looking more likely than not. But the gains haven’t been big, and so far it looks like they will slightly underachieve relative to earlier predictions.

3.23pm: The voters have spoken, and said with one voice that Bigfoot can get it.

3.14pm: You might remember the name Marsha Blackburn from when Taylor Swift endorsed her opponent.

3.08pm: Madeleine Chapman, welcome to the liveblog. Her update on the USA’s answer to the election worm here:

The cursed New York Times needle is currently experiencing technical difficulties, which has plagued millions of people with the feeling you get when your dentist appointment is pushed back a week. You know the news will be bad when it arrives but somehow the darkness is even worse.

The 2016 election was the world’s introduction to death via graphic, when The Needle began pointing firmly in the direction of Clinton and, over the course of eight hours, steadily drifted across, past “tossup” and “leaning” until it pointed directly to hell. This needle will likely be no different, and yet I yearn for its sweet deathly release.

3.04pm: This is pretty huge. Literally millions of Americans aren’t allowed to vote – something that was talked about in this piece from Stuff’s Henry Cooke about a race in Wisconsin. As of tonight, that won’t be the case any more for Florida.

3.03pm: The Democrats’ just lost one of their competitive, must-hold Senate seats.

2.46pm: Yeah I read a lot of news and off the top of my head, is it still Peter Dunne?

2.44pm: No context needed.

2.42pm: The numbers coming out of Florida aren’t looking as good as expected for Andrew Gillum, the Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, and Bill Nelson, the incumbent Democratic senator facing a challenge from former governor/Nosferatu lookalike Rick Scott. But don’t freak out yet. In enormous Broward County, Nelson is currently sitting at 70%, with 51% of the vote counted. If he holds onto that lead, it’ll add around 190,000 votes to the D column, potentially swinging the state his way. Tl:dr – it ain’t over yet.

2.40pm: Dangerous idea: What if Leighton Smith was right about Nate Silver all along??? (Scroll down)

2.28pm: Oh no, the algorithm has taken over at 538 and the forecasters are mere hostages to its whims.

2.22pm: Woah! What the hell is going on here?? 538’s live tracker has just had a huge swing towards the red. That has gone from a 90% chance of the Democrats picking up the House in the space of about half an hour.

2.19pm: There’s a lot of excitement on twitter about attractive bass-man Beto O’Rourke beating Ted Cruz, based on early results that showed him with a huge lead over the former Republican Presidential candidate. However, that’s based on early results only, which appear to be mostly from cities. So it’s still too soon to say.

2.03pm: This is the second Democratic pick up of the night. They now need 21 more seats in order to win the House.

1.55pm: FiveThirtyEight is running a “real-time forecast”, and usual warnings around forecasts notwithstanding, it looks good for the Democrats in the House on this basis. They’ve a 92% chance of winning control, reckons the Nate Silver’s polltastic baby.

1.47pm: And we have our first House flip. In Virginia, Republican Barbara Comstock has gone down to Democrat Jennifer Wexton. Comstock was predicted to lose, but a large margin in the early stages seems to augur good things for the Democrats in their remaining races. With this win, the number of seats the Democrats still need in order to retake the house goes from 23 to 22.

1.32pm: Should the Democrats wrest control of the House of Representatives away from the GOP, they would have the power to initiate impeachment proceedings, but it’s debatable whether they’d pursue it. A more immediate, and in some ways bigger prize would come in the form of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and specifically the subpoena power afforded to the chair to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia.

One of the Democrats on the Committee, Eric Swalwell of California, told Foreign Policy last week that their priority would be “to fill in the gaps that exist between what we wanted to pursue in the Russia investigation and what the Republicans allowed us to pursue, which was almost zero when it came to using subpoena power to get documents, bank records, cell-phone records, travel logs, etc. There are a lot of gaps to fill in there.”

1.27pm: At this early stage, CNN has called 21 House seats, with 11 blue and 10 red. Reuters’ early tally gives the Democrats six seats to the Republicans’ four. CBS meanwhile are reporting that Republican officials have told the president they’re looking at a loss of between 17 and 21 seats in the House, which would leave the Republicans in control. Take that with a red cap full of salt.

1.08pm: Here’s someone you might have heard of even if you aren’t slamming back massive doses of American politics on an hourly basis. Former Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has been re-elected as a Senator for Vermont.

Left-wing Democrat Bernie Sanders waving his arms around (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

12.58pm: While you’re here, you should sign up for The Bulletin, our free daily newsletter that goes straight into your email inbox. Tomorrow morning there’s going to be a Midterm Results special edition, so now would be a real good time to sign up. I promise it’s good. (AB)

Sign up now


12.36pm: Okay but seriously, how did Alaska stay under the radar for so long with this sort of drama?

12.32pm: Some encouraging news for all the Betomaniacs out there – as of a few days ago, youth turnout in early voting was up a whopping 500% in Texas, where Beto O’Rourke is hoping to unseat incumbent Republican senator Ted Cruz. Youth participation in midterms nationwide has historically been dismal: in 2014 just 20% of adults under 30 voted, the lowest youth turnout in the past 40 years. But the last two years may have finally shaken the yoofs out of their apathy: according to a poll released last week, 40% of 18 to 29-year-olds will “definitely vote” today. We’ll soon know if they actually follow through.

12.10pm: The very first results are starting to trickle in. “A very tiny percentage of the vote, but we like to report them as soon as they come in,” says CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, bashfully. It’s too early to draw any conclusions really, so we’ll wait a bit. In Georgia, one of the most headline-making states in the current race, there’s a decent chance they’ll be waiting all the way till December. The state requires an absolute majority in the governor contest, and polling in the super-tight contest puts Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp both just shy of 50%. That would trigger a run-off election on December 4.

11.40am: Here’s one of the rolling news channels we’ve currently got on an enormous wall of screens set up in The Spinoff Situation Room. So much content is being consumed right now, so many streams of information being distilled and synthesised through our very bodies, to be expelled in the form of Hot Takes for you, the reader.

11.18am: We won’t get any crunchy exit poll numbers until voting closes in the first districts in about 45 minutes, but CNN has just released some results that may be – may be – indicative. Preliminary numbers from their exit polls suggest 56% of people believe the country is heading in the wrong direction, against 41% in the right direction. And the Trump effect? 26% said they support Trump; 39% said they oppose Trump; and 33% said it wasn’t a factor.

A reminder, though, of the most crucial number in today’s midterm elections: 23. That’s the net gain the Democrats need to win a majority in the House.

11.14am: One of the biggest stories of this election is the massive increase in the number of women running for office. It’s not hard to fathom why – ‘grab ’em by the pussy’, kids in cages, threats to healthcare and misogynistic attacks against Hillary Clinton have all been cited by women as reasons to run. The other big impetus for first-time women candidates? As Pennsylvania candidate Chrissy Houlahan told Pod Save America, with a modesty that can be viewed as either endearing or infuriating, she decided “that if the current president could win – who had very few qualifications in my mind – then I could be equally as good at this as he could, I thought.” This Vox post has a very good overview of just how huge the leap in (Democratic) women’s participation has been. One standout stat: In the 2016 election cycle, 920 women got in touch with Emily’s List, a pro-Democratic group that trains and funds female candidates who support abortion rights. In the 2018 cycle, that number was at least 42,000.

11.09am: We regret to inform Americans based in New Zealand that the Democrats have made no effort to secure your vote.

11.05am: There’s an old saying: As Guam goes, so goes the Nation.

10.50am: We’ve tended to put a bit of stock by the forecasts being provided by Nate Silver at 538 so far, because by and large his poll-of-polls style has been pretty effective at picking likely outcomes. But according to Leighton Smith at Newstalk ZB (did you know he predicted Trump winning?) we are WRONG to be relying on Nate Silver. Here’s the transcript of Mr Smith’s opening remarks today:

“You even had people like – did I comment on this Mrs Producer a couple of days ago on Monday? You had even people like Silver, you know with his 837, no that’s me, his 837, whatever it is that he’s got. Um… he got one election right. Back I think in 2012. One election right. And he got practically everything right, and on that he made his reputation.

Since then, he’s blown it big time. He’s got nothing else right. He was so far off in 2016, that I’m surprised he wasn’t so embarrassed, I don’t know how he made a comeback. Not that he has made a comeback, but he’s made predictions anyway.

He doesn’t do polling, he doesn’t do anything, he just analyses figures. It’s a little like the so-called, the so-called and I use the term VERY loosely, climate scientists, who utilise projections. It’s what you put in, that relates to what you get out.”

10.28am: We interrupt regularly scheduled blogging to bring you this reader report from Brad Edwards, a voter in Georgia. He saw first hand the long lines at polling places, which have been seen as evidence of slack procedures at best, and outright voter suppression at worst. Here’s Brad’s account:

A sense of taking sides has taken root, as if the entire country is engaged in a giant tug of war, an election cycle that never seems to end but is endlessly played out on social media and television. Early voting has been going on for weeks, and I’ve never known so many to vote early. Facebook has been full of friends and family posting photos of themselves smiling and showing off the sticker one receives in this state, a peach with the words “I’m a Georgia Voter.”

I arrived at the Brooklet Community Center at 7:15 a.m. this morning to find a line out the door and into the parking lot. Inside, the building was was full, with perhaps a hundred people filling out forms and showing their identification. I asked a woman who appeared to be in her mid-fifties if it was normal to stand in line at this time of the morning. She told me that she has always voted on her way to work, adding, “I ain’t never had to stand in line to vote in Brooklet before!” I asked what she thought was the cause. “Well, I guess everybody wants their people to win,” she said, a politic answer in a part of America that prides itself on politeness in public.

The mood was calm, with many stopping to shake hands and exchange greetings with friends and neighbours as they exited. I said good morning to a work colleague, to a parent I know from my kids’ school, to my son’s former basketball coach. I heard one man proudly proclaim to another that he, his wife, and all of their grown children had voted. I sent my wife a text about the how long the line was. She replied, “Well, whatever happens, it won’t be for lack of voter turnout.” Whatever happens. There is a feeling that anything could happen, that this election matters. Politically, people are digging in their heels.

Lines out the door at a polling station in Georgia (Brad Edwards)

9.30am: Want to watch the always chilled-out US cable news coverage? There’s no geoblock on MSNBC: you can watch it here.  (Correction: it’s subscribers only. Sorry.) From 11am NZ time, CNN is making their livestream free internationally. More details here. CBS News is already running on YouTube here. ABC News is live on its YouTube channel from 10.30am NZT. America’s most popular news channel, Fox, is on YouTube from 11.30am (not sure if it will be without a geoblock). And PBS is up and streaming from noon.

9.10am: US media are reporting high turnout so far, with lines (aka queues) outside numerous polling places. Large numbers are out in Georgia, a state riddled with controversy around voter suppression, and – surprise! – the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports a number of electronic voting machines out of operation. While political forecasters have been taking a kicking since 2016 (see below), the weather forecasters are involved, too. They’re predicting rain in the east this afternoon, which would push turnout down.

7.58am: Early voting has been a major factor in this election, but we’re not quite sure what effect that will have. It all depends on who is actually doing the voting, and whether it’s just a case of everyone who would otherwise have voted on the day just getting it out of the way. Here’s a chart from Quartz which shows just how many early ballots have been cast this time around.

Notably, there are more early votes in Texas this time around, than cast in the entire 2014 midterm elections. That’s probably down to the highly competitive Senate race between former Presidential candidate and Zodiac killer Ted Cruz, and Congressman and former bass player Beto O’Rourke.

7.48am: We are hearing reports that as with 2016, this is the single most important election of many people’s lifetimes. Stay tuned for 2020 to see if it gets topped then too.

7.00am: Of all the egg on all the faces after the 2016 US election, a great deal was scrambled on the polling industry. Since then, writes CNN (formerly NY Times) media wonk Brian Stelter, “there’s been a whole lot of self-reflection in the polling world. Pollsters have tweaked their techniques; pundits have become more cautious when talking about polls; and news outlets have conducted some fascinating experiments.” And today, “all the efforts are being put to the test”.

One thing we can promise: we will pay exactly zero heed to the Huffington Post:

6.55am: If you have been seeing lots of tweets recently about how everyone is going to vote Democrat, that might tell you that a so-called ‘Blue Wave’ is about to crash over America. But, as this excellent cheat sheet from our resident US politics expert Catherine McGregor points out, that’s not really how the American system is set up, and they’re still really unlikely to control the Senate at the end of the night. Here’s a bit of it, but really, read the whole thing.

OK, so the Democrats need to win both the House and the Senate. Easy.

You poor sweet child, if only it were so. While the surge in enthusiasm for the Democrats – the so-called blue wave – means a Democratic-controlled House is easily within reach (the uber-nerdy forecasting site FiveThirtyEight puts it at a 7 in 8 probability), the chances of the Senate flipping are much, much lower (just 1 in 5). The reason? It’s just dumb luck: of the 33 seats up for grabs this election, Democrats currently hold 23, including 10 in states won by Trump in 2016, some by huge margins. In order to win the Senate, they’d need to defend all those seats and win two more. Again according to FiveThirtyEight, this is the most unfavorable map that any party has ever faced in any Senate election.

6.48am: Phil Quin, thank you for your service.

6.45am: Now, fair warning, this is how we marked the last big US election.

Yesterday’s news: Tim Watkin from Radio NZ has been in the US for the last couple of weeks, and given he’s the sort of person who actually enjoys these things, he’s filed some election pieces. Here’s one in which he went to a Trump rally.

Also, New Zealander Heather McCracken lives in Pittsburgh, which has just been hit by a devastating shooting at a synagogue. She writes about the impact of that atrocity on the election there.

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