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What to expect in the 2022 midterm elections

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In many parts of the country, Americans will soon finish up voting. About 46 million people cast early ballots. And today, lines to vote in some places were hours long. NPR's senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is here to tell us what to look out for this evening. Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What are the first signs that you're going to be watching for?

MONTANARO: Well, this is exciting. We're getting real results, first of all, so that's going to be super interesting and fun to do after all this time watching polls. So let's see what the real results say. And we're keeping an eye on, you know, these last few minutes here, you know, how smoothly things are going, sort of the calm before the storm. You've got everybody biting their nails, wondering what's going to happen. You know, you just got to kind of let it wash over. Pretty soon, we'll be right in the thick of it. And we're watching the earliest poll-closing states - places like Indiana, Virginia and Georgia - with key races in the House that are going to likely give us some idea of which direction things are going, Virginia's 2nd Congressional District, for example. Elaine Luria is running there. She's one of the members of the January 6 committee. How salient was the preserving democracy message? How salient is the abortion rights message that so many Democrats in some of these more moderate to right-leaning districts have been running on?

SHAPIRO: We keep calling this Election Day, but you have been framing it differently as the next phase...

MONTANARO: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: ...Of election season. Why the distinction?

(LAUGHTER)

MONTANARO: Well, because we're not going to know all the results tonight, probably. You know, people really have to be patient. This could go on a while. And I really have to stress that this is perfectly normal. It takes a long time to count these votes. It's really not how people are used to watching election nights. They see something happen. Broadcast networks can project out what's going to happen oftentimes. But in close elections and close races, this is going to go on for some time. But that's not going to mean we're not going to hear from some of these dozens and dozens of election-denying candidates, who might say - and throw some chaos into the situation - and say that, you know, that there was something that happened that was nefarious, but none of this is nefarious. This is all exactly the way things normally work and work out.

I'm also watching turnout tonight. There were some signs that this could be record-breaking turnout, but it sounds like it's actually going to wind up being something short of 2018. I talked to Professor Michael McDonald at the University of Florida, sort of the turnout expert in the country, and he said that Trump is just such a much bigger turnout machine for both parties that we're unlikely to see things match 2018 exactly.

SHAPIRO: We know that the House and Senate are both almost evenly divided, and history suggests that Democrats are likely to have a difficult time tonight since the president's party tends to lose seats. How much is that holding true so far?

MONTANARO: Yeah. Well, 28 seats on average is what presidents' parties have lost in their first midterms since World War II. And it's 43 seats on average when the president is below 50%, which Biden is and has been since last August when the United States pulled out from Afghanistan. You know, so it's difficult also for Democrats, really, in this environment to make a positive case on something like inflation when you control Washington, even though really blaming Democrats is probably too reductive. You know, it's a lot easier to blame Democrats since they're in charge and the price of groceries are high. It's a much tougher thing to sort of try out a message that says, well, you know, it's really a global supply chain situation, and it's not 100% Democrats' fault when, really, you know, they only put in place some money that went to thousands of people that - or millions of people that was only had a minor effect on inflation. Lot tougher to make that case - and it's why something like abortion rights has been the thing that has really motivated a lot of Democratic voters, especially white women with college degrees and younger voters, who Democrats are trying to push out to the polls.

SHAPIRO: You said it's likely that we won't know results tonight, and that's normal. Any sense of when we might?

MONTANARO: It's possible we'll find out what the results are in the House some point this evening, maybe late in the evening, but it won't be until late in the evening. Remember, polls close in California and on the West Coast 11 p.m. Eastern time. So we're not going to find out at least until then at the earliest. The Senate could go on for days if not weeks. I mean, think about the Georgia Senate race, for example. You know, both parties need just one seat as a net gain to take over the Senate because it's only 50-50, that Georgia Senate race. If nobody gets to 50% or higher tonight, that's going to go to a December 6 runoff, which could very well mean control of the Senate not decided for a month.

SHAPIRO: And what are the chances that some of these election deniers are going to potentially throw the outcome of a legitimate election into chaos through court challenges or other refusals to acknowledge the outcome?

MONTANARO: I think we have to be very prepared for that as a real, distinct possibility. There's a lot of intensity around these elections. There's a lot of distrust around the elections, especially on the Republican side because of what former President Trump has sowed in lying about the fact that he believes he lost the 2020 election, even though that's not the case - that he won and it was taken away from him, which is not the case. But we've already seen from Trump tonight, talking about this afternoon, talking about how there's issues with voting in Arizona, which we know are not entirely the entire big case.

SHAPIRO: We'll see how it plays out. NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro, thank you very much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.