WASHINGTON – Coast to coast, candidates and big-name backers made final appeals to voters Monday in the last hours of a fraught midterm election season, with Republicans excited about the prospect of winning back Congress and President Joe Biden insisting his party would “surprise the living devil out of a lot of people.”
Democrats contend Republican victories could profoundly and adversely reshape the country, eliminating abortion rights nationwide and unleashing broad threats to the very future of American democracy. Republicans say the public is tired of Biden policies amid high inflation and concerns about crime.
“We know in our bones that our democracy is at risk,” Biden said during an evening rally in Maryland, where Democrats have one of their best opportunities to reclaim a Republican-held governor’s seat. “I want you know, we’ll meet this moment."
Arriving back at the White House a short time later, Biden was franker, saying: “I think we’ll win the Senate. I think the House is tougher.” Asked what the reality of governing will be like, he responded, ”More difficult."
The Maryland event followed Biden’s late-campaign strategy of sticking largely to his party’s strongholds rather than stumping in more competitive territory, where control of Congress may ultimately be decided. Biden won Maryland with more than 65% of the vote in 2020 and appeared with Wes Moore, the 44-year-old Rhodes Scholar who could become the state’s first Black governor.
The president said at an earlier virtual event, “Imagine what we can do in a second term if we maintain control.”
Most political prognosticators don't think the Democrats will — and predict that Tuesday's results will have a major impact on the next two years of Biden’s presidency, shaping policy on everything from government spending to military support for Ukraine.
In the first national election since the violent Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection, the Democrats have tried to focus key races on fundamental questions about the nation’s political values.
The man at the center of most Jan. 6 debate, former President Donald Trump, was in Ohio for his final rally of the 2022 campaign — and already thinking about his own future in 2024. He had teased that he might formally launch a third presidential run at Monday night’s rally with Senate candidate JD Vance — which Trump concluded by promising a “big announcement” next week at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
Trump's backing of Vance in Ohio this year was crucial in helping the author and venture capitalist — and onetime Trump critic — secure the GOP's nomination for a Senate seat. He's now facing Democrat Tim Ryan.
“When I think about tomorrow, it is to ensure the American dream survives into the next generation,” Vance declared to thousands of cheering supporters, some sporting Trump 2024 hats and T-shirts, at Dayton International Airport.
While the GOP likes its chances of flipping the House, control of the Senate could come down to a handful of crucial races. Those include Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania, where Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman was locked in a close race against Republican celebrity surgeon Mehmet Oz.
“This is one of the most important races in America,” Fetterman told a crowd of about 100 Monday outside a union hall near a steel plate mill in Coatesville, about 40 miles west of Philadelphia. “Dr. Oz has spent over $27 million of his own money. But this seat isn’t for sale.”
At a nighttime rally at a suburban Philadelphia estate, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley introduced Oz to a crowd of about 1,500.
"There’s too many extreme positions in Washington, too much out there pulling us away from where the real answers lie,” Oz said. “I will bring balance to Washington. But John Fetterman? He’ll bring more extreme.”
Fetterman’s campaign noted that, in the final days, Oz has campaigned with Trump, at a wedding venue that refuses same-sex marriages and at a fitness center whose owner organized buses for Trump's Jan. 6, 2021, rally in Washington.
In Georgia, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who was in a nail-bitter with Republican Herschel Walker, tried to cast himself as pragmatic — capable of succeeding in Washington even if the GOP has more power. Warnock promised Monday to "do whatever I need to do and work with whomever I need to work with in order to get good things done.”
Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly also tried to strike a moderate tone. He praised the state’s late Republican senator, John McCain, while noting that he didn’t ask Biden to campaign with him but would “welcome the president to come here at any point.”
Kelly’s Republican rival, Blake Masters, called the senator “just a rubber stamp vote for Joe Biden’s failed agenda.”
“You look at what Biden and Mark Kelly are doing. It’s like, are they that incompetent, or are they trying to destroy the country?” Masters said. "I think it’s both.”
Elon Musk, whose purchase of Twitter has roiled the social media world, used that platform Monday to endorse the GOP, writing, "I recommend voting for a Republican Congress, given that the Presidency is Democratic.”
That came too late for more than 44 million Americans who had already cast early ballots. Biden, meanwhile, wasn't exclusively positive on the final day of campaigning. He's spent weeks warning of extremism and also said Monday, “We’re up against some of the darkest forces we’ve ever seen in our history.”
“These MAGA Republicans are a different breed of cat," he said, referring to Trump's “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. Biden also raised concerns about voter intimidation during the midterms, even suggesting that some people were outside voting stations with automatic rifles.
The president was expected to watch Tuesday night’s returns from the White House.
Trump has long falsely claimed he lost the 2020 election only because Democrats cheated, and he has begun raising the possibility of election fraud this year. Many Republican candidates across the country continue to adhere to his election denialism, even as federal intelligence agencies are warning of the possibility of political violence from far-right extremists.
Threats could also come from abroad, as they have in past races. Kremlin-connected Russian entrepreneur Yevgeny Prigozhin admitted Monday that he had interfered in U.S. elections and would continue to do so.
“If you want to stop the destruction of our country and save the American dream, then tomorrow you must vote Republican in a giant red wave that we’ve all been hearing about," Trump said at Monday night’s rally in Ohio. He also went after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying, "I think she’s an animal” mere days after her husband, Paul, was severely beaten by an attacker at the couple's San Francisco home.
First lady Jill Biden appeared with her husband in Maryland but also campaigned earlier Monday for Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton in northern Virginia. It could be an early indicator of GOP midterm strength if Wexton's seat flips to her Republican challenger, Hung Cao.
The first lady told about 100 people outside a home in Ashburn, about 30 miles from Washington, that the race could come down to a tiny margin of votes. And she warned that, in Congress, a “Republican majority will attack women’s rights and health care.”
Weissert reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Bill Barrow in Macon, Georgia, Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix, Josh Boak in Bowie, Maryland, Julie Carr Smyth in Vandalia, Ohio, Matt Rourke in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania, and Jill Colvin, Colleen Long and Chris Megerian in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections. And learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections.