On Saturday the president of the United States and his two immediate predecessors will all be in the state of Pennsylvania making a last-ditch effort to get their rival candidates elected to the Senate.
An estimated $9.7 billion (€9.9 billion) has been spent on the US midterm elections in advance of polling day on Tuesday.
But after all the time, money and effort, the crucial issue of control of the Senate might well come down to a few thousand votes in a single state, such as Pennsylvania.
Other states to watch include Georgia, Arizona Wisconsin and Nevada. And there could be surprises in places such as Ohio or Utah.
While historical trends and opinion polls suggest Republicans will regain control of the House of Representatives, the fate of the Senate is more uncertain.
In several seats, some held by Democrats, others by Republicans, the contests are extremely tight – within the margin of error in a number of cases.
Turnout could change things. If it rains on the day [or] any of a variety of things happen... the Senate is absolutely up for grabs
In a Senate which currently is evenly divided, a break one way or the other could be absolutely crucial for both parties. Republicans say they are confident but Democrats predict they could hold on and even pick up a seat or two.
President Joe Biden’s personal popularity rating is under water – more people disapprove than approve of his job performance. Several candidates in tough contests do not appear to want him to join them on the canvass.
Biden is welcome in Pennsylvania though. It is the state where he was born and he and Barack Obama will be at a rally in Philadelphia on Saturday aimed at getting John Fetterman, the Democrat Senate candidate over the line. Fetterman, who had a stroke last May, has faced questioning from Republicans about whether he is healthy enough to hold public office. The Democrat candidate for governor in Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, is well in advance of his Republican rival in the polls.
Donald Trump will be in Latrobe, near Pittsburgh, to campaign for the candidates he has championed, Mehmet Oz for the Senate and Doug Mastriano for governor.
Polls suggest voters have turned away from the Democrats over recent weeks in the face of stubbornly high inflation and concerns about the economy. For months Democrats based their campaign around women’s reproductive rights after the supreme court eliminated the constitutional right to abortion last June. However, that issue does not seem to have the potency it had in the summer.
Republicans across the country have hammered Democrats over the cost of living, higher petrol prices and crime, suggesting their opponents backed releasing violent prisoners. And the Republican strategy appears to be working.
We’re getting crushed on narrative. We’re going to have to do better in terms of getting on the offence and stop being on the damn defence
A CNN poll this week showed Republicans ahead by 51 per cent to 47 per cent in a generic ballot that asked people which party’s candidate they would support in their own House of Representative constituency. It also suggested Republicans were more enthusiastic about voting.
The president’s party has shifted its strategy in recent days, warning voters about threats to their social security and healthcare rights under a Republican congress. On Thursday Biden cautioned that democracy itself was at risk.
Some Democrats are clinging to the hope that the polls may be wrong or that the rise in the number of people voting early may work out for them. They point out that the polls did not capture the abortion rights mood in a referendum in Republican-dominated Kansas in August or an unexpected Democrat victory in a byelection in New York.
Others have publicly set out a more sober assessment of what may be on the way.
On Tuesday the Democratic governor of California, Gavin Newsom, told CBS News that “it feels like a red wave is coming”.
“We’re getting crushed on narrative. We’re going to have to do better in terms of getting on the offence and stop being on the damn defence,” he said.
The elections are also taking place against the still-bitter backdrop of 2020 and the claims by Trump that he was cheated out of victory by fraud.
Footage of armed and masked individuals in Arizona staking out ballot drop-off boxes – ostensibly to dissuade those who might be voting on multiple occasions – led to claims that the real purpose was to intimidate people from voting at all.
An Arizona court issued a temporary restraining order preventing the group involved from taking photographs or videos of voters or disseminating information about voters online and also from “making false statements” about early voting in the state. Whether all this has any impact on turnout remains to be seen.
Joe Biden’s name will not be on any ballot next week. However the election outcome will have huge implications for the final two years of his presidency.
Christopher Nichols, professor of history and chair of national security studies at the Ohio State University, said a big Republican victory could prevent Biden from introducing any meaningful measures over the next two years.
“Control of either or both houses [of Congress] has potentially significant implications for the president’s agenda and how he does his job. If it is one part of Congress then it will undermine that but still [leave] some possibilities. If it is both houses it seems very unlikely that anything will get through in the next couple of years,” he told The Irish Times.
The fact is there is a larger group of voters who care about the economy and crime first. That has always been the case even in the summer when the supreme court decision [on abortion] happened
The House of Representatives controlled the purse strings and some Republicans have already suggested that they could use the budget “as a bludgeon against the Biden administration”, he added.
In its oversight role, Prof Nichols said, a Republican-controlled House of Representatives could drop the investigation into the January 6th attack on the US Capitol or transform it into a more pro-Trump process. It could also carry out investigations into the business affairs of the president’s son Hunter Biden or the process leading to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan last year.
A Republican-majority senate could affect any move by Biden to make new cabinet appointments or fill any vacancy on the supreme court that may arise, he added. A Republican victory could also have implications for Biden’s foreign policy, including potentially regarding Ukraine.
Prof Nichols said there were divisions among Republicans about Ukraine. There were some “national security Republicans” who viewed the Ukraine war as a matter of supporting a fellow democracy that is under attack. At the same time, he said, individuals such as Kevin McCarthy – who is favourite to be speaker if Republicans control the House of Representatives – have indicated they do not want a blank cheque approach to Ukraine.
“It is unclear where mainstream elected Republicans in the House [of Representatives] stand on Ukraine at present but it is clear they are much more sceptical about Ukraine funding and might tie that in budget negotiations to something else they want from the Biden administration,” Prof Nichols said.
“The question then is whether the Biden administration is sufficiently committed to aiding Ukraine that it would change national tax policies or consider some cuts to social welfare programmes. If these are the type of quid pro quos Republicans put on the table, it is going to be very hard for the Biden administration to support Ukraine.”
I am not going to criticise the choice to emphasise it but I am one who thinks that there are certain fundamentals that are at stake every time you are on the ballot
In Pittsburgh Conor Lamb is a local US congressman who sought the Democratic nomination to run for the Senate but lost out to Fetterman.
He told The Irish Times it was not that the abortion issue – on which Democratic strategists had originally based their campaign – was fading but rather that in the minds of many voters it was not as important an issue as the economy and crime.
“That has been my concern all along about abortion as the heart of the Democrat message. Nothing to do with how important it is. It is vitally important – [there is] probably nothing more important [than] a person’s ability to control their own body,” Lamb said.
“The fact is there is a larger group of voters who care about the economy and crime first. That has always been the case even in the summer when the supreme court decision [on abortion] happened.”
Lamb suggested it was too early to talk about errors in strategy as the election was not yet over. “The Democratic Party can take confidence in the fact that we feel we are on the right side of an extremely vital issue and the abortion issue is actually about more than abortion – [it is also] about other critical constitutional rights that this court seems to think are negotiable.
“I am not going to criticise the choice to emphasise it but I am one who thinks that there are certain fundamentals that are at stake every time you are on the ballot and the economy and crime are two of those – people just always care about them. You can’t get caught not having a strong message on those two issues or the voters are going to make you pay for it,” he said.
What you see from the group of Republicans in the House [of Representatives] is just endless chaos; using the house to perform for Trump to try to please him. There will be lots of crazy hearings
Lamb warned that funding for Ukraine, as well as the future of the US social security and Medicare systems, were all at stake if the Republicans won even just the House of Representatives. He also forecast that Republicans could move to try impeach Biden “on baseless grounds”.
“What you see from the group of Republicans in the House [of Representatives] is just endless chaos; using the house to perform for Trump to try to please him. There will be lots of crazy hearings.”
In Ohio the chairman of the state’s Republican Party, Bob Paduchik, said Democrats had made two strategic mistakes. They had bet the farm on abortion when voters concerned about that issue had already made their minds up to be either Republican or Democrat.
“Secondly they doubled down on the policies that created inflation that devastated the economy, refused until this point to address the issue of inflation and deny there is inflation and we are in a recession,” Paduchik said.
As polling day approached, Democrats did not have anything to say about top issues such as inflation, economy, crime and the border, he said.
He forecast Republicans could end up with between 53 and 55 seats in the 100-seat Senate chamber.
Prof Nichols, of Ohio State University, said history suggests the elections will not be good for Democrats. The historical trend since 1945 would indicate the House of Representatives was likely to switch and it was really a question of by how many seats. Republicans need a net gain of five seats to win a majority.
He said the Senate polling in many states was not very helpful as it was so inconclusive with virtually everything within the margin of error.
The margins, he said, were “razor thin”.
“Turnout could change things. If it rains on the day [or] any of a variety of things happen... the Senate is absolutely up for grabs.”