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October 31, 2022updated 10 Nov 2022 8:59am

Battleground cities could still swing the US midterms. Here’s how.

Predictions suggest that the 2022 US midterms could come down to a few battleground states that could rely on voter turnouts in urban areas.

By katharine swindells

Tuesday 8 November will see Americans head to the polls in the 2022 US midterms elections. Tensions are running high due to acts of political violence such as the attack on Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, and gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake refusing to say they will concede if they lose the race.

While the Democrats hope to retain their control of the House and the Senate, Republicans across the country are capitalising on Biden’s low approval rating and attacking the incumbent party on crime rates and inflation.

us midterms
Two dogs play at a polling station during early voting ahead of the US midterm elections in Los Angeles, California, on 1 November 2022. (Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

The Democrats currently hold a narrow lead in the House of Representatives with 220 seats to the Republicans’ 212, with three seats vacant. The New Statesman polling model is predicting (as of 31 October) the Republicans will gain control of the house, losing four seats but winning 13.

Meanwhile, 35 of the 100 Senate seats are up for election next week, with the seats currently equally divided and controlled by the Democrats. The New Statesman polling model is saying the Senate is “too close to call”, though it is currently predicting the Democrats will gain one seat to hold their majority.

Whether the Democrats can maintain control of the Senate through the midterms will shape the next two years of Biden’s presidency, with the result coming down to just a handful of states. In these battlegrounds, a Democrat victory or loss is likely to come down to turnout in urban areas, and their mobilisation of suburban moderates.

States to watch in the US midterms

Georgia

In the 2020 election, Georgia ended up being the state that decided control of the Senate. Under Georgia law, if no candidate gets more than 50% of the total vote, the top two candidates will go to a runoff, so January 2021 saw candidates face off for two Georgia senate seats, both of which were narrowly won by the Democrats.

Incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock won his seat in the 2021 special election against Kelly Loeffler, but as he aims for a six-year term this time, the Republicans have put up the former University of Georgia running back and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker.

Warnock did have a strong lead, but the latest aggregate polling by FiveThirtyEight (as of 3 November) shows it has narrowed quickly throughout October and now is at just 46.1% to the Republican’s 45.7%. 

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If Warnock wants to hold his seat, experts say he needs to ensure a strong turnout in Atlanta. In the 2020 presidential election, Biden won Georgia by just 0.2 percentage points, fewer than 12,000 votes. Similarly, both runoff races came down to just 1–2 percentage points.

But in the five counties that make up core Atlanta – Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Cobb and Clayton – Biden and the Democratic Senate candidates all won close to 70% of the votes.

Pennsylvania

In 2020, Pennsylvania was one of the key states that won Biden his presidency and, since June 2022, the polls had been showing that the Democrats had a strong chance of taking control of the Senate seat. The midterms race between Democrat John Fetterman and TV personality Dr Mehmet Oz has been a bitter one marked by Twitter spats and jabs at Fetterman’s health. Since mid-October, Fetterman’s lead has narrowed, and in the past week, Oz has climbed to less than one percentage point behind in the polls.

Pollsters are still saying there's a strong chance the Democrats can flip the seat, but much depends on whether Oz is able to win over more moderates in the Philadelphia suburbs and areas like Lehigh Valley.

In the 2020 presidential election, Biden won Philadelphia itself by more than 60 percentage points, but the surrounding suburbs, and other smaller cities in the state by much smaller margins. Oz’s recent uptick in the polls shows he’s linking opponent Fetterman to the public’s negative opinion of Biden, while also differentiating himself from Trump, to win over those moderate voters.

Nevada

Nevada was also one of the country’s most narrow electoral gains for the Democrats in the Presidential race, voting for Joe Biden in 2020 by 50.06% versus 47.67%. But that conceals a massive gap within the state, one of the country's most centralised. 

Clark county, which contains Las Vegas, and Washoe county, which includes Reno, were the only two counties that voted for Biden, and by a fairly narrow margin. But those counties are far more populated – in fact, Clark county holds three-quarters of the state's population and accounted for 69% of votes in 2020.

Together, Clark and Washoe made up close to 90% of all the votes cast, so more than outweigh the Republican votes across the rest of the state.

The Democrats currently hold the Nevada Senate seat, but the latest aggregate polling shows the midterms race is presently neck and neck (as of 3 November). Like in the presidential election, it will likely be those Clark county voters that make the decision.

Of course, there’s still a lot that can change between now and election night, and there’s still a lot of room for surprises, with Arizona, Ohio and New Hampshire all polling close margins.

[Read more: How Kansas voted to preserve abortion rights]

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