It has become a worn cliché to say such-and-such election is of vital, life-changing importance. Some elections, people argue, are the most crucial ever, and that so much depends on its outcome.
Much of it is hyperbole, but sometimes it is true.
The US 2018 midterm elections – with most voting taking place 100 days from now on 6 November – fall into the second category. While Donald Trump’s name is not on the ballot, his presence will hover over the battle for each of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, the 35 Senate seats being contested, the 39 state and territorial governorships that will be decided, along with the numerous state and local legislatures.
Yet, it is more than simply a referendum on the man whose first term has been marked by an approval rating that has often plunged to record lows: Mr Trump’s political future could depend on the results.
If the Democrats take control of the house, which most analysts predict they will, it would be there that any impeachment process would begin. While the Democratic leader in the house, congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, currently plays down such talk, there are many in the party with an appetite to try and censure the president.
For while Mr Trump has, against the predictions of many, managed to take a firm grip on the Republican Party – a recent Gallup poll found while he had a national approval rating of just 42 per cent, among Republicans it was as high as 87 per cent – he has also energised the opposition.
Warning to Republicans
The “Resistance”, as some term it, has been organising, campaigning, registering first-time voters and raising money with a rare fervour.
Earlier this month, it was revealed in 56 house districts, Republicans had raised less money than Democrats, while in no districts were Democrats lagging behind their Republican challengers. This spring, a similar picture emerged during fundraising for the Senate races; Axios said the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had twice as much money to spend as the National Republican Senatorial Committee, with $29.9m (£22.8m) compared to Republicans’ $14.8m.
Polls also show more enthusiasm among Democrats. A Washington Post survey suggested 46 per cent of registered voters felt it was “extremely important” to vote in this year’s midterms, but the figure rose to 58 per cent among Democrats and fell to 38 per cent amongst Republicans.
This week, with the website FiveThirtyEight showing a generic 47.8 to 40.1 advantage to the Democrats on people’s voting intentions for Congress, Republicans received a warning call from Mr Trump’s former top strategist, Steve Bannon.
“This is going to be up or down vote. It’s a referendum on the Trump presidency,” he told Fox News.
“The opposition is going to be very focused on trying to win the House of Representatives, try to win Congress in order to impeach President Trump and stop the entire progress … You pick it. They are going to try to unwind it.”
He added: “The Democrats got one thing. They got a do-over. In this November, and it is 100 days and a wake up.”
House is crucial
Recently, Larry Sabato, one of the nation’s most frequently quoted analysts, captured people’s attention when his usually cautious Crystal Ball predictive model for the first time said the Democrats had a better than 50 per cent chance of retaking the house.
“For most of this election cycle the generic ballot has shown a consistent Democratic lead that suggests a very competitive battle for the majority,” wrote Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Mr Sabato’s Crystal Ball.
Jeanne Zaino, professor of political science at Iona College in New York, told The Independent she also felt the house would most likely be captured by the Democrats. She said she estimated they could win as many as 35 seats, whereas they require just 23 to take control.
Ms Zaino said if the Democrats did take the House, it would spell trouble for Mr Trump. She said while Ms Pelosi had decided that talking about impeachment ahead of the midterms was not a wise strategy, she would be more ready to consider it once the election was over.
“It might not happen, but I think there is good chance there will be more focus on it, and more support for [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller’s investigation,” she said.
Democrats are also likely to try and block much Republican legislation, resulting in gridlock on Capitol Hill.
The current makeup of the Senate has the Republicans controlling things 51-49, but given John McCain’s long absence from Capitol Hill, that advantage comes down to just one. As a result, Democrats and pressure groups are lobbying hard on moderate Republicans such as Susan Collins of Maine over the confirmation vote for Mr Trump’s latest Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh.
For some time, the Democrats believed they had a chance of taking the Senate as well. That now seems much less likely.
It was recently reported Democrats had launched a Super PAC, or political action committee, to spend $20m on voter mobilisation in just four states: Missouri and Indiana, where under-pressure Democrats are seeking re-election; and Arizona and Tennessee, where strong Democratic challengers are running for seats currently held by Republicans.
“Those four races are among the country’s most competitive. And for Democrats to take control of the Senate, they would likely have to win at least three of them, or perhaps all four, depending on the outcome of races in other states,” the New York Times said.
Whereas every house seat is theoretically competitive and Democrats can target Republicans in suburban districts, such as those around Philadelphia, Houston and Minneapolis, where there are a large number of white female voters – the previously pro-Trump supporters who are judged most vulnerable – winning a Senate seat requires a state-wide operation.
Many of the seats Democrats are defending are in “red states” (whose voters predominantly choose the Republicans) and the Times calculated Democrats need to win 28 seats to control the Senate, whereas Republicans need only nine. Crucially, they have to defend 10 seats in states that Donald Trump won, such as Indiana, where Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly is fighting to hang on.
“It’s not that I’m pessimistic about the Democrats’ overall position next year,” Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight wrote earlier this year. “On the contrary, I think most political observers had, until recently, been slow to recognise just how bad things had become for the Republicans.”
He added: “But the Senate map is really tough for Democrats, with 26 Democratic seats in play next year (including a newly opened seat in Minnesota after Al Franken announced his intention to retire) as compared to just eight Republican.
“Just how bad is this map for Democrats? It’s bad enough that it may be the worst Senate map that any party has faced ever, or at least since direct election of senators began in 1913.”
Importance of local government
The governorships of 36 states and three US territories – Guam, the US Virgin Islands and Northern Mariana Islands – are being contested this year, along with battles for the state chambers in numerous states.
Jennifer Duffy, an analyst with the Cook Political Report, said there were still many primary contests to be held before the actual general election in November. Of the 36 governor races, 26 are currently held by Republicans, nine by Democrats and one is an independent.
Last week, the winner of the Republican primary was Brian Kemp, who won by as many as 40 points, as he and his opponent both sought to ally themselves with Mr Trump. Mr Kemp’s opponent, Casey Cagle, was heard on tape saying the Republican primary had become a test of “who had the biggest gun, who had the biggest truck, and who could be the craziest”.
The already heated contest got a late dose of drama when Mr Trump endorsed Mr Kemp over his rival, Casey Cagle.
Mr Kemp now faces a November showdown against Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is looking to become the first African American governor in the country. She has been running a progressive campaign that will likely be calibrated as she seeks independent voters in November.
But commentators point out Mr Kemp faces a tough challenge of reuniting the state’s Republican Party after a bitter contest. They also say his hardline policies may not sit well among many in a state where demographics mean it is steadily moving from a solid red to purple.
Ms Duffy said events such as Mr Kemp’s victory could spell trouble for the Republican if hardline candidates such as him win in other primaries.
“Republicans went into this cycle knowing they had a problem and thinking they would do well if they only lost four or five governors’ mansions,” she said, speaking from Washington. “But it could be they lose seven or eight.”
This November, 87 of the nation’s 99 state legislative chambers will hold elections for 6,070 seats, meaning that nearly 82 per cent of all state legislative seats will be up for election. At present, Republicans control 67 of the 99, and control both chambers in 32 states. Democrats control 32 chambers, and both chambers in 14 states. Only four states have divided control of their legislatures, New York magazine recently reported.
It said it had identified 18 state-legislature battlegrounds for 2018, based on opportunities to change party control.
And why do state legislatures matter so much? Because on many issues – gun control, climate change, transgender rights, even whether or not a woman has the right to an abortion – the Trump administration, with the support of a soon to be solidly conservative Supreme Court – wants to turn over decision-making, on many of the issues that affect peoples lives, to the states themselves.
If the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 judgment that guaranteed women access to safe and legal abortion, women in half the country could find themselves with fresh problems.
“We think there are 22 states likely to ban abortion without Roe,” Amy Myrick, staff attorney at the Centre for Reproductive Rights, recently told Kaiser Health News, outlining factors that include existing laws and regulations on the books and the positions of the governor and state legislature. “The threat level is very high now.”