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Midterms 2010: What you need to know

Which party will win control of the House and Senate in November? Republicans have the momentum heading into the post-Labor Day crunch, as the GOP has neutralized Democratic advantages on the issues, President Obama's ratings have faded, and dissatisfaction with the government now surpasses its 1994 levels. Seventy-two percent of voters disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job, a 16-year high.

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Races to watch  |  

Indicators that matter  |  

Is history a predictor?  |  

Amounts raised

The Big Issues

Economy

Economy icon

The economy doesn't just top the list of issues shaping the political environment this fall. It dominates that list. Earlier, the administration came up with the phrase "recovery summer" to highlight the progress the economy has made since President Obama took office. Since then the economy has hit another rocky patch. The jobs report released Friday showed the unemployment rate ticking up to 9.6 percent. In the second quarter, the economy grew at a rate of just 1.6 percent, a downward revision from initial estimates and slower than in the first quarter. The administration's stimulus package prevented the downturn from becoming even worse, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But the public's view of the stimulus is far less positive. The economy's impact can be seen in races across the country. Nevada, hit hard by the foreclosure crisis, now has the nation's highest unemployment rate. In California, the downturn has contributed to the state's enormous economic and budgetary problems and affected statewide races there. In Ohio, anti-free-trade sentiment and the decline of manufacturing jobs color key statewide contests and a series of competitive House races.

Health Care

Medical icon

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) said her vote in March in favor of the health-care bill was "probably the most difficult" of her career -- and she could pay the price in November. Sen. Scott Brown's (R-Mass.) win in a special Senate election in Massachusetts early this year forced Democrats to rethink their health-care strategy, but they wound up getting the bill through the House and making changes afterward. Most recent polling shows that the law continues to be controversial, and a new Washington Post-ABC News poll has voters about evenly split on whether to trust Democrats or Republicans on health care. Just six months ago, Democrats had a double-digit lead on the issue.

Spending

Spending icon

"Reckless government spending" is a perennial issue for Republicans, but in a cycle in which candidates are being targeted for their votes on the Troubled Assets Relief Program, the stimulus plan and the health-care overhaul, incumbents in both parties are at risk -- and the ascendancy of the "tea party" movement only increases the pressure. Watch the Missouri Senate race, where Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) has hammered Rep. Roy Blunt (R) for his TARP vote. Will Blunt follow Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), who was ousted by his party earlier this year for supporting TARP?

Immigration

Border icon

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's signing of the nation's strictest immigration bill stirred a national debate about the issue. While Republican strategists fret that it could damage the party's relationship with Hispanic voters in the long term, the short-term political gains have all been on the GOP side, as polling suggests that a majority of voters back the Arizona law. Brewer is a prime example of how the bill has benefited Republicans: She went from deeply vulnerable to a solid favorite this fall in her race against state Attorney General Terry Goddard.

Senate map
Races to Watch

Click a race to read more and to see a list of candidates, financial
information and election history.

Is history a predictor?

The president's party has lost House seats in all but two of the last 14 midterm elections. It tended to lose more seats when the president's September approval rating was less than 50%.
Obama's approval rating is 46%.

Is History a Predictor?
*For August before he resigned the presidency. Gerald Ford's approval rating in September of 1974 was 66%.
SOURCE: Gallup Poll for data 1954 through 1978; 1982 through 2010 from Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Indicators that Matter

Generic ballot

Democrats on top

The best way to measure which way -- and how strong -- the political winds are blowing nationally is the "generic ballot" question (would you vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate in your district?). A GOP tilt on this question is rare, and the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll has registered voters split 47 percent for Republicans and 45 percent for Democrats. Likely voters prefer the GOP by a 13-point margin.

Independents

Democrats on top

In 2008, Barack Obama won independent voters, who made up nearly 30 percent of the electorate, by eight percentage points -- a critical piece of his national victory. Two years later, however, Obama's appeal among independents has faded badly, with most -- 57 percent -- now disapproving of the job he is doing, according to the new Post-ABC poll.

Enthusiasm gap

Democrats on top

Traditionally, turnout in midterm elections is far lower than in presidential years. That dropoff puts the onus on both parties' political bases -- the most dependable voters -- to vote for their side. Polling conducted in targeted states and nationally suggests that Republicans have a significant enthusiasm edge and are therefore that more likely to vote in November.

Unemployment rate

Democrats on top

Economists dismiss the unemployment rate as an overly simplistic assessment of the relative strength or weakness of the economy. But it is an easily consumable number that most Americans use to gauge how the financial ship of state is doing. The 9.6 percent unemployment rate -- a slight upward tick from July -- is worrisome for Democrats, who had hoped the economy might be showing signs of life as summer turns to fall.

Money

Republicans on top

Democrats have spent the past 20 months working to build a financial firewall that can protect them from the onrushing Republican challenges. At the end of July, the three Democratic campaign committees held cash-on-hand edges over their Republican counterparts. The central question is whether that money advantage can stem the GOP momentum as the fall campaign begins in earnest.

Candidates who have raised the most in competitive races

Senate

Candidate Party State Amount raised
Sen. Harry M. Reid D Nev. $19.2 million
Sen. Barbara Boxer D Calif $18.9 million
Marco Rubio R Fla. $12.8 million
Rob Portman R Ohio $12.7 million
Gov. Charlie Crist I Fla. $12.5 million

House

Candidate Party State Amount raised
Allen West R Fla. $4 million
Rep. Alan Grayson D Fla. $3.7 million
Rep. Patrick Murphy D Pa. $2.7 million
Rep. Chet Edwards D Tex. $2.6 million
Rep. Jim Himes D Conn. $2.6 million

Looking for more information on campaign spending? Use this interactive table to track campaign spending by interest groups and political parties in the 2010 midterm elections.

Mid-term roundup: Print and save
Mid-term election mapsMid-term election maps

Collected all in one place in the print edition, these pages give you everything you need to know. Click on the page to view.

 

The Friday Line

Why governors races matter

The last three weeks in Wisconsin have proven that what goes on in the states has reverberations across the country.

Political Tools

Breaking down the 2011 SOTU

Take a look at the broad themes of the president's address, how the public views his handling of the issues and which lines got the best response.

Congressional votes databaase

The U.S. Congress Votes Database documents every vote and member of the House and Senate since 1991.

Census: Switching Seats

18 states have lost or gained seats in the House of Representatives based on 2010 U.S. Census figures. Explore changes over time.

Beyond the Results

Drill in on the 2010 results for the House, Senate and governors races.

Tea Party Canvass

Interviews with nearly 650 organizations revealed a movement that has attracted hundreds of thousands of first-time activists but one that shows little interest in becoming a coordinated political force.

Palin Tracker

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin threw her support behind dozens of candidates. Explore her endorsements and see how they fared in the 2010 midterm elections.

Money Match Up

Democrats had more money than Republicans in the contests for 63 seats that flipped to the GOP in 2010. But Republicans invested more in their own campaigns and benefited from more interest-group spending.

Tea Party Tracker

Only two tea party groups officially endorsed candidates in the 2010 elections at the national level: Freedom Works and Tea Party Express.The Post's interactive map shows how many of their candidates won and how many lost.

POTUS Tracker

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The Live Fix

Chris Cillizza

Chris Cillizza was online Friday to discuss the week in Washington: "If Palin and Huckabee don't run, I think there is a case to be made that Santorum could emerge as the choice of a segment of social conservatives."

Congressional Database

Browse every vote in the U.S. Congress since 1991, or search the database to see how your member voted on a particular measure.

Congressional Database information