Tuesday is Election Day in the United States, with millions of Americans casting ballots in congressional elections that will determine the philosophical shape of Congress and set the tone for the Washington political debate during the second half of Democratic President Joe Biden's four-year term.
All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are at stake, and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate. More than 42 million people have already cast ballots in early in-person or mail-in voting. Some analysts suggest the total vote in contests across the country could top the 115 million tally in the 2018 midterm elections.
Democrats now narrowly hold control of both chambers, but preelection polling shows Republicans are likely to take hold of the House and possibly the Senate, an outcome that in the past has led to protracted political gridlock when one political party controls Congress, or at least one chamber, and the other party holds the White House.
One prominent U.S. political polling site, FiveThirtyEight.com, now gives Republicans a 55% chance of winning the Senate and an 83% likelihood of overcoming Democratic control in the House. It projects Republicans will pick up 13 seats in the House to gain a 225-210 edge and one seat in the Senate to hold a 51-49 advantage come January 2023.
Another polling site, RealClearPolitics.com, is more bullish on Republican chances, predicting the party will gain three Senate seats and 14 to 48 House seats.
In a recent Pew Research Center poll, more than three-quarters of U.S. voters surveyed said the economy was their top concern this election.
"The interest rates, the housing market, the price of gas, you know, you're noticing in the grocery stores food is very, very expensive, and there's items that you can't even find anymore. It's a huge, huge concern," Amanda Douglas, a voter in the southeastern state of Georgia, told VOA.
After the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June ending the federal right to abortion, social issues have also motivated some voters.
"I think everybody should have access to health care whether what your personal views are on Roe v. Wade or abortion," Georgia voter Theresa Allmend told VOA.
Senator Raphael Warnock, a Democrat from Georgia running for reelection in the heavily contested state, stressed the importance of Tuesday's vote.
"Democracy itself is on the ballot," he said.
His Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, was equally certain about the significance of the vote.
"If we don't get it right, we won't recognize this country tomorrow," he said.
Walker's supporters expressed frustration with Biden.
"After all that Democrats have done, I just can't sit back and allow the country to just fall behind. The border crisis is out of control … and [it] doesn't appear that Joe Biden is going to do anything about it," Georgia voter Emmett Shead told VOA.
Predicting a Republican victory in the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the odds-on favorite to become House speaker if Republicans hold a majority, has promised to look for spending cuts in government programs favored by Biden. He told CNN that Republican lawmakers would also more closely scrutinize continued U.S. arms and financial aid for Ukraine to combat Russia's invasion, now in its ninth month.
Since the war started, Biden, with little congressional debate, has sent more than $27 billion in munitions and humanitarian assistance to the Kyiv government. But McCarthy said Republicans are unwilling to fund a continuing "blank check" without more analysis of what Ukraine specifically needs most.
Other Republican lawmakers have promised to launch investigations of the Biden administration's performance during the first two years of his term, especially the ongoing influx of thousands of undocumented migrants across the southern border with Mexico that Biden, like former President Donald Trump, has been unable to halt.
Some Republican legislators are calling for hearings on business activities conducted by the president's son, Hunter Biden, in Ukraine and China. U.S. prosecutors have already been conducting an investigation of the younger Biden's business operations but have not brought any charges.
Meanwhile, Democrats, desperate to maintain their control of Congress, have accused Republicans of planning to cut popular health care and pension benefits for older Americans if they take control of Congress, or subject them to regular five-year funding reviews.
Both Biden and Trump have campaigned respectively in recent weeks for Democratic and Republican candidates. Trump, who was ousted from office in 2020, still falsely claims he was cheated out of reelection by vote count irregularities.
Trump has strongly hinted at rallies that he is about to launch a new 2024 bid for the White House within days of the Tuesday voting, even as the U.S. Department of Justice and a Georgia state prosecutor are conducting wide-ranging criminal investigations of his election-related actions before leaving office and during the aftermath of his presidency.
Biden also said he plans to run for reelection in two years but has made no final decision.
Biden is calling Tuesday's election an "inflection point" in U.S. democracy, attacking Republican "election denier" candidates who, adopting Trump's refrain, have refused to accept the legitimacy of Biden's victory two years ago.
Meanwhile, Trump told a rally in Florida on Sunday, "We need a landslide so big the radical left can't steal it."
Both Republican and Democratic operatives are planning widespread poll monitoring to watch for any perceived irregularities, although actual evidence of fraud in U.S. elections is minuscule.
The Justice Department said Monday it plans to monitor compliance with federal voting rights laws in 64 jurisdictions in 24 states Tuesday. But in the Republican-controlled Midwestern state of Missouri, officials said they would not allow such monitoring, although it was not immediately clear how the federal officials could be blocked.
Republican officials and candidates in at least three battleground states also said they are trying to disqualify thousands of mail-in ballots — which often heavily favor Democrats — from being counted. Democratic critics are calling this an attempt at partisan voter suppression. The disputes over the ballots are in the states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, which Biden narrowly won in the 2020 presidential contest.
VOA congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson who is reporting in Atlanta contributed to this report.