Fifty states, several territories, 35 Senate races, 435 House of Representatives Congress seats, 39 governorships, and innumerable state positions from judge to dog catcher to be voted on, with a bunch of special resolutions thrown in … the US mid-term elections are thousands of small races, adding up to one big question — how much trouble is Barack Obama in? The Democrats currently have a majority of 77 in the House, and a majority of between 57-43 / 59-41 in the Senate — but all the polls say they’ll be getting a hiding in both.

Most aggregate polls currently see a swing to the Right of about 5%, with dire consequences for the Democrats. The worst possibility is a wipe-out — with the Republicans gaining a simple majority in both houses, at which point the Obama Presidency, domestically speaking, is effectively over. Most commentators think that’s unlikely, with the probable result being a swap-over in the House, with the Democrats losing 50 seats (and thus the majority) and their Senate lead wound back to about 52-48 — which leaves the Republicans ample room to filibuster any initiatives that Obama can’t squeeze into the budget process.

But, of course, losing the House might not be the worst thing in the world for Obama — for it would leave him the possibility of effectively running against it, which he can’t do at the moment. It worked for Clinton — but he had Newt Gingrich on his side. Will Obama be that lucky? Will he be able to do anything with the luck he has?

With that, let’s go to a calling of the card, or the highlights thereof:

California: The Golden State is considered a safe one for Democratic Presidential candidates, but the Senate is another matter. Incumbent Barbara Boxer, a veteran limousine liberal, is facing a strong challenge from former (and disastrous) Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. A flag-of-convenience business Republican — she hasn’t even voted in several elections — Fiorina has none of the religious baggage in a liberal state, and an average of polls shows she and Boxer neck-and-neck. Appears to have been only slightly hindered by her retort to Boxer’s taunt that she “laid off workers and owned two yachts”, Fiorina replying that her family had houses on both coasts, two yachts being a necessity.

  • Governorship: Fiorina has thrown some of her own money into her campaign, but nothing like Republican candidate for governor eBay bazillionaire Meg Whitman, who has so far spent $160 million — yes, you read that right — of her own money to go up against Jerry Brown. Yes, you read that right, Jerry Brown, governor of California in the 1970s. It’s like Disraeli turned up for preselection.
  • House: Most of the state’s 53 districts are rock-solid one way or t’other. Those to watch include the 3rd (Sacramento), the 11th in the Frisco hinterland, the 44th next to Orange County south of LA, the 47th — the Disneyland seat, centred on Orange County — and the 45th is interesting, mainly because Sonny Bono’s widow is the incumbent. The 11th is also interesting, managing to produce the Charles Manson family and the Jonestown church. The fact that it’s swinging suggests that not everyone drinks the Kool-Aid.
  • Propositions: Prop 23, would repeal the Global Warming Solutions Act. The latter act — reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 — is supported by Arnold Schwarzenegger. By Schwarzenegger. Fiorina supports Prop 23.

Alaska: Alaska’s Republican preselection proved a high point for the Tea Party and associated insurgents, removing incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski, with the help of Sarah Palin’s endorsement. Murkowski, who basically inherited her seat from her father, has announced she will run as an independent candidate with a “write-in” campaign. Miller’s positions include abolishing the department of education and unemployment benefits. The split has little chance of allowing Democrat Scott McAdams, mayor of Sitka (site of the famous “bridge to nowhere”) to get the nod — it’s all Republicans all the way.

Oregon: a state so Democratic that the Republican up for re-election in 2008 never once mentioned what party he was with in his campaign publicity. Lee Atwater used to call Portland Little Beirut, for the grief it gave the GOP.

Washington State: Reasonably safe Democratic Senate hold. Notable for Centrist Party candidate Mohammad Said, perhaps the, erm, bravest name to go to the American public within an election.

Idaho: In the Senate, Republican Mike Crapo (stop it) leads Tom Sullivan 70-30. Crapo has been a Senator since 1999, and served concurrently with Larry Craig, the man arrested for cottaging in a Minneapolis airport toilet. Craig claimed that he had rubbed his shoe against the next cubicle user’s footwear because he preferred a “wide stance”. Jim Risch now holds the Idaho Senate seat formerly held by Craig. In the House, District Two (east Idaho) is safe for the GOP on 71% and includes Madison, the reddest county in the US, a big Mormon centre.

Utah: Are you kidding? Osama himself could win this for the Republicans in the Senate, and districts 1 and 3. The 2nd district (south and east) containing the bohemian parts of Salt Lake City is held by Jim Matheson, co-chair of the “Blue Dog” coalition (i.e. Democrats who vote like Republicans).

Nevada: Eyes down for snake-eyes here, or something. Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid is famously in big trouble here, his fate being tied to opposition to Obama. The Tea Party managed to get Sharron Angle the Republican nomination. A former state politician, she has opposed fluoridation of drinking water, wishes Prohibition had been maintained, and cites increased sales of ammunition as evidence that the country is arming for revolution. She does, however, approve of massages and saunas in prison, a program developed by the Scientology org, which has led to accusations of connection with the group. Reid and Angle are running neck-and-neck.

Arizona: Down on the front line, where anyone with brown skin, or even a tan, can be asked for their ID papers, Walnuts McCain is standing for re-election, having seen off a challenge from Congressman JD Hayworth, a Tea Party favourite and sometimes shock-jock, who advocates repealing the 14th amendment (which grants citizenship to all born on US soil). He looks like a robot made in a GOP lab. In the House, of the 16 contenders in eight districts in this borderline state, only one is Hispanic. Contenders include Ben Quayle, Dan’s son, who has never cast a vote. The governor’s race was to have been enlivened by “Sherriff Joe”, Joe Arupo, the guy who runs chain gangs, and gleeful racial profiling.

Colorado: The mile-high state is a mile wide open in the Senate — Democratic incumbent Michael Bennett  may lose to the GOP. Of interest in the propositions elections is our old friend, amendment 62, which defines “personhood” as beginning from conception. It’s put up every year by the huge fundamentalist groupings based around Colorado Springs, and knocked back down again by the voters. One day they’ll get it up — and then the Supreme Court will knock it down.

North Dakota: Slam dunk loss to the Democrats, after the incumbent retired, and the GOP put up the current governor, as if anyone cared about North Dakota

South Dakota: Secret ballot protections, funds transfer, statewide smoking ban, medical marijuana … even the propositions are boring in South Dakota. The incumbent Senator, Republican John Thune, isn’t even being challenged, the Democrats saying: “We just concluded that John Thune is an extremely popular senator who is going to win another term in the Senate.” Yeah, there’s a fighting party. The one congressional seat is a toss-up.

Wisconsin: Is a measure of the trouble Obama’s in. Russ Feingold, a towering Senator from the left, co-author of McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, sole initial “no” vote against the Patriot Act and so on and so on, and is reportedly being creamed by Ron Johnson, a Tea Party doofus with no political record to speak of.

Illinois: There are many reasons Democrat Alexi Giannoulias stands at risk of blowing this Senate race. His own family’s banking woes. The endless stench from the Blagojevich scandal. And Democrats, of course, are in a funk across the mid-west. Currently too close to call, but a win for Republican Mark Kirk would be a huge coup for them in Barack Obama’s home state.

Indiana: Long-time Democratic Senator Evan Bayh bailed on recontesting this seat last year. He obviously knew the bloodbath that was coming. With no Democratic incumbent, Republican Dan Coats will clean up.

Iowa: Iowa’s Senator Chuck Grassley is safe to extend his Senate career into its 336th year. Four of the five congressional seats are reasonably safe for their incumbents thanks to the ridiculous legal gerrymandering of US elections — the exception is the 2nd, centred on Iowa City, a Democrat win in 2006, whose swing back will be a measure of how badly Obama is doing. The governor’s race is a likely win for Terry Branstad, who was governor in the ’80s and ’90s,and will suddenly command great power over the Republican caucus for ’12.

Missouri: Missourah was the bellwether state that stopped bellwethering in ’08, when it narrowly went for McCain. The Democrats have seen their Senate lead slip away, pretty much since Obama was nominated and it’s now a likely Republican win to replace incumbent GOPer Kit Bond. The seven HR seats are … ahhh who cares? … three and four one way or t’other. The ballots include some wild and wacky stuff including property tax exemption for disabled veterans (shoot your own foot off, buy a house) and regulations affecting dog-breeders. Democracy in action.

Ohio: Will be vital in the 2012 presidential election, making Democrats desperate to hold onto this governorship. But the hard-hit economy is creating stiff headwinds for incumbent Ted Strickland. Republican John Kasich looks likely to tip him out. Don’t even bother worrying about the Senate race. Rob Portman looks like holding on for the Republicans in a blowout.

New Hampshire: Obama’s big deficits aren’t going down well in this flinty state, making Kelly Ayotte the favourite to hold this open seat for the Republicans.

New York: Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand has had a lacklustre term since being appointed to the Senate to replace Hillary Clinton. Opponent Joe Dioguardi, best known as the father of an American Idol contestant, could gain traction in New York City’s outer boroughs thanks to his Italian roots. Still, a GOP win in the Empire State would be a shocker and a sign that Senate control had flipped. In the race for the other Senate seat, Democrat Chuck Schumer is home and hosed. Meanwhile, Andrew Cuomo looks headed for the governor’s mansion, following in the footsteps of dad Mario.

Pennsylvania: Republican Pat Toomey holds a solid edge in this moderate bellwether state. But Democrats have a strong candidate in former navy admiral Joe Sestak — the guy who tipped out Republican turncoat Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary. If Sestak can paint Toomey’s views as too right-wing and entice strong African-American turnout in Philadelphia, this could yet tighten up.

Delaware: Republicans erred big time, nominating Tea Party darling Christine O’Donnell, a pro-chastity, anti-m-sturbation crusader who admits to youthful dabbling in witchcraft. “I’m not a witch … I’m you,” she insisted in a jaw-dropping advertisement this week. For all her spark, O’Donnell is too conservative for deep-blue Delaware, so expect this seat to stay Democratic. How different the story might have been if Republicans had nominated veteran moderate Mike Castle.

Connecticut: Democrat Richard Blumenthal looks safe again after some scary polls suggested Republican Linda McMahon (former CEO of Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment) had narrowed the gap to 5 points. Blumenthal has been an awful candidate, on several occasions wrongly giving the impression he served in Vietnam when in fact he was stationed on the home front. But this blue state looks out of reach for the GOP, even in a year like 2010.

West Virginia: The Democrats nominated ultra-popular Governor Joe Manchin and expected to coast to victory. But Obama has always been toxic here, dating back to the thumping Hillary Clinton gave him in the Democratic primaries (psst … could it be his skin colour?). And the GOP is successfully painting Manchin as his would-be Washington stooge.

Kentucky: The Republicans nominated Rand Paul (son of ex-presidential candidate Ron Paul), then promptly wished they hadn’t when he got muddled about the Civil Rights Act claiming it was too onerous on small business. More gaffes have followed. But this is Kentucky, another hostile Obama state, so if Paul shuts up, he should win.

Kansas: Has not elected a Democrat senator since the 1930s.

Oklahoma: Makes Kansas look like the Bavarian socialist republic. The only state in which every single county has voted Republican in recent elections

Arkansas: Senate-wise this has been an own goal for the Democrats, with incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln challenged from the left by Bill Halter, who gained backing from MoveOn and unions, among others. Trouble is, Lincoln deserved it, having supported Bush tax cuts, opposing a public option in health care, and opposing the employee free choice act, which would make unionising workplaces possible. She’s from the home state of Walmart after all. Despite her “centrism”, she’s likely to lose the seat. Ballot proposals include one to allow hunting and fishing, which is already legal. The plan is to make it legaller, presumably.

South Carolina: Hilarious. Republican incumbent Jim DeMint believes that single mothers and gay people shouldn’t be allowed to work as teachers. The Democratic candidate Alvin Greene is this guy who just turned up, y’know.

Florida: Cage-match between Republican Marco Rubio and Governor Charlie Crist, running as an independent after Rubio trounced him in the party primary. Rubio, the telegenic son of Cuban exiles, will shoot up the GOP charts if he wins. But the wily Crist has a chance if he can convince Democratic voters to abandon their own struggling candidate and get behind him. Gubernatorial-wise, with incumbent Crist running for Senate, this is a close race between Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink. Scott has the edge, though his anti-immigration stance to win the GOP primary could yet haunt him with Florida’s pivotal Hispanic vote.

And we still haven’t talked about the Virgin Islands…

Peter Fray

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