7 things to watch on Election Day

Midterm election day is finally here after months of campaigning and weeks of speculation.

The first polls will close at 6 p.m. ET in Kentucky, and the country will soon see whether a blue wave for Democrats is emerging in the first national elections since President TrumpDonald John TrumpMichelle Obama says not always easy to live up to "we go high" Georgia certifies elections results in bitterly fought governor's race Trump defends border deployment amid fresh scrutiny MORE took office.

Here’s what to watch for on Tuesday night:

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How big will turnout be?

If absentee and early voting numbers are any indication of what to expect on Election Day, turnout could be high, especially for a midterm cycle.

So far, at least 35 million people have cast their ballots — far more than the 27 million that voted early in the 2014 midterm elections. In Texas and Nevada, where Democrats are trying to flip two Republican-held Senate seats, early voting has already surpassed the total 2014 turnout.

Voter turnout tends to drop off in midterm election years. Since 2002, turnout in nonpresidential election years has averaged around 40 percent, according to data compiled by the United States Elections Project, which tracks voting statistics.

In 2014, for example, turnout was less than 37 percent. In 2010, it was just under 42 percent.

This year is shaping up to be different. The surge in turnout so far, especially among younger and first-time voters, has bolstered Democrats’ hopes of a blue wave.

But whether that surge continues on Election Day will be a key factor to watch.

Will 2018 be another “Year of the Woman”?

There was a surge in female candidates running for Congress. Then, there was a slate of victories in the primary season by women. Now, months later, are women poised to make major gains on Tuesday in what many already consider another “Year of the Woman”?

Strategists believe that female candidates and voters will play a key role in determining if Democrats take back the House — and mirror the original Year of the Woman, from 1992, when 47 women were elected to the chamber, including 24 first-time members.

The motivation to run for many of these female candidates stemmed from the Women’s March, which was held the day after Trump’s inauguration. That was furthered by the “Me Too” movement, which put the issue of sexual misconduct at the forefront.

The contentious confirmation battle of Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughTrump set to have close ally Graham in powerful chairmanship Sotomayor: Kavanaugh now part of the Supreme Court ‘family’ The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — White House to 'temporarily reinstate' Acosta's press pass after judge issues order | Graham to take over Judiciary panel | Hand recount for Florida Senate race MORE also roiled the midterm landscape, sparking massive protests, largely by women, while simultaneously ginning up enthusiasm among conservatives.

Election Day will help clarify whether the anger surrounding his confirmation has sustained and whether it also added to the enthusiasm already seen among female voters.

How many anti-Pelosi Democrats will win?

More than 50 Democratic House candidates have already said they won’t support Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiCalif. congresswoman-elect bumps into Pelosi at airport Sunday shows preview: New members preview agendas after Democratic House takeover Trump predicts Pelosi will be Speaker: ‘She deserves this’ MORE for Speaker if they’re elected. It’s been a constant refrain by some Democrats who have called for new leadership as a way to also blunt Republican attacks about the liberal California Democrat.

If a number of those candidates prevail Tuesday night, the math for Pelosi to become Speaker could be complicated right out of the gate. It’s a double-edged sword for Pelosi, since a majority of those candidates are competing in the toss-up races that are part of Democrats’ path to the majority.

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The jockeying for Speaker begins in earnest the day after the midterms. In a likely effort to get detractors on board, Pelosi has pitched a “transitional” Speakership where she’d step down at the end of the next Congress. The tactic could make supporting her more palatable for these candidates and other incumbents who want a new face.

While a viable alternative has yet to emerge, Pelosi isn’t guaranteed to ascend to the post, and her path could hit a number of hurdles if these Democrats critical of Pelosi make big gains Tuesday night.

Democrats will pick up House seats, but just how many?

Democrats are poised to pick up a number of seats on Tuesday, but will they win just enough — 23 seats — to take back the House, or will a big blue wave deliver them a significant majority?

In past wave elections, Democrats recaptured control of the House after picking up 31 seats in 2006, while Republicans regained the majority after flipping 63 seats in 2010.

The math is already there for Democrats to get close to the 23-seat threshold due to factors including a large number of GOP retirements, redistricting in Pennsylvania and suburban districts that have already rejected Trump in 2016.

Plus, the party has expanded its battlefield to include reach districts that look increasingly promising for Democrats, despite the dark-red hue of those seats. Districts like Kentucky’s 6th, Arkansas’s 2nd, West Virginia’s 3rd and Maine’s 2nd will likely indicate what kind of night it’ll look like for Democrats.

Kentucky’s 6th District will be the country’s first test of what kind of wave will be in store. Rep. Andy BarrGarland (Andy) Hale BarrTax law failed to save GOP majority McConnell pens editorial calling for bipartisanship after Dems take House Trump calls out GOP lawmakers who lost in midterms MORE (R-Ky.) is facing a tough challenge from former fighter pilot Amy McGrath (D) despite representing a district that Trump won by a double-digit margin in 2016.

Can Republicans expand their Senate majority?

Republicans may be dreading their prospects in the House on Tuesday. But they’re increasingly optimistic that they’ll not only be able to hold their narrow 51-49 Senate majority, they’ll expand it too.

Democrats went into 2018 with a difficult Senate map. They’re defending more than two dozen Senate seats this year, including 10 in states that Trump carried in 2016.

In North Dakota, Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampTrump to nominate former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as next EPA administrator North Dakota New Members 2019 2020 politics make an immigration deal unlikely in lame-duck MORE’s (D) reelection prospects have looked increasingly grim in recent weeks, while polling numbers in states like Missouri, Indiana and Montana show Democratic incumbents in tightening races.

But recent public polls in Arizona and Nevada, where Democrats are trying to pick up two GOP Senate seats, have trended in Democrats’ direction. Meanwhile, Texas and Tennessee, two red states that Democrats once eyed as possible pickup opportunities, have moved further into the GOP’s corner.

Still, high Democratic turnout could give the party a boost, limiting — or even thwarting —Republican gains in the Senate.

It’s not the economy, stupid

The economy is booming, with low unemployment and solid jobs reports. But that growth has been overshadowed this election cycle.

The good economy that Trump and Republicans have taken credit for should in theory boost the party in power. Yet what’s usually a top issue for voters has taken a back seat to health care and immigration, which have been dominant priorities this cycle. 

Democrats have zeroed in on a health-care-driven message, as issues like pre-existing conditions have become popular compared to 2010, when the Affordable Care Act became an albatross for the party.

Meanwhile, some Republicans have played up the GOP tax law passed late last year, but many have instead taken a page out of Trump’s playbook and heavily focused on immigration.

Republicans have vented frustration that Trump is drowning out the strong economy and his tax cuts by largely focusing on red-meat issues to drive out the base. They say they’d rather have him tout the economy than rail against a caravan of migrants headed to the border.

Trump’s tariffs have also been on the top of voters’ minds, particularly in the Midwest, with a trade war potentially canceling out some of that economic growth in the heart of Trump country.

Does Trump’s appeal hold up in red states and districts?

Midterm elections are often seen as referenda on whoever occupies the Oval Office, and this year is no exception.

But instead of toning down his rhetoric to appeal to moderate voters and expand the GOP’s electorate, Trump has doubled down on a closing message of division, warning of an “invasion” by a migrant caravan making its way through Mexico and cautioning against “left-wing mobs.”

How that message plays out on Tuesday, particularly in states and districts he won in 2016, will be a crucial test of the president’s political brand going into his 2020 reelection bid.

Republican successes in red states on Tuesday could signal that Trump’s message is still resonating with the GOP’s conservative base. But losses could prompt some Republicans to reevaluate the party’s direction heading into 2020.