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For those still recovering from the shock that Republican Donald Trump won the Electoral College — and, thus, the White House — in 2016, the prospect of watching midterm election reruns on Tuesday night might not conjure a notion for champagne.
Specifically because there’s a lot on the line on Tuesday like control of the U.S. House and Senate, and a significant potential to increase the numbers of LGBTQ people in Congress.
Chances are, shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (5 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time), you’ll know which party will lead the Senate for the next two years. That’s because Democrats must keep their seats in Florida (Sen. Bill Nelson), Indiana (Sen. Joe Donnelly) and Missouri (Sen. Claire McCaskill) to have any chance of holding the majority. As of last week’s polls, all three had only tiny, within-the-margin-of-error leads over their Republican challengers. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com gives Republicans an 82 percent chance of retaining power. At best for Democrats, RealClearPolitics.com sees the potential for a 50-50 seat tie.
The U.S. House looks a little more promising for Democrats. Fivethirtyeight.com says Democrats have a 84 percent chance of winning the House majority. A Cook Political Report statistic last week also gave Democrats a chance of winning the majority. But numerous media and polls in recent days suggest President Trump’s campaign to turn out his supporters has been cutting into Democratic leads.
In the end, it’s about voter turnout and not polls. Polls are not always accurate, and the list of examples started long before Hillary Clinton. Polls around LGBTQ issues and candidates have been even more unreliable, but the latter has also been changing, too, as public opinion around LGBTQ people has steadily grown more accepting since 2000.
With all those caveats, there is considerable suspense for LGBTQ people in the coming election.
Polls show voters are likely to elect an openly gay man as governor for Colorado and that a lesbian has a good chance of becoming attorney general in Michigan. In Massachusetts, polls suggest voters are likely to reject the first statewide anti-LGBTQ ballot measure. And polling looks good for counting the number of openly LGBTQ members of Congress for the next session to climb from seven to 10.
The following is an hour-by-hour guide to the most important races to watch for the LGBTQ community (all times are EDT):
Vermont: Christine Halquist is the Democratic candidate for governor and, if successful, will become the first transgender person to be elected governor of any state. FiveThirtyEight shows her double digits behind incumbent Republican Gov. Phil Scott.
Indiana: Incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly needs to win to give Democrats any chance of taking the majority back. If he loses, Republicans will almost certainly control the Senate again. As of last week, he appeared to have a margin-of-error lead over his Republican challenger Mike Braun. While Donnelly has been a strong supporter of LGBT equality, Braun, as state legislator, voted for anti-LGBT measures.
Ohio: Openly gay challenger Rick Neal is running for a U.S. House seat for the 15th Congressional District in the Columbus area. Polls suggested he was not likely to unseat the incumbent. The Columbus Dispatch endorsed the incumbent, after mentioning that Neal, a former Peace Corps volunteer, would likely be a “sympathetic voice for refugee resettlement” and had worked on marriage equality.
West Virginia: How well Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin does is important for Democrats, but it could also be seen as a measure of how voters feel about his vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. In 2012, he won with 60.6 percent of the vote.
Massachusetts: Ballot Question 3 represents the first time a state has been asked to vote on a law that currently prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. Polls predict voters will say “Yes,” keep the law. But in addition to the tendency of respondents being reluctant to tell a pollster about any position they may hold that seems prejudiced, there has been some apparent confusion about the ballot measure itself. While the latest poll showed 74 percent in favor of keeping the law, about 25 percent of those people also said transgender people should be restricted to bathrooms based on their genitals at birth.
Massachusetts: Openly gay Attorney General Maura Healey is expected to cruise to re-election to that statewide office. She’s been a popular, high-profile official, frequently leading lawsuits to challenge actions taken by the Trump administration. As a newcomer, in 2014, she won with 62 percent of the vote. The results Nov. 6 could be a good indicator of her prospects to run for governor in 2022.
Michigan: Democratic Attorney and Wayne County prosecutor Dana Nessel is hoping to win the attorney general seat for Michigan. The Detroit Free Press endorsed her, saying, “No one running for attorney general demonstrates a more sophisticated understanding of that office’s potential and limitations.” The Detroit News endorsed the Republican, saying, “The AG shouldn’t use the office to press a personal agenda or to delve into national political and social activism.” That references Nessel’s high-profile work on behalf of the LGBTQ community, including a lawsuit that challenged the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples.
Florida: It’s important that incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson retain his seat. He’s in a tough race with incumbent Gov. Rick Scott for the position and this race’s outcome is another that will likely determine the party balance of the U.S. Senate. Nelson earned a 94 out of 100 on his voting record from the Human Rights Campaign. Equality Florida says Scott’s staff promised, after the Pulse nightclub shooting, to issue an executive order to protect LGBTQ state employees. He still hasn’t.
Missouri: It’s important for incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill to retain her seat if Democrats have any hope to grab the majority in the Senate. The polls are extremely tight. In the candidates’ last debate, Oct. 25, a member of the audience asked what they would do to make sure LGBTQ people don’t face discrimination. McCaskill said nobody should be discriminated against because of who they love and that she was “embarrassed that Missouri still has a law” that would enable an employer to fire someone for being gay. Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley said that “all folks” should have constitutional rights protected. Then he added that he believes “religious believers should have their rights to their free expression of worship.” After Hawley finished, McCaskill asked him directly whether he’d be for changing Missouri law to protect LGBTQ employees. He didn’t look at her or respond.
Tennessee: There’s a U.S. Senate seat open here due to the retirement of Republican Bob Corker and a tight race between Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen and Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn. Blackburn has a margin of error lead in the polls. Tennessee is Trump territory and Blackburn is an unabashed Trump supporter. Blackburn’s Human Rights Campaign Congressional voting record has been a consistent zero.
When the Tennessean newspaper asked both candidates whether businesses should be able to deny serving same-sex couples, Blackburn said, “People of faith should be free to practice their beliefs as guaranteed by our Constitution,” adding, “They should never be punished for their beliefs” and that she would “work to ensure our religious beliefs are protected.”
Bredesen said, “No, and I think most business owners feel the same. I agree with Justice Kennedy … that, ‘Disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”
Wisconsin: U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, initially looked to be in a tough race for re-election. Right-wing conservative donors poured thousands of dollars into the campaigns of her Republican opponents early on. They were hopeful, given Wisconsin’s surprise vote for Trump in 2016. But Baldwin has always been popular in Wisconsin, and she quickly raised more than those trying to unseat her. As of last week, she had a 10-point lead over her Republican challenger. In 2012, she won the open seat with 50.3 percent of the vote, compared to Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson’s 47 percent.
Colorado: U.S. Rep. Jared Polis is the Democratic candidate for governor and, if successful, could become the first openly LGBTQ person to be elected governor of any state. In the last two weeks, polls have shown Polis with a seven-to 11-point lead. Media in the state say Polis’ being gay hasn’t really been made an issue in the campaign, though the Republican Governors’ Association recently aired an ad, saying, “Polis wants to turn Colorado into RadiCalifornia,” a term which seems to echo “San Francisco Democrat.”
Texas: Openly-lesbian Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lupe Valdez is fighting a 19-point deficit in her bid to oust Republican incumbent Greg Abbott. Given that Abbott’s campaign has vastly outspent Valdez and that he is the Republican candidate in a strongly Republican state, the outcome was probably predictable since the start. But Valdez, the first openly-lesbian sheriff of a major city in the nation — Dallas — suffered some embarrassment when the Houston GLBT Caucus endorsed her primary opponent, and the state’s largest police group endorsed Abbott.
Texas: Three openly-gay candidates are running for U.S. House seats: Gina Ortiz Jones (23rd Congressional District), Lorie Burch (3rd Congressional District), Eric Holguin (27th Congressional District). Polls last week showed all three trailing significantly. Jones probably has the best chance. She’s gotten support from the national Democratic Party and, among registered voters, the latest poll showed her trailing by only four points, within the five-point margin of error — but among likely voters she’s behind 15. Burch is 20 points behind her in district; Holguin is 27 points behind.
Texas: Democrats are hoping new comer Beto O’Rourke can unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. The latest polls showed Cruz hanging on with a narrow lead, but FiveThirtyEight.com reported data that showed O’Rourke could pull off a win. This would be a tremendous relief for the LGBT community. Cruz has a zero record of voting in the interests of the LGBT community and supported numerous anti-LGBT efforts.
Minnesota: This is Angie Craig’s second bid for a U.S. House seat in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District. Polls show her with a six-point lead. And on Oct. 25, the Minneapolis StarTribune endorsed her, saying, “Craig maintains a reasonableness and a respectful, intelligent, no-drama approach that could help turn the temperature down in a Congress beset by heated rhetoric and gamesmanship.” She narrowly lost two years ago to current Rep. Jason Lewis, who’s voting record on LGBTQ issues hasn’t risen from zero.
Kansas: First-time candidate Sharice Davids, a Democrat, was polling nine points ahead of Republican incumbent Rep. Kevin Yoder last week. If elected, she’ll be the first lesbian elected in Kansas and the first Native American. It was those distinctions that drew considerable media attention to her race in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District after a local GOP official said Republicans on election day would send the “radical, socialist, kickboxing lesbian Indian … backpacking to the reservation.” In the ensuing uproar, he resigned. Yoder’s Human Rights Campaign score is zero.
Nevada: The U.S. Senate seat held by Republican incumbent Dean Heller appears vulnerable. Polls showed Democratic U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen with a margin of error edge going into Election Day. In the House, Rosen has a 100 percent pro-LGBTQ score with the Human Rights Campaign. Heller’s Human Rights Campaign score is zero.
Montana: Another critical U.S. Senate race is between Democratic incumbent Sen. Jon Tester and Republican challenger Matt Rosendale. Tester had a six-point lead going into election day. Tester’s Human Rights Campaign score is 88.
Arizona: U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a moderate Democrat, has a chance to become the first openly-bisexual person to be elected to the U.S. Senate and the second openly-LGBTQ person to do so (Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin was the first). At one point, polls showed her with a strong lead, especially given that Arizona is a heavily-Republican state. But the latest polls show less than a one-point difference between her and pro-Trump rival Martha McSally. Importantly, on Oct. 23, the state’s biggest newspaper, the Arizona Republic, endorsed Sinema — its first Democratic endorsement in almost two decades. Sinema’s victory is critical to any chance Democrats have of winning a majority in the Senate.
Oregon: Openly-bisexual Gov. Kate Brown had anywhere from an eight-point lead to a virtual tie just prior to the election. Some polls now suggest it’s a much tighter race. Brown was the first openly-LGBTQ person to be elected governor of any state, winning a 2016 special election after assuming office the year before upon resignation of the incumbent. Her challenger is a pro-same-sex marriage Republican, State Rep. Knute Buehler.
California 25th: Bisexual Democrat Katie Hill has waged a very strong campaign to unseat Republican Congressman Rep. Steve Knight, whose voting record on LGBTQ issues has earned him only a 43 from the Human Rights Campaign. At deadline, two polls showed Hill with a tiny lead, one showed Knight with a tiny lead. RealClearPolitics called it a toss-up.
North Dakota: Democratic U.S. Senate incumbent Heidi Heitkamp is in trouble. Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer is expected to unseat her. The Human Rights Campaign scores Heitkamp’s record on LGBTQ issues at 82, Cramer at zero. But Cramer has a four-point lead on Heitkamp going into voting.