DEMOCRAT supporters are hoping black, minority and women voters will turn out in force to help prevent the Republican Party reclaiming control of the US Senate on Tuesday.
But with President Barack Obama’s popularity in the ratings so low, the Republicans so far remain odds-on favourites to sweep the House.
That would leave the president facing double trouble with both the Senate and House of Representatives in Republican control.
Such a prospect has thrown two key southern states into sharp focus as the only real hope for the Democrats to retain control.
Early voting totals in North Carolina and Georgia – which are both heavily African-American – suggest some reasons for Democrat optimism.
Senator Kay Hagan has the lead in North Carolina as does hopeful Michelle Nunn in Republican held Georgia.
Nunn, in particular, must offset Republican advantages among whites by having blacks account for about 30 per cent of the ballots cast.
Hagan needs the African-American share of the total to approach 23 per cent, the level it reached in 2008 and 2012.
Despite his domestic woes and apparently worsening popularity, Obama remains a hugely inspirational figure for many African-Americans.
He also plans to push through a pre-election pledge to recognise thousands of illegal immigrants by allowing them work permits that could transform conditions for an estimated 11 million workers – mainly Hispanic.
Republicans have so far dismissed the numbers, suggesting Democrat supporters are notoriously early and reliable voters. They contend the mood across America is “sour” enough to turn the tide their way.
Both sides do, however, agree that black turnout will help decide the contests.
“There’s a lot of angry white men out there,” singer-songwriter Patti Austin told several hundred black voters in Georgia. “And they’re old. And they’re trying to hang on to their pots of gold. So go vote.”
In North Carolina, Hagan reminded more than 1,000 black Baptists that her Republican opponent, state House Speaker Thom Tillis, shepherded changes in election law on registration. Critics say the restrictions discourage poor and African-American voters who lean towards the Democrats. “We have fought too hard and too long to protect the right to vote. Let’s show my opponent just how wrong he is,” Hagan said.
Race could be key. In flyers, the Georgia Democratic Party urged blacks to support Democrats “to prevent another Ferguson,” a reference to the fatal shooting of black Missouri teenager, 18-year-old Michael Brown, by a white police officer. Republicans charge Democrats with “race baiting”.
The stakes are just as high in Florida and not just for Republican governor Rick Scott and his opponent Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor-turned-Democrat.
The results could provide a blueprint on how White House candidates could win over Florida’s two all-important voting blocs, pensioners and Hispanic voters.
Neither reliably Democratic nor Republican, Florida is an important battleground state, and no candidate has won the White House without carrying the state since 1992.
Hillary Clinton, the leading potential Democratic candidate, has stopped by to support Crist’s campaign. And if Scott wins, it would be a boost for three Republicans in particular who are considering presidential runs: Florida senator Marco Rubio, former Florida governor Jeb Bush – George W Bush’s brother – and New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
Meanwhile in the Midwest, Republicans are trying to protect the vulnerable governor of Michigan and oust the Democratic governor of Illinois.
Both outcomes would be a huge blow to the Democrats, proving Republican policies can be popular in traditionally liberal strongholds.
In Colorado and Connecticut, two Democratic governors are facing tough challenges in what could be testing grounds for stricter gun laws enacted following mass shootings.
Currently the Democrats hold 53 seats alongside two Independents. The Republicans have the remaining 45.