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The gloves are off: Mid-term election battles in full-swing

The partisan battles in Congress and statehouses across the country already seem pretty loud and raucous. But you've probably only seen a preview of the campaign "noise" yet to come.

That's because the mid-term congressional elections are coming up Nov. 6, putting about one-third of Senate seats in play, along with the entire House of Representatives, 36 gubernatorial races and hundreds of state and local elections.

From now until then, your radio and TV shows will start to fill up with advertising. And every vote, every speech and every interview will be closely watched to see if one party or the other can create wedge issues, swaying voters to their side in the process.

Many Democrats are predicting that a "blue wave" will swell across the country, earning majorities in both the House and Senate that will lift Democrat Chuck Schumer to Senate Majority Leader and Rep. Nancy Pelosi to once again lead the House. If history is any guide, they may be right.

Voter turnout is usually much lighter in mid-term elections, and historically, the party that controls the White House loses seats in Congress. The only exceptions to this trend occurred in 1934 and 2002.

Democrats are betting that their base membership — energized because they lost the presidency to Donald Trump — will come out swinging at the polls this fall. In the Senate, the margin is already tight, with Republicans controlling a thin 51-49 majority. But in the House, Democrats would have to flip 24 seats to regain a majority.

But this year, the mid-term "math" is a little more complicated than it might look. Thirty-three of the 100 Senate seats are up for grabs and 25 of those are held by Democrats (two of which are held by independents who typically caucus with them). That leaves only eight GOP seats up for grabs. Out of those eight, only two GOP senators are most vulnerable: Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Dean Heller of Nevada.

So, Republicans are confident they might be able to hold their own, while gaining a couple of Senate seats. They are especially watching the 10 U.S. Senate seats in states that Trump won in 2016, including North Dakota, Montana, Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Florida.

Three of those races are expected to be especially hard-fought: North Dakota, Missouri and Montana.

For example, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat who was first elected to the U.S. Senate from North Dakota in 2012 and plays a key role on the Senate Agriculture Committee, has her work cut out for her — even though she still enjoys strong support in her state that Trump won by over 30 points.

A recent Morning Consult poll for the fourth quarter of 2017 shows that her net approval rating is still positive by 17 points, but last fall, that ranking dropped by 6 points.

Adding to her challenges, one of Trump's key allies on energy issues, Rep. Kevin Cramer, decided to jump into the race — after initially declining to do so.

In Montana, Sen. Jon Tester is gearing up for a big fight, although the GOP has yet to coalesce behind a front-runner from their own party. Morning Consult found that the net approval for Tester, who is also an organic farmer, fell 18 percentage points since the first quarter. That's the biggest drop among Democrats who represent states that Trump won in 2016. But Tester has built up quite a war chest. He reported in late January that he's raised more than $9 million in campaign funds — more than 10 times the amount that any potential GOP challenger has raised.

In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill's approval rating dropped 8 points last year, putting her on the break-even line for popularity, according to the Morning Consult poll. She's a seasoned campaigner who had no problem winning against a controversial and not-very-well funded candidate, Todd Akin, during her last re-election bid. But this time, she's up against Josh Hawley, a young, energetic attorney general who will be pulling out all of the stops to make sure Missouri Republicans get out to vote. Trump won the state by almost 20 percentage points in 2016.

Of course, the political winds can change in a lot of different ways between now and November. The only thing we know for sure is there will be a lot of money spent by both parties, trying to convince you that one candidate is the best to earn your vote.

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