1. Voter Suppression
Before we even get to what people are voting on, there's the question of whether they're getting the chance to vote at all.
Voter suppression figures to be an unfortunate obstacle in several of 2018's closest races. In Georgia, Republican Brian Kemp (currently the Georgia Secretary of State) is in a dead heat with Democrat Stacey Abrams, who if elected, would become the first black woman in history to serve as a United States governor. A federal lawsuit was recently filed against Kemp for stalling the registration process of 53,000 applicants, of which nearly 75% were black. Georgia is also one of several states carrying a GOP-championed "use it or lose it law," which de-registers voters after several years of not voting and failing to notify authorities. Essentially, if you're running against a Republican who also happens to be (more or less) counting the votes, expect obstacles.
Following a narrow upset victory in 2012, North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, is facing an uphill struggle for reelection, worsened by a voter ID law enacted by state Republicans. The law requires voters to have a “current residential street address,” disenfranchising large numbers of (predominantly Democrat-voting) Native Americans who live on reservations in rural areas.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg. For more info on voter suppression across America for the midterms, check out Paste's recent report.
The Republican Party has been trying to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act -- aka Obamacare -- since Trump took office. While they haven't been able to fully accomplish this, big wins in the midterms could seal the deal. With many voters' lives literally at risk, it's unsurprising healthcare has emerged as a key issue -- arguably the key issue -- this fall.
A recent study from the Wesleyan Media Project found that 45.9% of televised ads ran by Senate and House candidates between Sept. 18 and Oct. 15 mentioned healthcare, and 30.2% of gubernatorial airings did, too. In this arena, it's been the dominant issue for both parties, but especially for the Democrats. Obamacare provisions like protecting those with pre-existing conditions and allowing a child to stay on parental insurance until age 25 remain quite popular, and many Republican reps fighting to retain their seats recently voted for a full repeal of all this.
Protecting what's left of Obamacare is just the beginning. The call for single-payer health care went from the political fringes to the mainstream during Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign, and midterm candidates from the Democrats' socialist wing like New York's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Michigan's Rashida Tlaib, and Minnesota's Ilhan Omar -- all projected winners -- have made it a core issue. Single-payer healthcare will likely remain unattainable as long as a Republican president is in office, but if this changes in 2020, framework laid in the midterms could become crucial.
3. Reproductive and Gender Rights
Following Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation as a Supreme Court Justice, despite several accusations of sexual assault or misconduct against him, supporters of female reproductive rights have become increasingly worried about what the Court's new conservative majority means for their cause. Given Kavanaugh's history, there's a significant chance he'd vote in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade, or at least in favor of rulings that would make abortion access in the United States far more difficult than it already is.
On the state level, voters in Alabama, West Virginia, and Oregon will decide on legislation with potential to be highly restrictive on abortion rights should Roe v. Wade be altered in coming months.
The Trump administration may also be planning policy that would be devastating to America's transgender population. According to a recent New York Times report, the administration plans to present the Justice Department with a new definition of gender that would legally restrict it to just male and female, as determined at birth. This would potentially cause an estimated 1.4 million transgender Americans to lose rights including healthcare, education, housing, and employment -- on top of having their very identity wiped from United States policy.
Immigration is undoubtedly an important issue heading into the midterms, with Trump using it as a hot-button issue to rile up his base. Recent sensationalism over a caravan of migrants headed towards the Mexican-American border put this on full display. Indeed, an estimated 7,200 people have been traveling up Central America this week, but claims by Trump that the group included significant numbers of "unknown Middle Easterners" and acted in accord with the Democratic Party are false. Unable to offer voters much in the way of issues like health care and human rights, Republicans have resorted to fear-mongering tactics like this to engage their base in key congressional districts.
What is true is that the Trump administration made changes that led to harsh, inhumane tactics at the Mexican-American border, including splitting up countless families. On this note, many Democratic nominees have supported plans for clear paths to citizenship and some have even added abolishing ICE to their campaign platforms.
5. Labor Rights and Jobs
Unemployment numbers have been relatively low lately, hovering at or below 4% in recent months. However, low wages, weakened labor unions, and overall capitalistic pressure remain constant problems in America. House and Senate Democrats recently introduced the A Better Deal platform, which focuses on problems such as these.
There have been recent victories on this front, such as Amazon agreeing to raise the minimum wage for its workers to $15 per hour, at the urging of politicians like Bernie Sanders and campaigns like Fight For $15. Additionally, a series of successful teachers' strikes this year in states like West Virginia and Arizona brought much-needed pay increases to public sector employees and raised national awareness of their struggle. Wins for Democratic candidates, especially those in tune with the party's socialist left, are crucial for these causes.
6. Climate Change
This hasn't been a major talking point of most candidates on either side, but a harrowing environmental report from the UN earlier this month necessitates its place in the conversation. Findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warn against catastrophic, irreversible damage to the planet if the world fails to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. So far, the Trump administration has done just about everything in its power to make the situation even worse (such as pulling out of Paris Agreement in 2017). However, if the Democrats manage to win back at least the House of Representatives, it will become easier to introduce eco-friendly bills. It's an uphill struggle for sure, with extremely dire circumstances.
Need more (similarly dire) reason to become politically active? A recent report from the famed political journalist Carl Bernstein claims Trump plans to call the midterm elections "illegitimate" if the Democrats happen to win back the House or Senate by a narrow margin, citing made-up "fraudulent voters." So even if the Democrats win, there could still be major struggles ahead.