Updated at 4:05 p.m. on November 2.
As Republicans and Democrats exerted the final ounce of vote-rustling efforts that could spell the difference between historic GOP gains and more modest wounds to President Obama, both parties worked to spin results that wouldn’t be known for several hours, and reports of voting irregularities popped up in several pivotal states.
While Republicans are poised to win big in today’s midterms, taking over the House and making gains in the Senate, some party leaders are warning that voters still wouldn’t be signing off wholesale on the GOP agenda.
Reinforcing the party’s theme that the election will serve as a referendum, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Republican gains would be a “repudiation” of President Obama’s policies -- but not exactly an embrace of the GOP, which has trod lightly other than issuing promises to impose spending checks.
The longtime GOP powerbroker and current head of the Republican Governors Association said this afternoon that voters’ message to the GOP would be: “Hey, guys, don’t take this that we’re turning everything over to you. We’re going to give you a chance, another chance, to earn our trust.”
Democrats argue that if the electorate is on the verge of so thoroughly rejecting the policies of a president they elected convincingly just two years ago, it speaks less to core disagreements than to the depth of voters’ misunderstanding of the impact of the administration’s more far-reaching legislative exertions.
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat who has largely backed the administration’s agenda while criticizing its communications strategy, said during an MSNBC morning interview, “We got beat out of the gate on health care on message.... Same thing with stimulus.”
Midterm elections tend to side against sitting presidents, a trend Democrats have often cited as they gird for what election analysts say could build into a historic backlash, helping Republicans gain back the ground they lost in 2006 and 2008.
Aiming to recover some of the footing many Democrats expect to lose Tuesday, Obama will deliver a post-election address Wednesday at 1 p.m. from the East Room, the White House said.
Rendell sounded approving. “We’ve got to use the president more. He’s a great communicator. If tonight turns out to be better than expected for Democrats, it’s because the president got energized” as the election approached, Rendell said, asserting that the party’s base had “woken up.”
Operatives in both parties were dismissive of early turnout conjectures, saying the patchwork quality of such reports rendered them unreliable -- and made it difficult to distinguish which party could score points.
“You get totally different answers from completely different states, and I never put any stock in any anecdotal evidence,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres. “It could be Democratic precincts in Tennessee that are low and Republican precincts in South Carolina that are high.”
Still, both sides were eager to drive the idea that their voters were coming out in vital swaths of the country, Republicans playing up rural Illinois turnout and Democrats hyping an early voting surge in Florida among African Americans.
Elections officials said there had been a rash of voting irregularities, most notably a shooting at a New Hampshire polling station and school that reportedly left one person dead and one wounded. State police said the suspect was in custody.
The Pittsburg, N.H., polling place had reportedly reopened this afternoon after being cordoned off for about two hours.
In Missouri, a voter “look-up system” had malfunctioned, officials said, causing delays in the verification process. In Wisconsin, the state’s government accountability board posted clarifications that state law did not require photo identification to vote, after scattered complaints. Minnesota Republicans asked state officials to look into reports of jammed ballot machines in several municipalities.
On balance, though, the National Association of Secretaries of State said the election had been proceeding with relatively few bumps.
“It’s been very quiet at the NASS office this afternoon, which indicates that voting is going very smoothly in most states,” said Kay Stimson, spokeswoman for the National Association of Secretaries of State.
Stimson said this year’s election appeared to offer voters more information and protection resources than most midterms.
Obama, who has campaigned sporadically, stayed primarily on the radio today, including an interview on American Idol host Ryan Seacrest’s radio show in which he hewed to the appeals he’s offered to his base among young adults drawn to voting by his presidential campaign.
"This is such a critical election, because we're living in a huge moment of change in this country,” Obama told Seacrest. “I mean, we’ve gone through two of the toughest years we’ve had since the Great Depression, a huge financial crisis, a very bad recession. And, you know, despite that, I think I am optimistic about this country because of young people, because of their energy, because of their enthusiasm, because of their ideas. But, you know, none of that will make a difference if they're not participating."
Clifford Marks contributed contributed to this article.