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Politics & Government

Will Grumpy Americans Turn Out For The Midterms?

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

After dozens of debates, thousands of television ads and billions of dollars in campaign spending, Election Day is finally here. Today it's the voters' chance to have their say, and they're making their way to fire houses, schools and, in some cases, a neighbor's garage to cast their ballots. As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, what they decide will determine who runs this country, from the tiniest town council to the U.S. Capitol.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Voter enthusiasm usually drops off in nonpresidential years, and interest this year is even lower than the last two midterms. Still, there are pockets around the country where people are paying attention, including New Hampshire, where the hard-fought Senate race could be a bellwether tonight. There was a good crowd at the polling place inside Webster Elementary School in Manchester's first Ward.

MARIE LEDOUX: Lines are long, but it's worth the wait. It's a great turnout, I think. And we need a great turnout.

HORSLEY: Marie Ledoux cast her ballot for Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown, who's trying to oust the incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.

LEDOUX: We just need a change. We need to change locally in the state, and we need to change in Washington.

HORSLEY: You heard that a lot today from grumpy voters in both parties. Two-thirds of all Americans say the country's on the wrong track, though there are deep divisions over which direction would be better. Ledoux's straight Republican ballot canceled out the vote from another Manchester resident who voted straight Democrat. Like Scott Brown, Judith Albright is a transplant from Massachusetts, but she's not voting for her fellow Baystater.

JUDITH ALBRIGHT: My little spiel on immigration reform - I was suggesting that slamming the border shut means keeping Scott Brown out of New Hampshire.

HORSLEY: Voters tell pollsters the economy is their number one concern this fall. Despite a slowly improving job market, cheap gasoline and a near-record stock market, many Americans have not seen a real pay raise in decades.

JACKIE THOMPSON: I think we're not keeping up with the cost of living. And so if you don't keep up with the cost of living, it'll never be fair.

HORSLEY: Jackie Thompson was voting in Louisville, Kentucky, where Senator Mitch McConnell is poised to become majority leader if Republicans manage to gain six seats in this election. McConnell's been stretching the advantages that would bring to his state, but Thompson complains McConnell's been in Washington too long.

THOMPSON: So, we want someone who's fresh and eager, who's got that fight. And of course, when you've been there for so long, it just becomes routine. And we're tired of routine.

HORSLEY: Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes is challenging McConnell in Kentucky, and she's taken pains to distance herself from the unpopular president. She didn't go far enough, though, to satisfy Bill Redmon.

BILL REDMON: Too much Obama. I don't like Obama. Don't make any qualms about that - never have, never will. And I think she'll fall right in with him.

HORSLEY: Republicans across the country have framed this election is a referendum on Obama. It's working with David Atkins in Louisiana. He voted for Republican challenger Bill Cassidy over Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu.

DAVID ATKINS: And I also think it's important that we get a new majority leader. If Mary wins then Harry Reid stays on as majority leader. I think we need to clean house out there.

HORSLEY: Landrieu is considered one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats, but not if voter Jack Browning can help it.

JACK BROWNING: This has been a crazy campaign. And it's - I feel like she's always having to scrap for the vote, which is insane 'cause she fights a lot for the state. And, you know, I felt like she needed it today.

HORSLEY: While Browning calls this a crazy campaign, others call it uninspiring. Richard Foxx had to hold his nose before casting his ballot for Republican Thom Tillis over Democrat Kay Hagan in the North Carolina Senate race.

RICHARD FOXX: Well, I didn't like either one of them, so I voted for the lesser of two evils.

HORSLEY: Even in our deeply divided country, though, there are some areas of common ground. Many will agree with Manchester's Marie Ledoux and be happy when the election is finally over.

LEDOUX: I am so glad my phone will stop ringing. My phone has not stopped ringing for the past month. I swear.

HORSLEY: Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.