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Live blog: Midterm election 2018 updates, news and analysis

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Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in 25 years. 

Still, the race between incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Cruz and his challenger, Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, has been regarded as surprisingly competitive. It has garnered almost non-stop national attention, and the Cook Political Report has rated the race as a toss-up.

The pair met face-to-face twice during the campaign to debate issues and highlight their visions to voters. I covered their two debates, both of which were marked by sharp personal jabs and bitter policy differences about how they will serve residents of the Lone Star State.

Read more here and here, and watch debate highlights below.

The Garden State hasn’t elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since 1972. And yet, in poll after poll, incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez has been dragged down by sky-high disapproval ratings after escaping a guilty verdict when his federal corruption trial ended in a mistrial last year. 

Subsequently, as we reported last month, Menendez — who faces off against Bob Hugin, a Marine Corps veteran and the former chief of a biopharmaceutical behemoth who has spent millions of his own money on negative ads — is looking at a stunningly close race to secure a third term.

But Hugin has a major problem of his own: President Trump. 

Read more about the race here, and check back later to see how the candidates fared. 

With well more than 100 competitive House and Senate contests happening on Tuesday, keeping track of the big picture on Election Day could seem pretty daunting.

But as polls close, starting at 6 p.m. ET on the East Coast, we’ll start seeing voter data that could give us a sense of how each party is faring — and how real a potential blue wave might be.

The NBC News Political Unit has identified key races — at each poll closing time throughout the night — that will tell the story of Election Night 2018 as it evolves.

Here’s how to watch the clock

GOP Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, on Tuesday announced that he will bar The Des Moines Register and other news outlets he deems “leftist propaganda” from his election night event. 

The surprising decision came after the newspaper made a routine request on Monday to get credentials for his event, the paper reported on Tuesday. 

After sending the request, a spokesman for the campaign told the paper: “We are not granting credentials to the Des Moines Register or any other leftist propaganda media outlet with no concern for reporting the truth.”

King is an anti-immigration hardliner who has in several instances railed against diversity in America, saying it is “not a strength,” and asking, “What does it bring that we don’t have that is worth the price?”

King has faced criticism for espousing white supremacist viewpoints online and in public remarks, prompting some companies who have contributed to his re-election campaign to cut ties and for fellow Republicans to distance themselves from the Iowa lawmaker. 

King has pushed back at accusations of racism and anti-Semitism, even booting a man from a campaign event after the man questioned King’s connection to white supremacist ideology.

In the Brooklyn, New York, voters who tried to cast ballots early at a community center found firefighters prying open a locked polling place at 6 a.m.

“People outside the voting station were saying that they can’t vote because they have to go back to work,” said Brooklyn resident Jalessa Parris.

The firefighters managed to open the doors, Parris said, but it turned out to be the wrong entrance. Parris said she left, and about an hour later, waited for more poll workers to arrive.

By about 8 a.m., a worker had arrived with the right key, and she was able to vote by about 8:30 a.m., Parris said.

Pizza to the Polls is back for another election.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit organization — which can be found at www.polls.pizza, of course — takes in reports of long lines at polling locations and also solicits donations for pizza. It then dispatches pizza to those locations to feed hungry voters. 

The group said that as of 2:45 p.m. ET it had sent more than 3,000 pizzas to 200 polling places, paid for with more than $138,000 in donations. 

Pizza to the Polls started in 2016 and quickly garnered attention for its efforts, eventually raising more than $43,000.

And with reports around the country showing long lines to cast ballots, there should be plenty more opportunities for the group to deliver a slice or two.

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel on Tuesday said she is hopeful that her party will hold the majority in the Senate, but acknowledged that Democrats could take back the House.

McDaniel told Fox News’ Harris Faulkner in a TV interview that the House is “going to be tough” to win for Republicans, thanks to redistricting and dozens of retirements.

“We’ll watch Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania,” she said. “We — with the redistricting there from the Supreme  Court, we are going to have a tough time holding on to some of their seats there, absolutely. And the 44 retirements in the House has put a lot of seats at risk too. So the House is going to be tough.” 

On the Senate side, she said races in Indiana, North Dakota, Tennessee and Missouri will be crucial to Republicans holding a majority.

She said she plans to watch returns come in tonight at the White House with President Trump.

Malfunctioning machines, voter confusion and locked polling sites were among the early problems on Election Day as millions of Americans prepared to cast ballots Tuesday in a midterm election categorized by an outpouring of enthusiasm — and frustratingly long lines.

However, the Department of Homeland Security said that there has been no immediate uptick in hacking attempts.

NBC News will continue to track voting issues throughout the day, so check back for updates to this story.  

Millions of Americans cannot vote thanks to a felony conviction, but Floridians could give more than a million ex-felons their voting rights back if they approve a constitutional amendment at the polls today.

Florida’s Amendment 4 would automatically restore voting rights to more than a million ex-felons who have completed their sentences, allowing them to register to vote again immediately. Florida is one of four states that bans felons from voting permanently — unless they can get clemency from the state — and the law disproportionately affects minorities, who are convicted at higher rates.

A recent poll suggested Florida voters support the initiative, but the measure still faces a steep hurdle: It will need the support of at least 60 percent of voters to pass. Ex-felons convicted of murder or sex crimes are not eligible to have their rights restored by the initiative.  

Google Trends noted on Tuesday morning that the top-trending Google Search in the U.S. was “dónde votar,” Spanish for “where to vote,” which had spiked over 3,000 percent. 

What does that mean? There’s no way to know. But Latino voters are heading to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots in a midterm election that in many ways has a lot to do with them — and the outcome in several battleground House and Senate races, such as in Texas and Nevada, could be influenced by Latino turnout.

Read more here.

As voters head to the polls on Tuesday in Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams is locked in a tight race for governor against Republican Brian Kemp, who oversees elections as secretary of state. 

The race, however, has been upended in the final stretch by claims of voter suppression, abuse of power and hacking. 

I reported on the first lawsuit filed by civil rights groups in October after the Associated Press investigation found that Kemp’s office had places 53,000 voter registration applicants in limbo, 70 percent of whom were African-American. Kemp denied the charge, but Abrams swiftly called it voter suppression. Earlier this month, a federal judge sided with the civil rights groups and ordered Kemp to allow more than 3,000 people whose voter registrations were put on hold over proof-of-citizenship issues access to a ballot.

Also, Kemp announced Sunday that he was investigating Georgia’s Democratic Party over an attempted hack of the voter registration system. Kemp did not provide evidence to back up his claims. Abrams responded by calling his investigation a “witch hunt.” 

While the main event on Tuesday night are the elections that will decide control of the House, Senate, governor’s mansions and state legislatures across the country, there’s been a more subtle battle being waged below the surface.

As Democratic politicians consider mounting presidential bids of their own, they’ve been touching down in key presidential states to help campaign with Democratic candidates. While the down ballot candidates were happy to have a higher-profile Democrat to draw supporters, the visits could help ingratiate these candidates with local primary or caucusgoers if they do decide to run.

Along with our colleagues at NBCNews.com, The Rundown has also been tracking the early 2020 jockeying. That includes New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker’s trip to Iowa; former Vice President Joe Biden’s repeated travels; Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders’s multi-state midterm blitz; Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley’s Iowa and New Hampshire hires; Michael Avenatti’s trip to Iowa and decision to launch a political action committee; and a joint-fundraising effort by 2020 hopefuls aimed at challenging the National Rifle Association’s political clout.

Stay tuned to the Rundown for all the latest on the 2020 election in the days, weeks and months ahead. 

Earlier this year, during the primary season, several progressive Democrats got on board with an “abolish ICE” message, pledging to end or modify the federal agency that was given broader authority by the Trump administration to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants.

But as the midterm elections got closer, the “abolish ICE” issue all but vanished from their radar.

As we reported over the weekend, this happened because of what experts said was the issue’s failure to resonate with mainstream Democratic voters, a misplacing of blame for the nation’s immigration crisis and a successful counter-attack from Republicans, including President Donald Trump.

Read more here. 

As of Tuesday, Election Day, over 38 million — 38,423,020 — votes have been counted as early or absentee in the 2018 midterm elections nationwide.

That’s well more than the total cast in the 2014 midterm elections, when more than 21 million early votes were tabulated.

Read more here.

Throughout the cycle, the political unit has been tracking not just the outsized money being spent in elections, but the messages that campaigns are spending big money to put on the airwaves.

Catch the political unit round table breaking down the key themes in television ads this cycle.

And take a look at the Rundown’s coverage of some of the more interesting ads of the cycle, including where one Democratic candidate’s family member cut an ad for the Republican opponent; a parody ad that takes a dig at California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s warm relationship with Russia; and a controversial ad where an indicted Republican congressman claims his Palestinian-Mexican-American opponent wants to “infiltrate” America.

Throughout Election Day, we’ll be highlighting our past midterm content from NBC’s Rundown blog, which features smart political reporting and analysis from the NBC News political unit.

Google likes to have fun with its “Doodle,” the daily image that adorns the search engine homepage. On Tuesday, the company kept it simple with “Go Vote” in its usual multi-colored font. 

The page also offered visitors a link to find their voting location. 

Other transportation-focused tech companies were offering ways for voters to get to the polls, with Uber and Lyft giving discounts.

Google also offered a look into search interest around the midterms through its Trends page

A handy guide to how NBC News calls races and understanding election night calls. 

This historic midterm cycle has prompted historic spending on the airwaves, almost $3 billion in television and radio ads. 

Click through for analysis from NBC’s Mark Murray  about the top spenders and the races that have drawn the most money. 

Throughout the day, we’ll be highlighting our past midterm content from NBC’s The Rundown blog, which features smart political reporting and analysis from the NBC News political unit.

Right now, the blog redirects to our midterm liveblog, but be sure to bookmark this address and return tomorrow for our analysis of this election and to follow our reporting on the 2020 cycle.  

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