CNN  — 

Republicans are increasingly bullish on winning big in Tuesday’s midterm elections, as they slam Democrats over raging inflation and crime while President Joe Biden seeks a late reprieve by warning that GOP election deniers could destroy democracy.

The GOP has considerable momentum in its bid to win back the House of Representatives while the destiny of the Democratic-run Senate will come down to a handful of knife-edge races. A Republican triumph in either chamber would severely curtail Biden’s domestic presidency and set up an acrimonious two years of political standoffs ahead of the 2024 White House race.

In an exclusive interview with CNN, the potential next Republican House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, laid out his plans for power and vowed to tackle inflation, border security and rising crime. He promised broad investigations against the Biden administration on the Afghanistan withdrawal, the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic and how the administration has dealt with parents and school board meetings. And he didn’t rule out an eventual push to impeach Biden.

“The first thing you’ll see is a bill to control the border first,” McCarthy told CNN’s Melanie Zanona.

In a sign of the critical stakes and the growing angst among Democrats, four presidents – Biden, Donald Trump, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton – all took to the campaign trail over the weekend.

Ex-President Trump, edging ever closer to announcing a 2024 White House bid, will wrap up a campaign he used to show his enduring magnetism among grassroots Republicans, in Ohio, with a rally for Senate nominee J.D. Vance on Monday. In a speech that concluded in pouring rain for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on Sunday, Trump predicted voters would “elect an incredible slate of true MAGA warriors to Congress.”

Biden, who spent Saturday getting out the vote in the critical Pennsylvania Senate race with Obama, warned that the nation’s core values are in peril from Republicans who denied the truth about the US Capitol insurrection and following the brutal attack on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul.

“Democracy is literally on the ballot. This is a defining moment for the nation. And we all must speak with one voice regardless of our party. There’s no place in America for political violence,” Biden said.

The president will end his effort to stave off a rebuke from voters at a Democratic event in Maryland. The fact that he will be in a liberal bastion and not trying to boost an endangered lawmaker in a key race on the final night reflects his compromised standing in an election that has reverted to a referendum on his tattered credibility and low approval ratings.

Democrats are playing defense in blue-state strongholds like New York, Washington and Oregon and are waging a longshot struggle to cling to the House of Representatives. Republicans only need a net gain of five seats to win back control. A handful of swing state showdowns will decide the destiny of the Senate, currently split 50-50, including in Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Republicans are also showing renewed interest in the race in New Hampshire between Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan and retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, a pro-Trump candidate Democrats brand as an election-denying extremist.

Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel predicted on CNN’s “State of the Union” that her party would win both the House and the Senate and accused Biden of being oblivious to the economic anxiety among Americans with his repeated warnings about democracy.

“Here’s where the Democrats are: they’re inflation deniers, they are crime deniers, they’re education deniers,” McDaniel said.

Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who heads the GOP Senate campaign committee, predicted his party would surge to a majority on Tuesday.

“We’re going to get 52-plus,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday referring to the tally of seats he was expecting to control.

But the president warned in a speech in Pittsburgh on Saturday night alongside Obama that Republican concern over the economy was a ruse and claimed that the GOP would cut Social Security and Medicare if they won majorities.

“Look, they’re all about the wealthier getting wealthy. And the wealthier staying wealthy. The middle class gets stiffed. The poor get poorer under their policy,” Biden said.

The midterms are the first national vote since the chaos and violence triggered by Trump’s refusal to accept the result of the last presidential election and there are already fears that some Republican candidates may follow his example and try to defy the will of voters if they don’t win. Some, like Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, have already raised concerns about the integrity of the vote.

In another development on Sunday, a staffer at the headquarters of Kari Lake, the pro-Trump nominee in the Arizona gubernatorial contest, opened a letter containing suspicious white powder. Lake’s opponent, current Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, condemned the incident as “incredibly concerning.”

Final arguments

On a frenetic final weekend of campaigning, Biden and Obama tried to push Democratic nominee John Fetterman over the line in a Pennsylvania Senate race that represents the party’s best chance to pick up a GOP-held Senate seat. But Democrats are under fierce pressure in states like Arizona and Nevada that could flip the chamber to the GOP. Republicans need a net gain of just one seat to win the majority.

The first major clashes of the 2024 GOP nominating contest, meanwhile, broke out in Florida with Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holding dueling rallies Sunday night. The ex-president, who is expected to launch a third White House bid within days, coined a new nickname Saturday for the man who could prove to be his toughest primary opponent: “Ron DeSanctimonious.”

But the Florida governor chose not to engage, turning his ire instead on Biden and calling his Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, “a donkey” while taking credit for defying Washington officials and experts during the pandemic.

“I was willing to stand out there and take the arrows so that you didn’t have to,” DeSantis said.

As he rallied for Rubio, who is seeking reelection, Trump didn’t repeat his mockery of DeSantis on Sunday but again teased the likelihood of a presidential run. In another sign the next presidential race is stirring, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, who has long eyed higher office, announced he would not join the Republican primary.

Former President Bill Clinton was also called into action on Saturday, stumping for New York Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul in Brooklyn. The Empire state should be safe territory for his party but Hochul’s closer-than-expected reelection race against Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin underscores the toughness of the national environment for Democrats.

“I know the average election rally is just ‘whoop dee doo do vote for me,’ but your life is on the line. For young people in the audience, your life is on the line,” Clinton said.

With Americans struggling under the high cost of living, Democrats have failed to head off a referendum on Biden’s economic management and presidency with most polls predicting building Republican momentum that could deal the first-term president a classic midterm election rebuke.

There is growing second guessing over Democrats’ strategy and whether they are talking effectively about the issues voters care about most. Biden’s closing message on saving democracy from pro-Trump candidates might be an accurate reflection of fresh threats posed by the ex-president and his acolytes. But it does nothing to ease fears about the cost of groceries or a gallon of gas.

Biden, however, has not managed to speak effectively and personally to Americans craving a return to normality after the pandemic or to get across that he fully understands the pain of rising prices in a 40-year-high inflation explosion that his White House once repeatedly branded “transitory.”

If Republicans win back the House, they can impose a vise on Biden’s legislative program and set up a series of perilous political showdowns on spending and raising the debt-ceiling. They are promising a relentless round of investigations and hearings into everything from the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the surge in migrants across the southern border to Biden’s son, Hunter.

A GOP majority would contain scores of candidates in Trump’s extreme image and would be weaponized to damage the president as much as possible ahead of a potential rematch with Trump in 2024. And a Republican Senate would frustrate Biden’s hopes of balancing out the judiciary after four years of Trump nominating conservative judges.