Five early takeaways from the midterms

Elections 2022

(The Hill) – There were some crucial results still to come in the 2022 midterm elections as Wednesday dawned.

But some lessons were already clear after a dramatic night.

Here are the top five takeaways.

A better night than expected for Democrats

Democrats were breathing sighs of relief all night long on Tuesday, as it became apparent that the Republican “red wave” predicted by some pundits and polls had failed to materialize.

The GOP hit its high-water mark early in the night when projections from Florida showed both Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R) winning their races easily.

But it was all downhill for the GOP from there.

The most dramatic result — so far — came with Democrat John Fetterman’s defeat of Republican Mehmet Oz in one of the nation’s most closely watched Senate races, in Pennsylvania. 

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) appears slightly favored over former football star Herschel Walker, though it’s not yet clear if a December run-off can be avoided.

Other results across the board also buoyed Democratic hopes. 

Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) retained her New Hampshire seat — one that Republicans had become increasingly bullish about in the final weeks of the campaign. 

In the House, several high-profile names on the Democrats’ endangered list held on, including Reps. Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), Abigail Spanberger (Va.) and Marcy Kaptur (Ohio). 

At the gubernatorial level, races that had caused Democrats some last-minute nervousness were won comfortably by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Democrats are, to be clear, sure to lose some House seats — and quite possibly their majority.

But this was as good a midterms’ outcome as President Biden’s party could have dared to expect. 

It’s Republicans who now face hard questions.

The GOP could only scrape out very modest gains despite powerful tailwinds in the shape of high inflation and low approval ratings for Biden.

Fetterman pulls off a huge victory

The win for Fetterman, called in the early hours of Wednesday, was a huge boost for Democrats.

His supporters had fretted as the unconventional lieutenant governor’s polling lead had been whittled away in recent weeks. 

In particular, Oz had seemed to gain traction with attacks on Fetterman’s record on crime, which includes chairing a state Board of Pardons that has recommended far more commutations during his tenure than previously.

Fetterman, who had a stroke in May, also delivered a halting performance at the sole televised debate between the two candidates in October.

But in the face of all that, the shaven-headed, hoodie-wearing Fetterman’s victory proved his brand of progressive populism could carry the day even in one of the nation’s most closely divided battlegrounds.

The victory was also vital for Democrats in terms of pure math. 

The Pennsylvania seat is being vacated by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.

Flipping the seat gives the Democrats a buffer even if they lose one of the two competitive western states, Arizona and Nevada, where votes are still being tallied at time of writing.

DeSantis turns Florida red

No other Republican had anywhere close to as good a night as the Florida governor.

His reelection to a second term was expected. But the margin was resounding — around 20 points over his Democratic opponent, former Rep. Charlie Crist. 

To put that in context, DeSantis won the governorship four years ago by less than a single point, and Trump carried the Sunshine State two years ago by about three points.

The result is exactly what DeSantis’s boosters wanted in terms of proving his electability as the focus begins to shift to the 2024 presidential race. In that regard, he was also helped by the fact that Tuesday’s results added up to a mediocre outcome, at best, for Trump.

Some of the other contours of DeSantis’s win were especially significant, not least that he carried the populous and heavily Hispanic Miami-Dade County. 

That’s one reason why DeSantis’s boast, in his victory speech, that he and his backers had “rewritten the political map” wasn’t just hyperbole.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R) also had an easy victory over Rep. Val Demings (D), racking up a margin of approximately 17 points.

Given the scale of those two wins, it’s clear Florida is now a red state. 

The idea of the state as the nation’s biggest true battleground simply no longer applies.

GOP House majority will be narrow at best

Sometimes it’s the small details that tell the story — as when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) took to the stage of his victory party one hour after it had originally been due to end.

As of 3:30 a.m. Eastern Time, there was still no projection from any major news organization that Republicans would take the House at all.

McCarthy evinced confidence in that outcome, telling his audience, “When you wake up tomorrow, we will be in the majority and Nancy Pelosi will be in the minority.”

He may be proven right in due course. But the mere fact that it is still in doubt points to how disappointing a night this was for the GOP.

Just as importantly, even a narrow Republican majority would pose serious challenges for McCarthy, even if he is confirmed as speaker. 

In that scenario, the most hardline members of the GOP conference would have very significant leverage — and they are certain to use it.

In the early hours of Wednesday, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) issued a statement asserting, “I will lead the fight to make damn sure my party does not fail.”

Two Democratic stars fade

Democrats overall may have seen results at the upper end of their expectations, but two losses hit them hard.

Both came in gubernatorial races. Stacey Abrams (D) lost to Gov. Brian Kemp (R) in Georgia and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) went down to Gov. Greg Abbott in Texas.

The two results were expected — both candidates had lagged by significant margins in polling.

But still, each candidate had been seen, not so long ago, as a bright and rising star in the Democratic Party. 

Their luster is badly dimmed now, given that Tuesday marked Abrams’s second successive loss to Kemp, and O’Rourke’s third setback after losing a 2018 Senate race to Sen. Ted Cruz (R) and abandoning an underwhelming bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

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