Takeaways from the 2022 midterms: Battle for control of the House and Senate still up in the air
Nov 9, 2022, 11:30 AM
(REUTERS/Marco Bello via CNN)
(CNN) — The battle for control of Congress is still up in the air, with the Senate coming down to three key races while Democrats and Republicans are still hanging onto hopes of winning a narrow majority in the House.
Republicans began the night with a rout in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis won heavily Latino, historically Democratic regions on his way to a blowout victory that could serve as a launch pad for a 2024 presidential run.
The Utah angle: Evan McMullin concedes Senate race to Mike Lee
Later in the evening, Democrats began reclaiming ground. In Pennsylvania, Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman defeated Republican Mehmet Oz for the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.
Meanwhile, the battle for the House majority — one that favored Republicans, who expected to benefit from high inflation, historical trends and friendly new district lines after 2021’s redistricting — remains unsettled.
Here are nine takeaways as votes are still being counted in key races:
Democrats go a long way to protecting their Senate majority
Republicans were not shy about the importance of Pennsylvania’s Senate race: “This is a must-win race. We believe if we win Pennsylvania, we win the majority,” said Steven Law, president of the preeminent Republican Senate super PAC.
Early on Wednesday morning, CNN projected that Fetterman would be the next senator from Pennsylvania, defeating Oz in the most expensive and high stakes Senate campaign in the country.
Fetterman’s win was a thunderclap for Democrats. While the race long represented the best chance for the party to pick up a Senate seat in 2022, Fetterman’s near fatal stroke in May — and the lengthy recovery he endured in public — injected uncertainty into the race. But on Wednesday morning, the Pennsylvania lieutenant governor gave Democrats the pick-up they needed to have a better chance to hold the United States Senate next year.
“Fetterman’s win makes it next to impossible for the GOP to get a majority. Pennsylvania was the firewall,” said Mike Mikus, a Democratic operative based in Western Pennsylvania.
Although a number of key Senate races remain uncalled — including contests in Nevada and Arizona and in Georgia which will go to a runoff — earlier on Tuesday, CNN projected one Democratic incumbent: Sen. Maggie Hassan, a first-term Democrat who faced Republican retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, won her race.
A Hassan loss would have effectively ended Democrats’ hopes of retaining their majority. And CNN projected Wednesday that Republican Ron Johnson will keep his Senate seat in Wisconsin. The Democrats are still defending seats in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada — so it will take time to settle Senate control.
Big questions for Wednesday
Election Day is over but many of the fundamental questions of this election cycle remain unanswered.
To start, control of the Senate remains up for grabs. Fetterman’s victory in Pennsylvania, flipping a GOP seat, gave Democrats some breathing room as they await results from Arizona, Nevada and Georgia. Republicans now need to win two of those three to claim a majority, but the Georgia Senate race will go to a runoff in December after no candidate won more than 50% of the vote.
The shape of the House, too, remains uncertain. Republicans appear poised to take control but there are scant signs of the big night they were hoping for. As the votes continue to be counted, the next day (or more) will likely reveal the strength of a new GOP House majority — and whether a potentially underwhelming performance undermines Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s standing within a rancorous GOP conference. The GOP is now in a race-by-race fight that will ultimately determine McCarthy’s ability to govern.
Then there’s Trump and Biden.
The president is expected to address the election results sometime on Wednesday. Having avoided a “shellacking,” what will Biden’s takeaways be?
Trump, on the other hand, has already provided some clues on his views. He celebrated the defeats of some moderate Republicans on his social media site, but has yet to mention Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his potential 2024 GOP presidential primary rival, who was emphatically reelected to another term.
Trump’s no good, very bad night
Few Republicans were more involved in these midterms than Trump and the former president had a particularly bad night.
The most striking loss for Trump came in Pennsylvania, where his chosen candidate, Oz, fell to Fetterman in what was the most expensive Senate race in the country. Trump endorsed Oz during the contentious Republican primary, effectively pulling through a brutal primary and narrowly into the general election. But where the former president’s backing was decisive in the primary, it was an albatross in the general election for a Republican Senate candidate who was attempting to make inroads in the suburbs by touting his own moderation.
While Trump did score some Senate wins — Trump-backed Republican JD Vance defeated a stronger-than-expected challenge from Democrat Tim Ryan in the Ohio Senate race, while Republican Ted Budd defeated Democrat Cheri Beasley in North Carolina — those wins have so far been limited to Republican states.
In the House, too, some Trump acolytes lost in what were seen as competitive contests that Republicans needed to win if they were going to build a significant majority in the legislative body.
In New Hampshire, former Trump aide Karoline Leavitt lost to Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas in what was seen as a highly competitive contest. In North Carolina, Trump-backed Republican Bo Hines lost to Democrat Wiley Nickel in a race that was widely seen as a test of the former president’s influence. And in Ohio, Democratic state Rep. Emilia Sykes defeated Republican Madison Gesiotto Gilbert who bullishly touted her ties to Trump.
Trump’s evening was particularly bad when viewed through the lens of DeSantis’ romp of a night.
DeSantis, Trump’s clearest rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, overwhelmingly won reelection on Tuesday, crushing Democrat Charlie Crist by nearly 20 percentage points, continuing to consolidate Latino support in Florida and even by winning populous counties like Miami-Dade.
The headline in Trump’s one-time hometown paper, the New York Post, said it all: “DeFUTURE,” the headline blared, showing the Florida Republican on stage with his family.
Democrats hold their own in the suburbs
In 2018, the suburbs delivered Democrats the House majority. In 2020, they vaulted Joe Biden to the presidency.
And in 2022, suburbs across the country went a long way to helping Democrats avoid a significant red wave.
Republicans may still win the House, but if the 2022 election was going to be a red wave, it was likely to come through suburban victories that have not materialized yet.
In a district made up of the Kansas City suburbs, CNN projected Democrat Sharice Davids would win reelection. In Ohio, CNN projected two suburban wins: Democrat Greg Landsman defeated Republican Rep. Steve Chabot in a district that included Cincinnati and some of the surrounding suburbs and Democratic state Rep. Emilia Sykes defeated Republican Madison Gesiotto Gilbert in a district that includes areas around Cleveland and all of Akron. In Illinois, CNN projected that Democratic incumbent Lauren Underwood would win reelection against Republican Scott Gryder in the Chicago suburbs. And in Virginia, CNN projected Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger would win reelection, largely because of the votes she picked up from the suburbs of Washington, DC.
Republicans did score some suburban victories — CNN projected Brandon Ogles the winner in a district around Nashville, Tom Kean Jr. winning in a suburban New Jersey district and Rich McCormick the victor in a district that included Atlanta’s northern suburbs — but it was their defeats that spoke volumes about the size of the GOP wave.
Another January 6 committee member loses
Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria, a member of the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, lost her Virginia Beach-based House seat, CNN projected.
Luria’s loss to Kiggans, Republican Navy veteran, was the latest demonstration that the lasting focus on the insurrection — even as it sheds light on a dark chapter in the nation’s capitol — is a political anchor for those involved.
Luria had defeated former GOP Rep. Scott Taylor in 2018 and 2020. But the district had become slightly more favorable ground for Republicans in redistricting: Biden carried the previous version by 5 points, and would have lost the new district by 2 points.
And Luria provided the latest evidence that voters are not rewarding those involved in the committee probing the insurrection. Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney was routed in a primary by Trump-backed challenger Harriet Hageman, while Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Florida Democrat, both retired rather than seeking reelection.
DeSantis’ big win could be a 2024 launchpad
DeSantis led a dominant Republican ticket in Florida — delivering historic margins in Democratic territory in his victory Crist on a night that provides him a powerful argument if he seeks the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination.
The easy wins by DeSantis, who led by nearly 20 percentage points with 92% of the estimated vote counted, and Sen. Marco Rubio, who was 17 points up, were enough to cast doubt on Florida’s status as a national bellwether.
The most eye-popping outcome — and one that demonstrates the breadth of DeSantis’ appeal in the eyes of Sunshine State voters — came in Miami-Dade County, which is heavily Hispanic and historically a huge source of Democratic votes.
Republicans had made gains there in recent years: Hillary Clinton defeated former President Trump there by 29 percentage points in 2016. DeSantis did slightly better in the 2018 governor’s race, losing the county by 21 points. Trump made inroads there in 2020, losing by just 8 points. But a GOP candidate for governor hadn’t actually won Miami-Dade County since Jeb Bush in 2002.
The political reality is straightforward: Democrats have no realistic path to victory in statewide races in Florida without big wins in Miami-Dade County. That reality makes county’s outcome into an exclamation point on a dominant GOP performance.
DeSantis’ win comes as a battle over the future of the Republican Party takes shape, with Trump signaling a potential 2024 announcement next week. Exit polls in Florida showed that 45% of the state’s voters would like to see DeSantis run for president, compared to 33% who want Trump to run in 2024.
In a victory speech Tuesday night, DeSantis offered a glimpse at how he might describe his governorship to a national audience. Touting his refusal to impose lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic, he said that Florida “was a refuge of sanity when the world went mad.” He also described the state as “where woke goes to die” and “a ray of hope that better days still lie ahead.”
GOP makes gains with Latinos in Florida
Republicans hoped to build on Trump’s inroads among Latino voters in 2020, a trend that could reshape the political landscapes in several swing states if it continues.
The strongest early signal that the GOP had continued to make gains came in Miami-Dade County, home to a large Cuban population.
But Latinos are not a monolith, and there were more important signs in Florida, too: Another traditional Democratic stronghold won by DeSantis was Osceola County, a majority Latino county south of Orlando with a heavily Puerto Rican population.
However, it’s not clear if those GOP gains are materializing outside Florida.
One key gauge was the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where three House races in heavily Latino districts were up for grabs. Democrats have won two of those races, CNN projected. Rep. Henry Cuellar, the only House Democrat who votes against abortion rights, won reelection in his Laredo-based 28th District, while Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez defeated Republican Rep. Mayra Flores — the two were drawn into the same district — in the McAllen-based 34th District. The 15th District race, which was widely seen as the GOP’s best chance, is still too early to call.
“The RED WAVE did not happen. Republicans and Independents stayed home,” Flores tweeted just after midnight.
Arizona and Nevada, both competitive states with significant Latino populations, are also important to watch. So are a spate of House races in California, where it could take days or weeks for winners to become clear.
Democrats had a good night in governor’s races
CNN projected Wes Moore the winner in Maryland and Maura Healey the victor in Massachusetts, two seats that are currently in Republican control. Democratic governors in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Mexico and others are projected to hold their seats, while Democrat Josh Shapiro defeated Republican Doug Mastriano in a seat where Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf was term limited.
But as Tuesday turned into Wednesday, Democrats have a shot at strengthening their grip of governor’s offices across the country.
CNN projected Kansas Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly the winner in her bid for reelection on Wednesday morning, while Democrats are competitive in Oregon and Nevada, two states that would represent Democratic holds, and Arizona, a state that would represent a Democratic flip.
The night is far from an unmitigated victory for Democrats — and how the three outstanding key races tip could shift the way Democrats see their gubernatorial successes. And some of the most famous Democratic gubernatorial candidates did lose: CNN projected Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams failed to unseat Republican incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp in a rematch of their 2018 race, and Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke was unable to defeat Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott.
But few Democratic operatives would have said weeks ago that they would be in line to have this kind of night in governors races.
Abortion rights, and its defenders, triumph
In referendums and races where the Supreme Court’s June decision to reverse Roe v. Wade was a central issue, voters sided overwhelmingly with Democrats and in favor of abortion rights.
In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — who staked her reelection campaign on her successful efforts to block the enforcement of the state’s 1931 law banning abortion in almost all instances — defeated Republican challenger Tudor Dixon, who had waged a campaign focused on cultural battles.
Michigan voters also approved a Whitmer-backed amendment to the state’s constitution that will scrap that 1931 law and guarantee abortion rights.
Voters in California and Vermont also green-lit constitutional amendments enshrining abortion rights.
In Wisconsin, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had made abortion a central focus of his campaign. Republicans there have rejected Evers’ efforts to amend the state’s 1849 abortion ban to include exceptions for rape and incest. He highlighted that split by calling the GOP-led legislature into a special session in October and urging them to act on the issue — and then used lawmakers’ decision to adjourn in less than 30 seconds without taking action as a campaign cudgel.
It’ll take time to sort out which issues were decisive, particularly in suburban House battles. But according to CNN exit polls, 27% of voters in House races said abortion was the most important issue — second only to inflation at 31%. Among those who cited abortion as the most important issue, 76% voted Democratic.
A night of firsts
Up and down the ballot, in red states and blue, candidates from both parties are celebrating pathbreaking victories.
In Massachusetts, Healey is poised to become the state’s first elected female governor and the nation’s first out lesbian state executive. Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the former Trump White House press secretary, has been elected the first female governor of Arkansas. And Moore will be the Maryland’s first Black governor.
Alabama’s Katie Britt, a Republican former aide to retiring Sen. Richard Shelby, will replace him next year, winning election on Tuesday to become the state’s first female US Senator.
Down the ballot, Democratic state Rep. Summer Lee will be the first Black woman elected to Congress from Pennsylvania.
Florida has also elected the youngest-ever House member, 25-year-old Maxwell Alejandro Frost, now on track to become the first Gen Z candidate to hold federal office.
Virginia’s split decision offers early signals
Three Democratic-controlled House races in Virginia were widely viewed as an early warning signal of the night’s results. With all House districts in the commonwealth projected by CNN, the results hint at a night where Democrats could lose the House — but would not face a 2014-style wave.
Democrats held seats in two Virginia districts Biden won in 2020.
CNN projected that Democratic Jennifer Wexton won her reelection bid in Virginia’s 10th District. Republicans were hoping Wexton could fall on Tuesday if the night was particularly bad for Democrats.
In an even more competitive race, CNN projected Spanberger also won reelection in Virginia’s 7th District. Spanberger was widely seen as a vulnerable incumbent, especially after Republican Glenn Youngkin carried the district in his successful gubernatorial campaign in 2021.
But Democrats lost in southeastern Virginia, with CNN projecting that Republican state Sen. Jen Kiggans defeated Luria.
“I was in the White House in 2010 when the big wave rolled in. I know what it feels like. It doesn’t feel like this,” said David Axelrod, the top political adviser to former President Barack Obama.
Scott Jennings, a Republican operative and CNN contributor, said whether the results are a wave or just a slight shift in the House, the impact will be the same on President Joe Biden’s administration.
“Whether it is a wave, a ripple, or whatever you want to call it, the oversight is going to feel all the same,” Jennings said.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
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