ABOVE PHOTO: An aide waits for the arrival of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., during an Election Night party at The Westin Washington hotel in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, November 8, 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)
By Brian Slodysko
WASHINGTON — For weeks, Republicans predicted a “red wave” would carry them to power in Congress, as voters repudiated majority Democrats for failing to tame skyrocketing inflation and address worries about rising crime.
The reality appeared far different early Wednesday.
Rather than a wholesale rejection of President Joe Biden and his party, the results were far more mixed as returns from Tuesday’s midterms trickled in.
Many Democratic incumbents proved surprisingly resilient, outperforming their party’s own expectations. Meanwhile, Democrat John Fetterman won an open Senate seat currently held by the GOP, while other key races that will determine control of the chamber remained too early to call.
“When you wake up tomorrow, we will be in the majority and Nancy Pelosi will be in the minority,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy predicted early Wednesday.
He may be right. But it appeared that likely Republican gains would come on far less favorable terms than anticipated.
Here are some takeaways from this year’s election:
TO BE CONTINUED …
Republicans hoped for a wipeout. They didn’t get it. After Democrats racked up several hard-fought wins in swing districts, like Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s Virginia seat, the sweeping wins many Republicans predicted had yet to materialize early Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the fate of Democrats’ narrow hold on the Senate was unclear.
Fetterman defeated Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz for a crucial Pennsylvania Senate seat vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and former NFL star Herschel Walker, a Republican, were locked in a close contest in Georgia. The Wisconsin race between Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democrat Mandela Barnes was too early to call.
And the outcome of the remaining two seats that will determine which party will hold a Senate majority — Arizona and Nevada — may not be known for days because both states conduct elections in part by mail ballots, which take a long time to count.
It’s called history for a reason. The party that celebrates winning the White House is usually mourning a loss in the midterms two years later.
Add to that historical pattern an economy battered by inflation and teetering on recession, throw in fears about crime, and the outcome is close to certain.
For Biden and House Democrats, the likelihood of keeping power in the lower chamber of Congress was always slight. Republicans have expected to gain enough seats to retake the majority. If successful, which was not immediately clear Wednesday morning, they also have plans to neuter Biden’s agenda for the next two years.
Since 1906, there have been only three midterms in which the party of the president in power gained House seats: 1934, when the country was struggling with a Depression; 1998, when the U.S. was buoyed by a soaring economy; and 2002, when President George W. Bush had a sky-high approval rating amid the national feeling of unity after the Sept. 11 attacks.
IS FLORIDA STILL A SWING STATE?
Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio, both Republicans, offer the latest evidence that Florida is becoming increasingly red. They soared to early reelection victories Tuesday, both winning Miami-Dade County, which Democrat Hillary Clinton carried by 29 percentage points in 2016.
Florida has been a classic battleground. It twice helped propel Barack Obama to the White House. But the state, where the number of registered Democrats exceeded Republicans in 2020, has shifted increasingly to the right. That’s thanks to GOP inroads with Hispanic voters, as well as an influx of new residents, including many retirees, drawn to its lack of an income tax as well as its sunny weather.
“Democrats really have to think about how they are going to rebuild there. The Obama coalition no longer exists,” said Carlos Curbelo, a Republican former member of Congress, who called Florida “off the map for the foreseeable future” to Democrats.
DeSantis won the governor’s office in 2018 by only about 30,000 votes. On Tuesday, he flipped at least six counties that he lost that year. Those counties were carried by Biden just two years ago.
Some Democrats blame some of Tuesday’s blowout losses to a lack of investment by their party.
“This is what happens when national Democrats decide to not spend money in the state,” said Greg Goddard, a Democratic fundraising consultant from Florida who raised money for Rep. Val Demings’ losing challenge of Rubio. “The pathway to Democrats winning future presidential elections is very thin if you do not plan to spend in Florida.”
WAS IT A ‘RED WAVE’ OR A RIPPLE?
Whether a red ripple will carry Republicans won’t likely be known for days or weeks as states that conduct their elections largely by mail, such as California, continue counting votes.
One thing is certain: It’s unlikely to match 2010’s tea party wave, which netted 63 seats, or the Newt Gingrich-led House takeover of 1994, which ousted 54 Democrats and flipped the chamber to GOP control for the first time since the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower.
One reason that won’t happen? There just aren’t that many competitive seats.
The end result? Far less interest in compromise and more gridlock in the halls of Congress.
WHAT DO REPUBLICANS WANT?
Gingrich’s “Contract with America” was celebrated as a cornerstone of the Republicans’ 1994 House takeover for offering a concrete list of policies the GOP would pursue if put in power.
Now Republicans are far more circumspect about their aims.
“That’s a very good question. And I’ll let you know when we take it back,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in January.
McCarthy has offered up a “Commitment to America,” a list of priorities that fits on a pocket-sized card he carries with him that is heavy on slogans and light on detail.
Both may be attempting to avoid the plight of Gingrich whose “Contract with America” became a liability when Republicans failed to enact it.
House Republicans have said they intend to investigate Biden and his administration. They have also called for a renewed focus on fiscal restraint, a crackdown on illegal immigration at the southern border and increased domestic energy production.
Much of it may not matter. Biden, after all, has a veto pen.
MOST EXPENSIVE MIDTERMS
The 2022 elections are on track to cost $16.7 billion at the state and federal level, making them the most expensive midterms ever, according to the nonpartisan OpenSecrets.
For perspective: The contests will nearly double the cost of the 2010 midterm elections, more than double the 2014 midterms and are on pace to roughly equal the 2022 gross domestic product of Mongolia.
At least $1.1 billion given at the federal level so far this election season has come from a small coterie of donors, many of whom have favored conservative causes.
“When you look at the top 25 individual donors, conservative donors heavily outweigh liberal donors by $200 million,” said Brendan Glavin, a senior data analyst for OpenSecrets. “There’s a big skew.”
Tech billionaire Peter Thiel ($32.6 million), shipping goods magnate Richard Uihlein ($80.7 million), hedge fund manager Ken Griffin (68.5 million) and Timothy Mellon, an heir to a Gilded Age Fortune who gave $40 million, are among the top conservative donors.
On the liberal side, hedge fund founder George Soros gave the most ($128 million), though much of it has yet to be spent.
Sam Bankman Fried, a liberal 30-year-old cryptocurrency billionaire, gave $39.8 million.