9 min read

The “red wave” evaporates

Republicans appear poised to notch a razor-thin majority in the House, while control of the Senate remains unclear as Democrats outperform expectations.
The “red wave” evaporates

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, November 9, 2022. The 2024 elections are 727 days away.

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With control of Congress unclear, a very different night than Republicans imagined

Republicans have been boasting for months that a “red wave” — maybe even a “red tsunami” — was poised to crash on Tuesday, promising that Americans would punish an unpopular President Biden for the state of the economy and put their party back in the House and Senate majorities.

Instead, GOP operatives and lawmakers are waking up without either chamber having been called in their favor, as both head for a photo finish that is far from the landslide victories Republicans had hoped for. Biden, instead of facing the harsh “shellacking” handed to many of his predecessors, may be looking at the best midterm performance for an incumbent president since George W. Bush in 2002.

GOP poised for slim House majority

Even if a wave isn’t delivering them there, Republicans are still expected to retake control of the House. The Associated Press has called 197 House races in favor of Republicans and 172 for Democrats, with the results in 66 districts still yet to be declared. (218 seats are required for a majority.)

Republicans have flipped eight Democratic seats — ousting Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) and seizing open seats in California, Florida, Georgia, New York, and Texas — but largely fell flat in many of their more ambitious targets in blue-state territory like Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Those losses will likely prevent Republicans from winning the sizable House majority of their dreams: the New York Times projects that the GOP has an 83% chance of capturing the chamber, but estimates that their advantage will end up being just 224-211. NBC’s projection is even closer: a House split 218-217 in Republicans’ favor, as thin a majority as a party can have.

After all, Democrats have flipped five formerly Republican seats themselves; even Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), a noted Trump ally who most pundits thought would easily glide to re-election, finds herself locked in a close race. Boebert currently trails Democrat Adam Frisch, 49% to 51%, with 90% of the precincts in her district reporting.

Notching a majority is nothing to sneeze at, of course, but if their advantage truly is razor-thin, GOP leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is in for a hellacious job trying to manage a wide-ranging and divided caucus. A close majority might mean threats to his bid for the speakership; then, even if he wins the post, keeping it will require constantly mollifying the type of far-right firebrands who haven’t hesitated to push GOP speakers overboard before.

The final House results may not be known for weeks, as the nation waits for California to finish counting votes in a number of competitive contests.

Kevin McCarthy will find managing a tight House GOP majority difficult. (Lingjing Bao / Talk Radio News)

The Senate on a knife’s edge

Meanwhile, control of the Senate could once again come down to a Georgia runoff. Democrats scored the marquee victory of the night when John Fetterman was declared the winner of the high-stakes Senate contest in Pennsylvania; he currently leads Mehmet Oz, the celebrity doctor, 50% to 47%.

Fetterman, who was counted out even by many Democrats after his debate with Oz exposed the lingering effects from a stroke he suffered in May, flipped the seat being vacated by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). With control of the Senate currently tied at 50-50, that means the 6-foot-7 lieutenant governor gave Democrats a cushion to lose one seat and still keep the upper chamber. (Ties in the Senate are broken by Vice President Kamala Harris.)

It’s breathing room they may need: with 75% of precincts reporting, Republican Adam Laxalt currently leads Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada, 50% to 47%.

Meanwhile, Sens. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) currently lead their challengers in two other competitive races. With 64% reporting, Kelly has a 52%-46% advantage against Republican Blake Masters; with 94% reporting, Johnson has a 51%-49% edge on Democrat Mandela Barnes.

With races like Ohio and North Carolina called for Republicans — and Colorado, New Hampshire, and Washington safe for Democrats — that leaves Georgia, where Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock currently has 49.4% of the vote to Republican Herschel Walker’s 48.5%. More than 95% of the vote there is in; if neither candidate notches more than 50% of the vote, they will compete in a December 6 runoff, which could decide who wields the Senate majority.

John Fetterman’s victory gave Democrats much-needed breathing room in the Senate. (Fetterman campaign)

Moving down the ballot

The map was full of other notable victories for Democrats. Most Republican election deniers running in competitive statewide races have been defeated, allowing Govs. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) and Tony Evers (D-WI) to romp to victory in their battleground states. Democrats also flipped the governorships in Maryland and Massachusetts, while Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) triumphed in a race that had been expected to be closer.

In the high-stakes Pennsylvania gubernatorial race, Democrat Josh Shapiro defeated Republican Doug Mastriano, an election denier who has been accused of antisemitism; elsewhere, Trump allies running for secretary of state in Michigan and Minnesota were defeated as well. That means many of the Republicans who had threatened to remake their state election systems in 2024 will not have the power to do so.

Further down the ballot, Democrats won complete control of the Michigan state legislature for the first time since 1984 and are favored to win the Pennsylvania state House for the first time since 2010. The results of a number of closely watched ballot initiatives also aligned with progressive goals, such as the affirmation of abortion rights in Michigan and Kentucky, the expansion of Medicaid in South Dakota, and the approval of legal marijuana in Maryland and Missouri. (Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota voted against marijuana legalization measures.)

Key races yet to be decided include the gubernatorial races in Arizona, Nevada, Kansas, and Oregon; only in Nevada is the Republican contender currently leading. Kari Lake, the Arizona Republican gubernatorial nominee, is the most prominent denier of the 2020 election results who could still seal a victory.

Gretchen Whitmer was one of many successful Democratic governors. (Biden campaign)

The biggest loser

The name of the night’s biggest loser wasn’t even on the ballot: Donald Trump. Like no former president in recent memory, Trump has spent the year crisscrossing the country to promote his favored candidates and tease a comeback White House bid that — at least as of Monday — he was expected to announce on November 15.

But many of the candidates put forward by Trump fell flat, including Oz and Mastriano; others, like Masters and Walker, currently trail in highly winnable races for their party.

According to NBC’s exit polls, just 39% of American voters have a favorable view of Trump.

Contrast that with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who scored a 19-point landslide in a state that was not long ago considered the premier battleground. Trump and DeSantis have been engaged in some not-so-subtle shadow-boxing ahead of a possible 2024 Republican primary showdown; with many of Trump’s candidates floundering as DeSantis soared to victory, it is clear that one man got the better of Tuesday’s results.

Even off the ballot, Donald Trump managed to be the night’s biggest loser. (Gage Skidmore)

What about Biden?

The story for Trump’s former (and possibly future) rival, President Joe Biden, is considerably more complicated. It is hard to call the results a stamp of approval for Biden, of whom just slightly more voters (41%) told NBC they held a favorable view.

According to the same exit poll, 76% of voters view the state of the economy as “poor” or “not so good” under his leadership; 73% or “dissatisfied” or “angry” about how things are going in the country.

Republicans are also still expected to move into the House majority — a loss for Democrats at any margin — which will automatically kill Biden’s legislative agenda and open the president up to two years of grueling investigations (and possibly even an impeachment).

Yet, there is no question that Biden and his party considerably outperformed the expectations of both modern-day pundits and historical precedents. Critics were waiting to tear apart the Democratic message on threats to democracy and protecting abortion rights, but the fate of election deniers and abortion referenda offer vindication for the themes Biden promoted. Americans are clearly unhappy with the economy — but they also appear much less ready to get past January 6 or the Supreme Court’s termination of Roe v. Wade than some observers said.

According to the exit polls, just 30% of American voters want Biden, who turns 80 later this month, to run for a second term in 2024. But the Democratic whispers that Biden should step aside — which would have picked up in earnest if a “red wave” had indeed formed — are likely to subside for now, as the party breaths a sigh of relief at their relative successes.

If history is any guide (see 1994 and 2010), Biden might only stand to gain if House Republicans take too combative a stance in their investigations of him and his family. Tuesday’s results make clear that a career that has seen Biden veer from the lowest personal lows to the highest professional highs — and constantly seen him underestimated — may yet have more surprises in store.

Joe Biden’s 2024 hopes may not be over after all. (Gage Skidmore) 

🚨 More results you should know

25-year-old Maxwell Alejandro Frost of Florida became the first member of Generation Z elected to Congress.

Massachusetts elected the nation’s first lesbian governor, Maura Healey.

With the election of House candidate Becca Balint in Vermont, all 50 states have now sent a woman to Congress.

Oklahoma’s Markwayne Mullin became the first member of Cherokee Nation elected as a U.S. senator since 1918.

Maxwell Alejandro Frost (center) celebrates with supporters. (Frost campaign)

🗓 What your leaders are doing today

All times Eastern. Click on an event’s time to watch or listen to it.

Executive Branch

President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing (11:45 am). He is also expected to address the election results in some fashion today — possibly by holding the traditional post-midterms press conference — but nothing is currently on the schedule.

Vice President Harris will receive her daily intelligence briefing from Los Angeles (11:45 am) and then fly back to Washington (2:10 pm).

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has no briefing scheduled.

Legislative Branch

The House and Senate are not in session.

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court will hold oral arguments (10 am) in Haaland v. Brackeen, a case concerning Native American adoptions.

In the case, a collection of plaintiffs is challenging the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which created a legal preference for Native American adoptees to be placed with relatives, fellow tribe members, or in Native foster homes.

The plaintiffs, who include three non-Native couples seeking to adopt Native children, are seeking for the law — which was designed to avoid the forced removal of Native Americans from their tribes — to be struck down as unconstitutional racial discrimination.

👋 Before I go...

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— Gabe