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.
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.
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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.