Opinions, Column

Heights Columnists Reflect on Midterm Elections

Baldwin: “Democrats did not win—rather, the Republicans lost

Midterm elections have (more or less) concluded at the time of publishing this article. With the vast majority of House and Senate elections confirmed, the dust has settled on another eventful midterm election, and the second election in a row where most results weren’t finalized until days after. The Democrats had everything to lose and the Republicans everything to gain, with the fate of President Joe Biden’s administration’s legislative agenda hanging in the balance. Nonetheless, it is apparent to me that some conclusions can still be drawn—not about a Democratic victory but a Republican loss.

No matter who controls the legislature, the only definitive loser in the midterms was former President Donald Trump. Most of Trump’s endorsed candidates in highly contested elections—Tudor Dixon, Blake Masters, Kari Lake, Adam Laxalt, Doug Mastriano, and Mehmet Oz—all lost their elections, with Herschel Walker facing a run-off election in December. The only Trump-chosen candidate who won in a relatively competitive election was JD Vance of Ohio—who won by a slightly smaller margin than Trump did in 2020. Even though he did win, it was closer than previous recent elections would suggest. This contrasts with the decisive victories won by those who butted heads with Trump—including Marco Rubio of Florida, Ron DeSantis of Florida, and Brian Kemp of Georgia, each of whom won their elections by wider margins than they did last election cycle. House Republicans, expecting to repeat the red waves of ’94 and 2010, were bitterly disappointed. The Republicans will control a majority in the House, but it will be a Pyrrhic victory. While the results on the federal level are undoubtedly mixed, the Democratic victories on the state level are undisputed. Democrats either retained or won the governorship in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Michigan along with victories in their state legislatures. Massachusetts was a particularly important victory, handing Democrats in the state a trifecta—one-party control of a state’s governorship and majority control in both legislative chambers. Thus, it appears Democrats bucked the historical trend of losing a slew of congressional seats following a victory in the previous presidential election. They walked away wounded but able to fight another day.

The warning to Democrats, who may be tempted in delighting in schadenfreude given the GOP’s underwhelming performance, is to pause. Expecting to lose by a lot, only to then lose by a little, is still not a victory. The Republicans became the majority party in the House, which will have serious consequences. The most likely—and obvious—consequence would be that House Republicans may seek to disband the Jan. 6 investigation committee. An end to the committee would mean that key figures, such as Trump, would never need to testify in a Republican-controlled House. It’s important that Americans don’t forget Jan. 6 and how many in the Republican Party were complicit in downplaying the event. In addition, Republicans would likely stop any legislative initiatives by the Biden administration and could potentially initiate a government shutdown. 

  The aforementioned victory by DeSantis in Florida should be spotlighted as well. DeSantis won his first election by a margin of less than half a percent in 2018 but won almost 20 percent in 2022. Kemp, likewise, went from winning by two percent to by more than seven percent.

Hence, I say that Democrats should be wary about the conclusions they draw from the election. This should not be interpreted as a positive referendum on the Biden administration. NBC exit polls clearly demonstrate that voters are dissatisfied with Biden—67 percent of people they polled said that he should not run again. Democrats cannot bank on the fact that they have done something special to win this election. Democrats did not win—rather, the Republicans lost.

Swindal: “Democrats Surpassed Almost All Expectations”

Amid President Joe Biden’s poor approval ratings, a struggling economy, and the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, this was far from a dream year for Democrats to run. In fact, we absolutely could have expected a red wave, something like the 2010 or 2014 elections, in which Republicans romped during the tenure of a Democratic president. Indeed, there were competitive House and Senate races this election in several states that Biden won in 2020. Republicans themselves were gearing up for a red wave.

It never came. 

Republicans have failed to retake the Senate, losing crucial races in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Arizona. While they have taken the House of Representatives, their majority will be strikingly thin, leading 220–213 in the most recent estimates. And while Democrats have rejoiced, it’s not all good news for them. Let’s evaluate some of their worst takeaways from the midterm cycle.

For Democrats, the most obvious piece of bad news is their House performance. Though they performed well in many swing districts, it was their dismal performances in blue states such as New York and California that sealed their fate this election cycle. And although they seem poised to retain control of the Senate, it was not quite the best-case scenario in that chamber for Democrats, either. 

Several races that were once competitive slipped out of Democrats’ hands. Incumbent Ron Johnson in Wisconsin very narrowly defeated his challenger Mandela Barnes after close polling all summer, Ted Budd prevailed in North Carolina, and unfortunately, grifter J.D. Vance defeated Representative Tim Ryan in Ohio.

Florida should also be itself considered a source of bad news for the party. By Florida standards, both Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Marco Rubio annihilated their Democratic opponents, with each winning by double digits even as Biden lost the state in 2020 by about 3 percent. Following a heavy Republican gerrymander, Florida Republicans also took multiple seats from Democrats in the House of Representatives. The main takeaway is that Florida—one of the only states to move toward Republicans from 2016 to 2020—may have solidified itself as a “real red state.”

Another piece of bad news: many Republican candidates peddled Trump’s “Big Lie” about the election—that it was stolen from him—and even espoused similar rhetoric about their own campaigns. When asked if she would accept her election results, Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake told CNN’s Dana Bash, “I’m going to win the election, and I will accept that result.”

Fortunately for Democrats, Lake was defeated by Democratic candidate Katie Hobbs. Despite Lake’s defeat, however, the election was decided by a razor-thin margin, giving Lake much more leverage to spread election dishonesty. Other proponents of the Big Lie include Wisconsin’s third Congressional district winner Derrick Van Orden, who was at the Jan. 6 rally with intentions “to stand for the integrity of our electoral system as a citizen.” And though he was crushed by Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano was one of the most heinous propagators of the “Big Lie.” As Trump said on his efforts in the Pennsylvania Senate, “Nobody felt more strongly, or feels more strongly about election integrity than Doug.” 

Enough of the bad news for Democrats, though. By all accounts, they did extremely well this midterm cycle. Democrats surpassed almost all expectations.

New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan dominated her opponent Don Bolduc, winning the state by a larger margin than Biden did in 2020. Patty Murray won in Washington quite easily, despite shady polling that told a contrary story. And, of course, Democrat Senate candidate John Fetterman won in Pennsylvania by a wider margin than Biden did in 2020, defeating Republican candidate Mehmet Oz. Catherine Cortez Masto, who FiveThirtyEight’s model considered Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbent, held on in Nevada, as did Mark Kelly just southeast in Arizona. The Senate was an extremely successful chamber for Democrats in 2022.

Several governor’s races have also featured Democrats overperforming. In New Mexico, what was once thought to be a competitive race went solidly for incumbent Michelle Lujan Grisham. In blood-red Kansas, incumbent Democratic Governor Laura Kelly secured four more years. And even while Ron Johnson prevailed, vulnerable incumbent Democrat Tony Evers still hung on in Wisconsin. 

The foremost source of good news is the current state of the GOP—its lackluster performance in a year where it could easily have assured a red wave is pretty much self-inflicted. Several races that should have been competitive, like Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race were essentially locked down as Democratic pickups as a result of extremist nominations. Several Senate races have followed suit, especially in Pennsylvania where Republicans decided to nominate Oz—a career quack doctor and New Jersey resident— instead of, well, anyone better. 

And really, all I can say is that Fetterman, while recovering from a damaging stroke (that led to a poor debate performance), was nonetheless able to solidly gain a seat in a state that previously lurched to the right in the Trump era during historically bad inflation and amid the tenure of a very unpopular Democratic president. 

That’s all I can say about what Democrats need to take away from this election.

Did everything go great? Of course not. Republicans have the House now, and though they retained the Senate, their majority will still be razor-thin (hello, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema). And yet, this was still a complete humiliation for the GOP and an affirmation of the only sane party still remaining. Indeed, while the midterms did bring some bad news for Democrats, it was mostly good news.

November 30, 2022