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What the heck were you trying to tell us here, America?
It’s hard to break away from simple narratives sometimes, especially when they are reinforced by Democratic gloating about avoiding a Republican rout in the midterm election and moaning by conservatives about their underperformance.
At the very least, the split election results may spoil former President Donald Trump’s plan to capitalize on a GOP House victory and announce a 2024 presidential run. In fact, the most successful Republican on Tuesday was Trump’s current chief intraparty rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida.
The larger message may be that, shocker, the country is still very engaged in its politics and divided over who should be in charge, although the lack of major issues administering this election so far is something every American can celebrate.
CNN’s Dana Bash noted Wednesday that the results will have a major impact. “This is a change election in that things are going to change big time in Washington,” she said. “The White House, most importantly, is gonna have to readjust.”
Is this a failure by Republicans?
For how historical the overall GOP failure is, I’ll let the pundits go wild. And they are. The fact is that in recent memory – 2002, in the lead-up to the war in Iraq – George W. Bush’s Republican Party actually picked up House seats in his first midterm.
So Democrats’ performance, so far, appears to be better than average, but it’s not unprecedented.
At the very least, they defied expectations. But there’s a lot of nuance here, and Democrats should beware declaring victory in an election in which they’re likely to lose the House.
The fact is that with scores of undecided House races, Republicans are still on track to take control of the chamber. It would be a small and messy majority beholden to the conservative fringe, but it would be a majority nonetheless. That would mean no more Speaker Nancy Pelosi, no more January 6 committee and no more legislation passing without a majority of Republicans supporting it.
The tightest of House margins
From the CNN Election Center as I write this Wednesday evening:
- Balance of power: 206 Republican seats to 187 Democratic.
- Outstanding races: 42.
- I see Republicans leading in 14 of those 42 outstanding races, but they’re all too early to project.
It’s not crazy to say, for the sake of argument, Republicans could have around 221 seats, a majority of four seats. That leaves little room for error and whoever can marshal the votes to be speaker – let’s assume it’s Kevin McCarthy, but not many Republicans are probably super pumped with him right now – will have a bear of a job.
It’s a split Senate for now
Yes, Democrats picked up a key Senate seat in Pennsylvania. But Republicans are leading in a key Senate race in Nevada, which would put the balance of power in that chamber exactly where it has been: split.
In a case of history repeating itself, a Georgia Senate runoff in December could again decide who controls the US Senate.
That’s assuming Sen. Mark Kelly’s slim lead holds in Arizona. The 2020 example suggests the late counted vote could advantage Republicans.
No winners yet in Arizona and Nevada. That could be a big deal for future elections
The Democrat running for governor in Arizona, Katie Hobbs, holds an even slimmer lead over Republican Kari Lake, the former TV anchor turned gubernatorial candidate. Lake is still in the hunt to become Arizona’s next governor, despite the fact that she has already alleged impropriety in an election she might yet win. If elected, she has promised to completely overhaul how the state conducts elections.
If Lake can eke out in Arizona and/or Republican Joe Lombardo holds on to his lead over incumbent Democrat Steve Sisolak in the race for Nevada governor, it would take some of the sheen off two pickups Democrats achieved, in the Massachusetts and Maryland governor’s races. Let’s see. They’re still counting votes.
The Republican running for secretary of state in Nevada, Jim Marchant, a 2020 election denier who has a plan to overhaul elections there, also holds the slimmest lead as votes continue to be counted.
Voters like Democratic priorities more than Democrats
If the GOP leads in Nevada for US Senate, governor and secretary of state hold, Silver State voters will have handed much of their state’s power to Republicans while also voting for some Democratic priorities, like a state Equal Rights Amendment and a measure to raise the state’s minimum wage.
Backlash to the Supreme Court’s decision to end nationwide abortion rights might have helped Democrats hold back a GOP wave that did not materialize.
But Democrats should carefully read exit poll data that suggests a full quarter of the large majority of voters who said abortion should be legal in all or most cases voted for a Republican.
Let’s call Ohio and Florida red states now
There are also regional developments that should give Democrats pause.
The two most pivotal battleground states of the ’90s and early ‘00s, Ohio and Florida, are now all but red states.
Republicans are now the majority party in Florida, and DeSantis easily dispatched former Gov. Charlie Crist and gave Republicans hope that a conservative can appeal to a diverse state and particularly to Latino voters.
In other states, there’s also evidence that Democrats need to do more to appeal to Latino voters. More Texans are Latino than any other racial subgroup, and yet they were only a little more than 20% of the voters this election in Texas, when Republicans again dashed Democrats’ hopes for any gains in the state.
GOP gains in New York
Republicans also made inroads in New York, including Long Island, picking up multiple House seats in one of the bluest states. That’s partly because a court there wouldn’t let Democrats gerrymander congressional districts the way Republicans did in Florida, Texas and elsewhere.
Among those New York seats Republicans picked up was the Lower Hudson Valley district of Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who spearheaded Democrats’ congressional strategy this year. Maloney conceded to his GOP challenger Wednesday. His controversial strategy included helping the more extreme Republicans, the Trumpiest, win in multiple House GOP primaries across the country.
Maloney’s devil’s bargain was risky, but it paid off for Democrats, who won all of those races, according to Politico. Meanwhile, Maloney will be out of a job come January. Pelosi told colleagues he “took an arrow” for them.
She called it a “Pyrrhic victory,” which makes some sense, except it might not end up being a victory at all. We’ll have to wait and see.